The fear with body-positivism and fat acceptance is this: what if I accept myself as I am, cease these constant efforts to be thin, and then wind up fat, immobile and bedridden? If I have to accept myself now, does that mean I’ll have to accept myself then? How will I be able to approve of myself?
It is this fear that the status-quo exploits.
If it does happen to you, the fantasy is that obedience could have prevented it. But who wants to be immobile and bedridden? Who signed up for that, and intentionally set themselves on that course? And if that is how you live, or if you fear this possible outcome, how is judging yourself for your circumstances helping?
The lie is that it’s your fault if bad things happen to you. The confronting and provocative truth is that bad things happen to good people, and we have to work out how to cope and live with them. Obedience will get you only so far, and if you’re secretly a rebel at heart, like me – what then? What is the appeal of obedience when bad things still happen?
It’s a funny question. I’m not asking “what’s the point of being good if you’re not going to benefit from it?” I believe it’s worthwhile being kind and generous, not because maybe that will help you to avoid future suffering, but because these things are worthwhile in and of themselves.
But why drink the kool-aid? Why do what you’re told by the body-hating status-quo, who would only exploit your fears and then blame you if it all went wrong when you were only doing as you were told? The status-quo exploit fears of fat, illness and marginalisation with fury. They promise the moon and when they don’t deliver, they make out like it’s your fault – you’ve failed the system – it’s not, like maybe that the system was already broken. But they try to keep us chained to their wheel. Rage against it if you like!
Whether you gain weight and become bed ridden or not is not your fault. It’s the same big, big lie they tell us to keep us afraid. And then they tell us they can stop it, but dieting doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
Fat acceptance is better than the alternative. What, thinness? No, the alternative to fat acceptance is a lifetime of judgement and criticism, and never quite feeling like you qualify. And when you’ve taught yourself to love conditionally, to value achievement and status, you never learn how to love yourself and give yourself the support you need to have a full and satisfying life when life isn’t going so well. You only judge the failure. That’s the alternative to body-positivism – always feeling negative about your body, no matter how much it might change over time, and always judging your health status as a mirror of your worth. What does this truly mean for the disenfranchised? For those of us who are sick or weak, through no fault of our own? Unjust judgement, prejudice, fear and hatred. And those are the last things you need when you’re sick, and still struggling to live a meaningful life.
Acceptance is better than denial – if you can start to accept yourself, that’s a more realistic way to start becoming happy with yourself. You don’t need to get thin before your life can start – but when you set your sights and happiness on changing yourself, it’s endless – because you form the habit of only feeling happy with yourself once you change. Then, even if you do change and become thin, you’re still in the habit of only feeling happy with yourself when you qualify. You never reach that place where you appreciate yourself for all your strengths, or because of your weaknesses, or in spite of them – you are focused only on your weaknesses forever, and you never come to value what makes you truly unique – you are forever judging it, judging yourself. And I’m not sure a deep soulful peace and happiness is possible when your default set point is judgement rather than acceptance. It’s the half-assed Buddhist in me, perhaps.
Then there’s the science: from what I can tell, for almost everyone – and science deals in averages and trends and stuff – over the long term, dieting leads to weight gain. It appears to lead to more weight gain than simply eating whatever you want without judgement. And even if the margin were narrow – if dieting and eating whatever you like both led to equal weight gain – where is the argument for dieting? Because it’s pretty clear it doesn’t work. It’s not like we’re failing at it – it’s failing us.
So even if you’re dead-set against accepting yourself as you are, you’ve got a better chance of staying thin if you respect your body, feed yourself what you need, and don’t try to deprive or starve yourself for your own good.
