On Swimsuits and Bodies

My beautiful Avenue swimsuit!

I grew up around water. Whether I was going to one of the Great Lakes for vacation (as I did this past week), or swimming in my grandmother’s pool, or joining the swim team, I spent countless hours perched on the edge of some body of water, wearing little more than a swimsuit.

This past week, I logged at least three or four hours a day in my swimsuit. Spending that much time bearing your body to the world is difficult for many people, male and female. And every summer, when vacation time comes around, it’s something I always think about.

I was lucky, I think. As a kid, I joined the swim team. From age eight up through age fourteen I swam competitively. It was, in many ways, a terrible time for me. I frequently was called fat. I was incredibly uncomfortable in my body and with what was happening to it. I was hyper aware of what my body looked like to other people. But I enjoyed swimming. At some point, I began winning my heats and doing quite well in long distance swimming. (I used to motivate myself to swim fast by pretending there was a shark behind me. It worked every time.) Though I was aware of how my body looked (and how fat I was), I was also aware of what my body could do.

Having spent so much time during my formative years in a swimsuit, I barely even notice it today. Yes, there’s always a twinge when I break out the swimsuit for the first time each year. I stare at it for a while, put it on, glare at the scrap of fabric in the mirror for a while. However, it’s not enough to stop me from wearing it. I vow not to let it stop me from enjoying myself.

But it’s harder sometimes. I sat on the beach yesterday, watching as girls pranced by in their bikinis, and I wished that I had the confidence, the curves, the abs that would make me feel comfortable in so little fabric. I look at them and wonder if I could ever look like that. And then I shake myself, trying to not let myself get invested in that counter-productive train of thought. I remind myself that, even if I were that thin, who’s to say I won’t still want to have a “better” body in some way? Who’s to say I will appreciate what I do have? Who says the body I have isn’t good enough?

Renewing my faith in myself is something I always do. I have to love my body, even in a swimsuit. I have to love my body in a tank top, in a skirt, in a bra and underwear, in long pants and a sweater. I need to love my body in some way every day. And I need to stop believing my body isn’t good enough how it is. Yes, I’m only human, and insecurities come with the territory. Some days it’s harder to do. Yesterday was a day I forgot. Today, I hope I’ll remember.

Fat + New City = Insecurity

I spent this past weekend looking at houses and apartments in the city I’m moving to for graduate school. I’m already getting nervous about leaving the place I am right now. You get comfortable and content in a place with people who care about you, and being uprooted to somewhere new makes all your insecurities rise to the surface. This is part of my so-called “process.” I tend to get anxious before big life changes and start to get nervous that I’m not ready, or not good enough to do well in my new life.

Part of this, of course, is a drop in self-confidence and renewed obsession with my appearance. I always worry that people are going to judge me when they meet me because I’m fat. And I’m terrified that this will happen when I move.

Luckily I’ve secured good, accepting roommates for the fall (I met them this weekend), and already have a few friends in the area, but it’s still tough. It’s one of those times of insecurity that makes me question my resolve. I start to think about losing lots of weight and becoming thin and therefore “beautiful.” I start to want to change myself because I think it will matter to all these new people I’m going to meet.

This, in turn, makes me angry at myself for thinking I need to change who I am for someone else, and continues the loop of frustration. I think I’m secure in my body, but then I start to think negative thoughts and buy back into the same traps and pitfalls I’d had before.

This is one of those times, I think, when I need to be reminded of people out there who don’t care about my size but care about who I am. This is one of those times when I have to remember who I am and what I believe in. This is a time when I need your advice. How do I avoid falling back into my insecurities? What has worked for you in your life? What wisdom can you give me to persist, oh Fatosphere of Wisdom?

Obese Star Loses Weight!!

"Obese Star" Real Headline

But not the kind of star you’re thinking. I was browsing articles over on HuffPost earlier today, and was shocked to run into an article with the headline: “Scientists Discover Obese Star…” It was somewhat shocking to me because I had no idea actual astronomical stars could be obese. Having taken an astronomy class in undergrad, I thought I knew all types of stars…red giants, white dwarfs, etc. But I’d never heard of an obese star.

