The fear of fat can be interpreted as a fear of chaos (because fat acceptance acknowledges that some things exist outside our capacity to control), a fear of disease, or a fear of being socially ostracised.
I think the last point is oftentimes the most powerful and immediate one, but it’s obvious so I won’t elaborate. Really all three fears boil down to the same thing: the fear of chaos and inevitability. You cannot embrace fat acceptance without considering the notion that one day you’re going to die, and you cannot put a stopper in death. No wonder people rage against it.
We cling to the notion that fat can be controlled, and we cling to the notion that health can be controlled, and we cling to the notion that fat causes disease because if all that is true, maybe if we can stay thin we can buy the lie that we’re safe, that we’re not going to get sick, and maybe – not today at least – we’re not going to die. We’re not too naive, we know we can’t stop it, but as long as we don’t get fat... Maybe just...
So we project our fears outwards. We persecute fat. Aggressively. Perhaps we sense the discord.
Good things happen to good people, and we are taught obedience at a very young age, and surely if we are good, good things will happen to us?
And so we are never free – never free to play and move and express ourselves physically – never free from the dogma and exploitation – never immune to the promise of the most ‘effective’ training methods or the next diet. It’s fear that binds us.
I have found that you can live in denial of chaos and inevitability only for so long.
When an apparently healthy person dies – through illness or accident – it rattles our world view. It challenges what we have been told all our lives – it shakes the structures that we have come to believe in and so the tragedy strikes us on many different levels.
I’ve seen it frequently – someone gets a scare, a reminder that they too, are mortal – they come to the gym, train hard for three weeks, then they’re gone. That kind of approach doesn’t serve you for life, for health. But to train for life, because of the fear of death? That’s not the life I want. How can you know you’re on the right path when you’re guided by fear and exploitation?
No wonder fat acceptance is so hard to accept – we must also come to accept and understand chaos. And when you are committed to not shaming yourself thin, not exploiting your own fears in the name of progress, and not sacrificing your health at the altar of the beauty standard, you feel as if you’re fighting an endless battle. Make no mistake, fat acceptance is hard. The status-quo will fight back in the face of rejection.
When I was younger I was dedicated to curing my diabetes. Conventional medicine acknowledges no cure, so I sought answers in alternative, complimentary and esoteric therapies.
Stubbornly I thought – I had to believe – that fat could be controlled. If I couldn’t control a simple thing like fat (we hear all those success stories, don’t we? Am I the only one who fails?) – how could I control diabetes? How could I cure it?
In the end – I only resented the methods I had dedicated myself to, because I thought they had failed me, and I didn’t appreciate them for what they truly gave – but these days I practice qigong because of the immediate benefit – it brings me peace. I lift heavy for a sense of satisfaction and achievement. I experience joy through physicality. It’s not abstract or arbitrary. It is both specific and immediate, and when I fail at something – at a lift, at training in a broader context, at being kind to myself – I learn. All experiences are valid.
The thing is – you don’t control diabetes. You live with it. And you don’t control fat, you live with it, as you don’t control your physiology and body in general – you live with it. Fat is essential. We know this – we know that even if you could eradicate it, you would be foolish to do so. It’s not the enemy we make it out to be – it’s a scapegoat.
There is more to be learned in self-acceptance than there is in being dedicated to your self-improvement.
It is not pessimistic, it is optimistic. When you choose fat acceptance you choose freedom. Freedom from exploitation, freedom to train and move and eat and be in whatever way suits you best. It’s true what they say – our greatest fear isn’t that we’re inadequate, it’s that we’re entirely adequate and more, just the way we are. It’s a confronting, even terrifying thought that we were meant to be mortal, and that nothing is wrong.
We seek perfection, thinking that such a thing exists. We buy the lie that tells us we need to be improved, to be made better, and so we hold the human condition in contempt. It’s been said before: everything is backwards. It is not optimistic to strive for greatness because you believe humans are mediocre by their nature. It reveals only self-loathing and contempt. If you are motivated by self-loathing, when are you going to be happy? When are you going to feel complete, satisfied, and at peace? Or is peace not what you are seeking?
Of course, the thinner I became, the more critical I became. The harder on myself I became. While you mightn’t call me fat, and you mightn’t call me thin – I am fifteen kilograms heavier now – there’s both muscle and fat – but I’m much less disordered about it all, I’m more happy and proud of my own body, and I’m more healthy too, as far as my feeling and contemporary measures go. I am not ashamed of that which does not warrant shame. But it’s hard work. Still, you develop what you train – when you practice lifting weights you get better at lifting weights. When you practice standing up for yourself, you get better at standing up for yourself. And when you practice kindness, you get better at being kind.
It is more optimistic to learn to love and accept ourselves as we are, warts and all, mortality and diabetes and all the crap. This way lies compassion and wisdom. Nobody becomes enlightened by constantly looking into the light – we develop by investigating the darkness. Indulging in delusion and denial does not postpone sickness and death.
I once saw a headline: “fat acceptance kills”. But death was always going to happen, and fat acceptance doesn’t hasten it along. Nowhere in the manifesto of fat acceptance is anyone saying you should treat yourself like garbage. Instead, I believe you should seek to understand yourself and what actually serves your interests.
Sometimes I see the slogan: “what motivates you?” – and I’m not sure what to answer any more. But I want the answer to be love.