The Other F Word
I’ve struggled a lot with the word “fat” over the years. I’ve leaned toward euphemisms like curvy or chubby; even overweight or obese were more comfortable to me than fat. FAT. It was always hate language, that other F word, used to belittle me by school bullies or strangers on the street. Fat was the worst thing you could be, and it was a label I would never dare give myself. I worked to shrink my fat body and make myself smaller, but no matter how much weight I lost, I never looked like the societal ideal of womanhood. The perfect woman, I had observed, was small, delicate and breakable. With my strong, broad body, I would never fit into those categories. Even at my fittest, I still had extra padding, and I agonized in frustration that no matter how hard I worked and dieted, I could never manage to get a flat stomach. I was always at least a little bit soft.
It took me a long time to change the way that I saw my body, and to realize that what I had seen as my own failing was, in fact, the failings of a world that minimized my worth. This change happened slowly, in stages. The first major shift was when I crashed my bike five years ago. I was going 30km an hour and dove headfirst over my handlebars, landing chin-first on the pavement. I was stunned to realize upon going to the hospital that the only thing broken was my tooth. I could have broken my jaw, which was badly bruised, or my wrist, from trying to catch myself with my hands. I could have broken my leg from the way it dragged awkwardly under me across the pavement. But, my strong, healthy, softly padded body protected me. That night, drugged and delirious in the hospital I kept saying, ‘thank you bones! I love you bones!’ I realized then that I am lucky to have this body that is not prone to injury.
The next major shift in the way I saw my body was two years ago, when I completed my first triathlon. I was 205lbs when I finished that triathlon, and no one else there looked like me. But the morning of my tri, I didn’t feel like an imposter. I knew that I could do it, and I did. So often, online trolls tell people to lose weight because they’re ‘concerned’ about their health, but I finished a triathlon with a BMI that labeled me obese, working out six days a week, and eating a healthy diet that was overseen by a nutritionist. My metabolism and fat burning abilities seem to have slowed, but my running, swimming and biking abilities keep improving. This body of mine allows me to do so much.
In the time after my triathlon, when I realized that I actually truly love my body, no matter its size, I started exploring the world of body positivity. I had felt in the past that I didn’t really belong there, because I talked so much about weight loss, and that seemed antithetical to the concept of body positivity. But, as I’ve often said, weight loss is a goal post, not the goal. Every action I took was always grounded in a place of deep love for myself, and a desire to live my best life. Self-love is exactly what the body positivity movement is about!
As I was exploring the world of body positivity, I came across the work of Lindy West, whose writing resonated powerfully with me and instigated a profound shift in the way that I saw myself. She helped me realize that the problem was never me and my fat body. The problem was the world around me that made me feel less than because there was more of me. The problem was a culture that told me that in order to be valid, I needed to shrink. This was a huge turning point, and was the moment that I truly internalized that my size is not relevant to my worth or my beauty.
I’m training for two more triathlons now, and my weight is stubbornly clinging to me, but I’m not fussed about it. In fact, my scale died and I’m not replacing it. I’m making gains in running and in swimming, I’m saving up to buy my new road bike, and I like the way that I look.
So the world tells me I’m fat; I’m fine with that. It isn’t hate language to me anymore. Fat people are worthy of dignity, respect, and kindness. We are worthy of a life rich in experience, just like everyone else. I embrace my beautiful, strong, fat body. I am fierce and I am powerful, and only I have the ability to define my worth.
Photo credit for the banner image and final image goes to Emma Sangalli Photography. Thanks Emma!