I don’t believe in a “size you were meant to be” – there’s all kinds of things that play in to you being the size you are. And most of them, it seems, cannot strictly be controlled. The fear of sickness is often worse than the reality. Sometimes it’s not – but living in fear of future disease helps no-one. If you can get your head – and self-talk – around the concept of acceptance rather than judgement, there’s more you can do. Liberation. If you can accept your circumstance, whatever it is, it frees you to do stuff. If you remain locked in a mindset of judgement, it’s not helpful. It doesn’t matter if what happens to you is your fault or not, or if it’s someone else’s, or – as I think is often the case in a chaotic world – there’s really nobody to blame – all these things are distractions. You can get on with it. Whether you’re sick or healthy, you can live your life, try to take care of yourself to the best of your ability, but the key for me is – I’d rather eat what I want and be free, and use my own brain to make my own decisions, than forever be chained to some propaganda that requires unquestioning compliance and carries no guarantee that it will protect me from disease.
Sometimes that kind of statement sounds like a cop-out. But the truth is, as well, that when you free yourself from dogma and restriction, the forbidden foods lose their power over you, and you are enabled to eat freely. You don’t overeat as compensation for restriction – the way to cease overeating is to cease restricting – and a lot of the foods that we are taught are bad, and that we are taught to crave, cease to become problems for us. You start to let that shit go. If you're like me, you start to notice that you really do need to eat heaps more food than you're told, if you want to be healthy. That can be confronting. Really confronting. And confusing, too. But to be genuine to yourself, to meet your own true needs, you need to free yourself from preconception. You need to stop worrying so much about what other people think of you.
You start to see through the lies and the hypocrisy – if what they said was true, that thin friend you have who can eat whatever they want – that thin friend wouldn’t exist. The truth is, some thin people eat heaps of food and don’t gain weight, and many fat people eat hardly anything and cannot lose it. There is no system of rationalisation I’ve ever come across that can explain why that’s so. Your best bet, in my opinion, is to eat freely, in ways that agree with you, to find ways to move that are satisfying, and to do what you can to take care of yourself now, rather than to live in fear that you might one day become sick.
That fear might always exist, in one way or another – the fear of the unknown, the fear and secret knowledge that the world is chaotic and impossible to control – but you can stop them exploiting it. You can stop exploiting your own fears in an effort to stay healthy.
You can’t be at peace with your body if you always want it to be different; if you’re always judging it as worthy or not. Even if you do reach that place where you think your body is finally right, what then? Live in constant fear of fat? While never being free to live your own life? There’s this slogan on a protein powder I saw: life’s too short to be small. Really? I thought life was too short to be wasted pandering to other people’s demands, worrying about what everyone else thinks.
Love yourself unconditionally. Unconditional love is the hardest and most worthwhile. It demands that you still love, even in the face of adversity – even though you might not feel worthy, or whole, or healthy. Love truly, “in sickness and in health”, as they say.
And know that you develop what you practice. If you want to be good at push-ups, you practice push-ups – if you want to be good at running, you practice running. So if you want to feel good about your body, you need to practice feeling good about your body. And if you want to be able to love yourself, you need to practice. Even though you’re mortal, a sinner, imperfect or whatever. It gets easier over time. Maybe love and accept yourself because you’re “imperfect” and even so, you still deserve to feel good about yourself. If you’re in the habit of feeling bad about your body, that’s the habit you’re in. It won’t one day magically change all by itself when you finally qualify to some arbitrary standard. It will only change once you can change the habit.
So – how to be at peace with yourself and your body in a world where you're always told not to be? The key lies in learning how to reject the messages that we need to be anything other than the way we are.
But it's hard. I still find it requires work and vigilance – even so, my life is better for my efforts not to change myself, but to reject the notion that I'm not okay. And then you do whatever, with your time and energy, but it's on your terms.
The thing is – people who oppose body-positivism will always say something like “I don’t believe it’s possible to be fat and happy with your body”, but maybe that’s not the issue. How many thin people are happy with their bodies these days? How many thin people don’t fear becoming fat? How many thin people fear food and are perpetually dieting, even though they’re already thin? I don’t know many people who have lost weight and are satisfied with their bodies. It’s always just two more kilograms. Our culture makes it really hard for all people to be happy with their bodies. Promise the moon, deliver nothing. Worse than nothing. The weight loss industry promises happiness, health, and satisfaction, but they only encourage a more critical and judgemental mindset. It never ends, until you make it end.
Read part two.