What does this tell us, then, that journalists (or maybe even the astronomers?) are co-opting weightist language to describe phenomena? For me, it actually makes me wonder about how we use the word “obese.” I am a fat woman. That is how I describe myself. But, medically, I am obese. To many people, being “obese” means you’re ill. It means you’re too fat. Many people think it denotes laziness, overeating, inactivity. To many people, “obese” is a negative term.

How, then, does this translate to astronomy? It doesn’t. The star in question has a lot of mass. It’s 320 times larger than earth’s sun, and is quite a discovery. But calling it “obese” doesn’t add anything to the article. All it does is make you wonder, “How could a star be obese?”

It wasn’t until I read the article again (I had saved it because it bugged me so much) that it really hit me. The reason the astronomers and journalists are couching this star’s discovery in terms of obesity and weight is because it’s an analogy that most people will understand.

“Unlike humans, these stars are born heavy and lose weight as they age,” said Crowther, an astrophysicist at the University of Sheffield in northern England. “R136a1 is already middle-aged and has undergone an intense weight loss program.”

They’re trying to humanize it, and give it a defined relative mass. They’re trying to make it resonate with people through a metaphor that is obvious.

To me, it’s reminiscent of “ha ha, look at how funny we’re being by calling this thing fat.” They’re trying to be clever, but they don’t think about how they’re using the word. Does this stretch obesity too far? Are people now relating obesity to anything bigger than the sun? If this article were read by millions of people, would people call me a “big fat star” instead of a “big fat elephant?” When will the hyperbole end, and what damage will it do?

The Obesity Epidemic: What Really Gets To Me

I am currently in a TV Production Studio class at my college, and yesterday we took a field trip to the local CBS affiliate to see their studio and how they run their 5:00 news. It was really really exciting for me. I just thought it was so cool–seeing how everything works, watching the reality of the show as it’s happening, and hearing the newscasters make snarky comments while a segment was rolling in. Very neat.

Unfortunately, one of the stories was a health story alleging that obesity is as likely to kill you as smoking. I don’t know what study they were citing, but apparently new research has concluded that you’re equally likely to die early if you’re fat as you are if you’re a smoker.

It was at this moment that it became perfectly clear to me what my major problem is with the “obesity epidemic.” What the news, society, doctors, medicine at large, etc. fail to acknowledge is that it’s not obesity that’s killing people; it’s the problems they associate with obesity. Under the title of obesity fall high blood pressure, immobility, heart disease, high cholesterol, etc. etc. etc. Obesity itself doesn’t kill people; all these other problems kill people. And whereas the scientific community would like to say that obesity=these problems, I think most of us in the fat-o-sphere are living proof that that is not true.

I also think that the large number of individuals who are thin and have these same issues are proving them wrong as well. My normal-weight (by BMI standards) friend has high cholesterol. Another of my friends (who is normal weight by BMI standards) has high blood pressure. The list goes on. How does the medical community reconcile that? They are just health issues. They aren’t caused by anything more than genetics, maybe an unhealthy diet. When they show up in fat people, it’s considered a result of their obesity.

I just will never understand it. It’s like obesity is a virus, like the flu, that’s going to kill you slowly. Or that your fat is just going to strangle you one day while you sleep. WTF is that? I’m never going to understand it.

On the other hand, I do have high cholesterol. I’m trying to get it under control with diet and exercise and medication. But it’s in my family history. My dad has high cholesterol, my mom has high cholesterol. Two of my grandparents (one from each side) have had bypass surgeries due to blocked arteries. It’s flippin’ genetic. But still, when I walk into a doctors office, the first thing I’m told is that I need to get my weight under control. Like weight will solve all of my issues.

It wasn’t until recently that I really figured out how to approach this whole deal (with HAES as my guidance): we, in our society, and me personally, need to shift our focus from WEIGHT to HEALTH. It’s one simple thing. We need to switch from treatments for OBESITY to treatments for particular HEALTH ISSUES. Although I’m sure losing weight will help my cholesterol, losing weight isn’t enough, nor is it likely to happen quickly. I can start right now to change my cholesterol by eating right, working out, etc. But if I were to focus on my weight, as the treatment for my disease is asking me to do, I doubt I would get healthier. In fact, I’d just have an unhealthy view of the world.

