I was first made aware of my fatness when I was about 9 years old.
At this point, I had no understanding of the concept of fatness. I hadn’t discovered yet that it was a state where you crossed the line between being a lepa or even an orobo in the flattering way Wande Coal sings about in “You Bad” to something people whisper about. However, through pictures and the groans of disappointed family members, I was quickly made aware that I had gone from a thin and beautiful little girl to a round and grotesque thing that people could apparently no longer look at without the outpour of hateful and unwarranted comments that my body seemed to attract wherever I went.
Funnily enough, I don’t shy away from telling complete strangers about my skinny years. In some twisted way, internalised fatphobia has convinced me, and I’m betting a lot of other fat people, that we need to distinguish ourselves from every other fat person in the room.
“Oh, look at me, I used to be skinny when I was prepubescent and therefore deserve at least an inch of your respect”.
But that’s the thing about being taught to hate your body from such a young age. You feel like you’re constantly on trial in a courtroom where the verdict is always guilty.
Today, fatphobia has become this huge buzzword thrown around casually by some people. This indifference erases the targeted discrimination the word truly describes. People don’t, and at times willfully choose not to, fully understand what it is like to grow up in a fat body societally, where fat people, especially fat women, are open targets for violence and assault.
There are the general things that get to you first. You start to notice the glances and whispering from strangers when you’re walking down the street. Then suddenly, you’re being singled out and banned from wearing certain clothes at school because your body is growing in ways you don’t understand yet. Then there’s the simultaneous sexualisation, something that you experience from as young as 10, and the disgust that your body triggers in people. But you’re young, and you don’t understand this change or how to handle it, so you start hating yourself.
You starve yourself because you see the disgusted look in your family’s eyes, and you know now that their hostility goes deeper than concerns for your health.
Before you know it, you’re taking pills after your parents buy you smaller clothes to “motivate” you to lose weight, or maybe your pill habit starts when they point at unsuspecting fat passer-byers, painting them as warnings. The final push over the edge comes when they tell you that your weight has thrown them into a deep depression. At some point, you eventually lose count of how many times you’re bent down over the toilet, crying hysterically, and begging your stomach to give way.
You do your best to push yourself towards an eating disorder, thinking it’s the key to end all this shame and anxiety that’s overwhelming you. Still, you go a size up every time. It finally gets to a point where you can’t look in the mirror without crying, and you layer your clothes in the blazing heat, trying your hardest to hide your body from the world.
I learnt sooner rather than later that my family was no longer a safe space for my body, so I leaned on my friends, but this didn’t prove to be any easier. I need you to imagine being a young teenage girl, going through this internal struggle with fatness and newly developed self-hate and depression yet having to comfort your friends repeatedly in moments when they “felt fat”.
What does it even mean to feel fat?
I would sit there, as an actual fat person, convincing myself that these people that hated the mere feeling and appearance of being bloated, were also able to love and respect my fat body.
As if things weren’t already hard enough internally, growing up as a woman meant having body trends shoved down your throat and insecurities sewn into every aspect of your life, no thanks to capitalism and the patriarchy. You need not look far to realise that being fat was the worst thing to be at that point because then came the age of Tumblr. With it came an increased romanticisation and promotion of eating disorders. This made it almost impossible to go back to that space in your childhood where you just existed within your body without attaching any form of self-worth to it.
I apologise to my younger self a lot because I know it’s not her fault that she was made to feel so ugly. So undesirable that she would turn to short romantic flings with violent fatphobic men as a haven. After all, at least in that moment someone was putting up with her body.
Here’s the thing about navigating the romantic scene as a fat woman; it’s the worst. It gets confusing because you’re sexualised in private but never respected in public, and this resigning of desire to private spaces makes it easier for people to violate your body without repercussions. Such is the story that predates sexual trauma for a lot of bigger women. And God forbid you’re a sexually liberated woman who is comfortable in your fatness and able to cultivate safe sensual and sexual experiences, because how dare you allow yourself enjoy spaces of pleasure regardless of how your body looks.
What’s crazier is that people think it’s unimaginable to love fat and curvy bodies unless you’re a “chubby chaser” because surely only someone with a fat fetish could possibly love someone so different to what society paints as the beauty ideal.
Constantly having everything you do scrutinised by others because you’re not allowed to be fat and happy is extremely tiring. You’re not allowed to wear crop tops or shorts because then your cellulite is showing. You’re not allowed to eat the food you want to eat because it’s reserved only for those who present as society’s body ideal. You’re not allowed to dance or engage in any intense physical activity because no one wants to see your fat body moving about in that way.
A woman that is fat and happy is promoting obesity. She should be so disgusted in her skin that she hides away from the world till she’s ready to participate in the almighty glow-up trend, which is just fuelled by huge undertones of fatphobia.
You’re simply just not allowed to exist.
So that’s why I’ve chosen to stop actively trying to lose weight, and I can’t explain the world of peace that has followed. I’ve realised that the onus is not on me to do the work to combat fatphobia, but on everyone collectively, and me losing weight is not gonna change what has now become a huge societal issue.
I have started the journey of learning to love and care for my body again by stepping into the practice of body neutrality. Learning that my body is constantly changing and regardless of how it looks today, tomorrow or in ten years, it is not a reflection of my self-worth. Radically accepting my body through all its stages is helping me experience joy in ways that I denied my younger self. I am eating food that nourishes me and feels good. I am dancing and exercising and moving with the primary goal of simply feeding back into a body that has supported me throughout the years and is deserving of love and respect.
The truth is that these beauty ideals were never created to include the beautiful black fat woman that I am. So, I refuse to spend the rest of my life operating from a space of self-hate and denying my body the amazing forms of self-expression and joy that come with just letting myself exist.