This isn’t a statement that is up for debate; it is not a plea for attention, an invitation for people to flock to me with fawning words: oh no, you aren’t fat, you’re beautiful.
I mean, I am beautiful. I’m also fat.
Not the kind of fat you hear people talking about when they swoon over ‘curves’; it’s not nicely dispersed in all the places people like. It bulges out in odd spots, swallows my ankles, gathers around my knees and protrudes over my trousers. The skin around the tops of my arms wobbles with every word I type, and the blubber of my thighs ripples as I stim my feet. Everything jiggles. Like I’m made of jelly.
My relationship with my body is ever-evolving and difficult. Sometimes first instinct within me is to look at my body in the mirror and scream. I want to pinch every last roll, push it in, suck in my ribs so that every piece of clothing falls flat against me rather than ballooning outwards.
This isn’t new. Even when I was at my skinniest, my stomach was never flat, my arms were never taut, and my legs were never trim. But they weren’t quite this wibbly-wobbly.
Those months of skinniness signified a period of deep physical and mental disharmony – the weight fell off me because, at university, I was so scared to leave my room that I often failed to eat anything but the odd cookie or sweet. The kitchen was the focal point of university house-share socialisation, and my feet would not take me there. Even when I could bring myself to go, I was like a frightened woodland creature, scurrying into the fridge to grab the easiest thing and then darting back to the safety of my burrow.
But still, I was skinny. That felt so important at the time. I would look back on pictures of my university self and covet those arms and legs. Never mind the bulging pain in my heart and in my head; the stomach wasn’t bulging quite so prominently as it was in the present.
It is not lost on me that, in the past four years since graduation, my size and my weight has been rising. As clothes that once fit comfortable grow tight on my flesh, and as the numbered labels on the outfits in shops get higher, it is hard to ignore that something is changing.
I’ve sat in shop changing rooms weeping as yet another piece of clothing in the size I definitely was a few months before fails to even go on my body. I’ve gone into meltdowns behind those curtains, often as my mum tried to calm me, only to get frustrated herself as I refused to try on anything but the size that I knew was supposed to fit. I’ve even gone so far as to instruct the doctor, who was weighing me as part of the regular check-up for my medication, not to tell me what the scales said, fixing my eyes on the ceiling until I was told I could step down from the dreaded instrument of self-confidence destruction.
It has taken me a long time to get to the point where I mostly accept and celebrate my body. We don’t live in a culture that makes that sort of thing particularly easy. As someone who has always struggled with understanding cultural norms, and has therefore felt confined and trapped in a baffling circle, this was just one other thing that I felt cut me off from the rest of the world. I wasn’t skinny, or trim, or fit, and I was supposed to be. Just like I was supposed to be able to understand non-verbal implications and social etiquette, so I was supposed to have a better shape than this – why couldn’t I just be something that didn’t set me apart on this little island of self loathing?
It doesn’t help that well-meaning friends and acquaintances on social media are involved in weight-loss businesses. I see post after post of people celebrating weight loss, lauding participants as ‘success stories’ and ‘courageous’ people, with no mention of anything but the difference in the jeans they wore then and the jeans they wore now. It makes me want to curl into a ball and hate myself forever. It does not inspire me. It makes me question my worth, and panic about the measuring tools of my successes.
You too can achieve your goals!
But what if my goals have nothing to do with how much fat I carry?
Am I not courageous? Have I not succeeded?
When you are told that you are insignificant, inferior, not ‘cool’ enough, unimportant, undeserving of representation; that you should hide, shrink, cover up, walk with your head down, and not take up space…to do the opposite of that is a radical and paradigm-changing action. Just do you.
– Jes Baker, fat acceptance and body positive activist
My weight is not a signifier of my worth or my success. I see a picture of someone who has lost weight, and I want to know the other things they have achieved. I have no issues with people losing weight, with people being proud of themselves for losing weight – if it is the right thing for you, then I applaud that. But it is not a failure to be a big person. It is not a failure to be wibbly and wobbly and not particularly fussed to do anything about it.
In fact, if anything, my weight gain is an indicator of my success and courage. I have three meals a day. I remember to eat. I will open the door of my workplace kitchen with no hesitation. My lack of weight was a symptom of just how much I was struggling – how low I was, how much I hated myself, and how much I was unable to function in any way at all. I somehow dragged myself up that endless jagged wall. I did that. I am happy. Every bulgy bit of me is an example of how far I have come.
I will only allow myself to be proud of that.
I’m not looking to lose weight. I am not looking to restrict my diet, or to take up a strenuous exercise regime to ‘fix’ this thing that isn’t a problem. At the moment, I am focused on the direction of my life and my career. I have no spoons left at the end of the day. In order to maintain a good level of self-care, I have to give myself wind down time between getting home (please note, I have an hour to an hour-and-a-half commute at the beginning and end of each day) and going to bed. I know my limits, and I know what I need to do to keep my head above water.
Maybe one day I will do these things. Maybe one day I’ll want to. That seems like a damned good reason to do it. Because I want to. Not to follow someone else’s ideas of what success and courage should look like.
I measure my success on my own terms. Whether it be weight, autism, or anything else.
In fact, the process of accepting my fatness has gone hand in hand with the process of accepting my autism. This thing that brought me so much shame; this thing that painted a target on my back. This thing about myself that I tried to so desperately to mask and change. This thing that kept me awake at night with thoughts of why was I made this way?
The process of acceptance brought with it a greater knowledge of myself. I began to connect with myself and the different facets of my identity. And from a more intimate understanding came love.
Love of my autism. Love of my fatness.
And love of my wibbly-wobbly perfectly-imperfect self.