This all just really clicked in my head today, though I’ve been thinking of it (not in these terms) for a while. It’s all in how we think about things. Sadly, I think that in the case of most of our society’s health issues, it needs to start with mind over matter: get it right, then make it right.

Are there really Fat Beliefs?

In my post yesterday where I was talking about the election, I asked a rhetorical question that now is really bugging me. The post was about an absurd article I found talking about the ten fattest states being for McCain and the ten slimmest being for Obama. I said the article was absurd as asked the question: “Are there really fat Beliefs?”

I got a rather incindiary response from a commentor, Kay, about my post, and she specifically addressed the subject of Fat Beliefs. I tried to explain in a comment how I felt, but I’m not sure I was clear. I’m going to try again here.

Since Fat Acceptance has just recently become a part of my life, I’ve never thought about my fat as dictating my belief system. My beliefs are centered more on women’s rights, feminism, and human rights in general. For me, the fact that I’m fat does not dictate how I think, vote, etc. It has been an emotional hurdle for me to overcome, and has inspired me to act on behalf of this injustice, but I have not been able to translate that directly to action, political or otherwise.

Herein lies my problem: my beliefs are not Fat Beliefs. I can’t become an activist for fat acceptance if I can’t even figure out what that means. I can’t even put my beliefs in the realm of fat. Other things always come first: women’s rights, equality, promoting tolerance, etc. Are these Fat Beliefs? Are these just other beliefs that just happen to blanket my fat? What are Fat Beliefs?

This is something I’m really having trouble wrapping my mind around, and I’m curious about what all you think. Kay said in her comment:

I sure as hell absolutely am “voting with my waistline.” Staying alive is one of my top priorities.

I honestly don’t think I understand that comment at all. I’ve been pondering about it since I recieved it yesterday, and I don’t understand it.

So, someone, please help me put this into perspective. Are there really Fat Beliefs?

Fat in the Election: Get Out the Fat Vote

Okay, y’all, I’ve seen this out on the fat-o-sphere lately, and am a little late in picking it up, but this article is one of the funniest, most contrived things I’ve ever seen. Basically, the whole thing is talking about how all of the fattest states in the nation are going to McCain, and all of the slimest states are going to Obama.

Of the 10 fattest states, nine show strong support for the Republican nominee, John McCain, with only Michigan – once considered a battleground state, but recently abandoned by McCain’s campaign – as the exception.

Of the 10 least obese and overweight states, eight support the Democratic nominee, Barack Obama, although Colorado, where Obama is ahead by four points, is still considered a toss-up. The exceptions are the conservative mountain states of Utah and Montana.

But THEN, believe it or not, the author goes off about traditional voting patterns relating to traditional eating habits and poverty.

There are many confounding factors here imposed on traditional voting patterns – a link between poverty and obesity, that the conservative states of the South traditionally enjoy fried foods, and the influence of the healthier cuisines of Asia and the Mediterranean on the east and west coasts.

Overall, this whole article feels like a ton of crap. There is, I agree, a relationship between poverty and obesity for a lot of people, but not everyone. And I don’t appreciate being considered as part of a mindless mass. Overall, as a fat woman, I’d rather vote for Obama because he’s for all of my issues. Which, believe it or not, world, are NOT related to my FAT.

Sometimes I think people get too caught up on weight. Yes, it is an emotional, pretty much hard to deal with, thing. BUT, I don’t vote with my fat. I vote with my values and beliefs. Are there really Fat Beliefs?

I hope all of you out there, fat or thin, will take a moment to consider the actual issues. I really really hope you’re not voting with your fat. And even if you, I think you’ll find a nice toasty companion in Obama. He’s less fat-hating than McCain.

Fat Documentary on Fat Experience

Quick post just to say that my Fat Documentary is up on the Fat Experience Project. For those of you who haven’t read about the project elsewhere, it’s a collection of personal stories and experiences from people of size. I quote their mission:

The Fat Experience Project® is an oral, visual and written history project which seeks to be a humanizing force in body image activism.

By collecting and sharing the many and varied stories of individuals of size, the Fat Experience Project® seeks to engage with, educate, empower and enrich the lives of people of size, our allies and the world at large.

The goal of the Fat Experience Project® is to map the experience of fat in a way that is human, has a face, a heart, a mind, a body and a voice. The goal is to listen and repeat – the good and the bad, the hard and the joyful and everything in between – in a way that may ultimately bring compassion to folks who don’t understand. More importantly, however, we hope The Fat Experience Project® will allow the folks who are hearing/reading their own words echoed back to them across the pages, fall in love with themselves and each other just a little more.

Please go check out the site. This project should help us all and provide a good resource of stories to help change the image of “fat as bad.” If you are willing, you should MOST DEFINITELY share your stories!

More on the Fat Experience Project later. Right now, I have to get read and go to work!

Mary Kay: Make my Day

So my sister got a call from an old friend this week asking her to host a Mary Kay party so she could do a demonstration. My sis, K., got really excited and called us all up, so I ended up at her apartment last night for a Mary Kay party. Now, those of you who know me know that I don’t wear a lot of makeup. But I thought, eh, what the hell! It’s free!

So I went. It was fun, and interesting. K., our brother’s girlfriend B., and our cousin E. and her friend (F.) all came. We were sitting around beforehand and eating chips and dip, when F., who is athletic and stick thin, said something about how she “had better eat all this dip now because next week she was going on Weight Watchers.” We all replied with mild outrage at the thought, saying that she was so thin, and that’s just absurd. She replied that she wanted to do it so that she could control what she ate. She says she eats “mostly carbs and no vegetables.”

This, sadly, launched a whole discussion about how Weight Watchers was the best diet. I put in my two cents, saying “I think the best diet is NOT dieting.” to which someone said, “Well, Weight Watchers is good because it teaches you how to eat.” I responded, “Hell, I know how to eat. No problems learning that one. I can eat just fine. See?” And proceeded to eat my cookie. My comment about the best diet being NOT dieting merely started everyone into justifying why Weight Watchers was so good. Ugh ugh ugh. What can a fat girl do?

I sorta just sat there and tried to debate a little against it all, but it just got tiresome. So I just listened. I thought it was really absurd. And sad. And I didn’t know what to do.

Next thing I know, we’re all sitting down around my sister’s table with mirrors and makeup in front of us. The Mary Kay consultant (we’ll call her MK, hee hee), is a sweetie, an really believes in this stuff. And thus she began her presentation. Right away she talked about how great Mary Kay is for women, which I believe, and how their sales are good, and make women millionaires. She said:

“The thing about Mary Kay is that, even in times of economic crisis, like right now, our sales are still booming. In times of economic crisis, sales boom on three things: alcohol, cigarettes, and makeup.” We all “Oooo” and “ahhhh” at that statistic. She continued: “Think about it, if I just lost my job, I’m gonna drink, I’m gonna smoke, and I’m going to want to wear makeup to my job interviews.” Interesting. And a little sad.

But I have to admit, their products are good. We did all the cleansing, and moisturizing, and then put on their quick day to day makeup. Their foundation was light (though way more than I’m used to), their eye makeup fantastic, and their lip treatment (including first a scrub for lips that exfoliates your lips, and an oil-based lip balm that lasts hours) was heaven. MK was so great, and really knew what she was selling. She told me afterwards that she really does love the product, and the fact that she can make money off of sharing it with others sincerely makes her happy.

I also got some interesting beauty tips:

1. You should always wash your face and neck in an upwards, outward motion, to prevent wrinkles.

2. For your eyes, you should always clean in an inward, downward motion to prevent crows feet.

3. You should change your mascara once every 2-3 months to avoid getting pink-eye, etc.

Anyway, my sister was delighted. She bought a ton of stuff (after getting a hosting discount). Today she sent an email to my mother saying that my mom should “see how beautiful she looked” and that she really loved hosting a party like that. E. and F. also bought some stuff.

Now I think this post might display some conflict in feelings on my part. And here’s why: I’m all for makeup. I’m all for enhancing what you consider your positive attributes. I’m all for a little bit of glam for something special. But I feel immensely sad that my sister, and a lot of women, need makeup to boost their self image. And it falls back to the usual suspects: low self esteem, trying to fit into an unreal ideal. And it makes me sad. I loved the Mary Kay demonstration, but I hated that my sister has never sounded happier, felt more beautiful, than the day after she bought, and therefore the first day she wore, all this Marry Kay makeup.

I think we need a message to women. One where we’re all clean-faced, fat, and happy. But then, if a bit of makeup makes you feel better about yourself, and how you look, more power to you. I support anything that makes people happy. I just wish that the superficial weren’t it.

On Weddings

I’ve wrote a little about this before, but here’s the skinny (haha!): I am currently surrounded by people getting married. This weekend, I was Maid of Honor for my friend K. My sister got engaged a month or so ago (and I will stand for her next spring). One of my other friends has been engaged for years and has finally set a date for next July. And last but not least, I have a fourth friend who, in all the wedding talk, has admitted she really wants to marry her current beau. Altogether, that’s a lot of wedding talk for me to handle, but I think I’ve been doing pretty well, except on these points:

For K.’s rehearsal dinner, we went to a nice restaurant that had very generous portions. Me and my friend G., a fellow bridesmaid, navigated our way pretty well through the tons and tons of food, only to arrive at dessert, and almost die at the size of the cakes we ordered. K. made a comment, as she picked at her carrot cake (OMG, the most delicious cake I’ve ever had) that she wasn’t going to fit in her dress the next day. She had explained to me earlier that the dress had a corset, and that she couldn’t breathe when putting it on. I said, (in a way that might have come out a little wrong), that the carrot cake would not, by any means, affect how well she fit into her dress. If she fit into her dress before that cake, then she’d fit into it after that cake. Her mother, a bit controlingly, commented a couple times on the fact that K. was actually eating her meal. I was thrown off, and G., who has become more and more aware of FA as me and my friends talk more and more about it, kept throwing me conspiratorial glances. Needless to say, we both tried, very hard, to eat our entire pieces of cake. I succeeded. G. got very close.

The next morning we arrived at the church bright and early for the 10:00AM wedding, and were there when K. was getting stuffed into her dress. We stood back and let K.’s mother and aunt dress her, but the entire time, while K. was trying not to breathe, her mother was saying, “You shouldn’t have eaten that carrot cake.” G. and I broke character at the moment, and looked on a little scathingly. K. did make it into her dress, and looked absolutely beautiful, but I couldn’t shake the cake comments all day.

This ties in nicely with my sister freaking out a bit about her weight and her dress size. She’s already started trying on dresses, and when she went, she realized that not only are wedding dresses a size larger than a regular dress size, but she has also, in the past year of great happiness with her now-fiancee, gained some weight. I, personally, think she has the perfect body for wearing wedding dresses. She has beautiful curves. And obviously her fiancee doesn’t mind them. But she does. When she called me to tell me about the dress-trying-on experience, she made a comment about how much she hated her body, to which I told her how perfect I thought her body was, and she actually got mad at me, and said something about how she had to lose weight.

I am distressed by all this obsession with looking your best on your wedding day. I mean, yes, find a great dress, get your hair and nails done, but this is your body. You shouldn’t have to mold it to some ideal version of you, when this is you.

The icing on the cake was something I heard on a morning show on the radio this morning about how instead of a bachelorette party, bridal parties today go to some sort of health spa bootcamp to lose weight before the wedding. The radio show pointed out that while men are “drinking, getting fat, and looking at strippers” women are “working their butts off to look like those strippers.” Ugh. Ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh.

Why can’t we all just accept that what makes you look beautiful on your wedding day is when you’re beaming with happiness. You won’t be happy if you’ve been starving yourself and working your butt off. You won’t be happy if your dress is too tight because you bought it to fit the so-called ideal you. On my wedding day I hope to be in heaven because I’m happy. It’ll make me glow, it’ll make me more beautiful, and it’ll make my fat glimmer and shine. No one will care how I look when I’m beaming with joy.

Quick Hits: Weight and Weddings

I was on the way over here to post when I stopped by the F-Word and read Rachel’s post on postponing weddings due to desired weight loss. What do you all think?

I really came to post a bit of fluff, which I found on YouTube today. I wanted to distract myself, and decided to YouTube. After watching the “Target Women” on Yogurt that made its rounds a few weeks ago, I searched to see if there were more: THIS is what I found! Enjoy!

The Belly Dancing Documentary is done! And my poetry collection is almost done, too! Huzzah! Expect posting after Thursday (still have to write a paper for then!).