Sex and the Fat Girl: Body Love and Fatness As Choice

In so many questions submitted to Ask a Fat Girl, I was asked how to start loving your body. I gave many suggestions, but I want to touch on something that I think is integral to truly loving your fat body—taking responsibility for it. What I mean by taking responsibility is not denying culpability in your fatness to ward off judgment. You can't love your body and at the same time view it as being outside your control. I recognize that a main party line of many in the fat acceptance movement is often that fatness is not a choice. And I also recognize that when you're oppressed, it's easier to take the path of least resistance, which in this case would be the denial of culpability. To enjoy sex you must LIVE in your body, and living in your body means accepting the state it is in and the choices you make that affect it.

Although outside the fat acceptance community it is not popularly accepted that fat people may not be fat by choice, within the fat acceptance community it is a cherished tenet. Of course many, many fat people are fat despite their best efforts. But there are also many fat people who are fat because they choose to be, who may be able to lose weight but simply choose not to attempt it. I am one of those people. I believe my fat body is beautiful, that I deserve love and pleasure no matter what my size and my self-esteem is high—yet I choose to count fast food as a major part of my diet and am perfectly happy to admit it. Many fat activists claim that if you love your body, you'll "treat it right" by adjusting your eating and exercising habits or practicing Health at Every Size. Our worth as fat women should not rest on our doing "all the right things." Many of the women who espouse the innocence line would be the first to give me the side eye should I start practicing HAES and lose weight. My love for my body doesn't falter as the scale fluctuates, nor does it waver when I eat nothing but McDonalds all day and move very little. This has everything to do with your mental health and little to do with physical health. You can love your body when you're physically healthy and when you're not. But you can't love and accept your body if you're preoccupied with your perceived lack of agency over it.

Likewise, a preoccupation with control over your body through dieting prohibits you from experiencing true self-love and acceptance. When you're constantly dieting you are existing in a state in which your self-image and ability to exert control over your body are fluid. You never truly inhabit your body because you're constantly seeking to change it. Yet some say the feeling of self-love and dieting are in a way not necessarily mutually exclusive. Some women may diet because they love themselves/feel beautiful and misguidedly seek to have their external appearance be validated by society in the same way it is validated by themselves. This is the old "skinny girl in a fat body" trope often executed in film and TV. I would argue that believing you're beautiful "on the inside" and that your true beauty can only be expressed by shedding the "shell" of fatness is not a belief consistent with true self-love. What your body looks like at this instant is what's important, not an idealized vision of yourself that you feel is hiding under layers of fat. In this sense, control over your body becomes something you perceive yourself as having too much of rather than something you innately lack. Same trap, different way to spring it.

When agency over our body becomes something we willingly surrender in an attempt to shield ourselves from persecution, we're not gaining ground. There's no way to create a viable self-image based on body politics that encourage resignation over celebration. Coming to terms with that lays a foundation for the cultivation of healthy self-esteem and true body acceptance, and in turn starts you down the road toward total self-love.

Comments

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This was beautifully written.

This was beautifully written. Owning and accepting your choices and their consequences is an enlightened way to live. It's also something that can be incredibly difficult and painful to ask of someone who has lived behind excuses for so long. We all lean on excuses to cut ourselves a break, but having real compassion for your life, your body, is to accept.

Such a timely post...

This is giving me a lot to think about in terms of accepting my body. I still haven't come to terms with who I am, how my body works, what it wants and needs. I struggle every day with these notions of healthy and fat and skinny and healthy fat and skinny fat and etc, etc.
That's all. Thank you for this post.

This is yet another beautiful

This is yet another beautiful article. While I have never been fat (in fact my BMI says I'm in the unhealthily under-weight catagory), I follow Sex and the Fat Girl constantly just because it boosts my own self esteem. I love that, while it is written with fat girls especially in mind, it simply promotes love of the body you're in, which is oh-so-important for us girls of ALL shapes and sizes.

I agree. For whatever reason,

I agree. For whatever reason, I have almost always loved my body, and I think this post touches on some reasons why. Then sometimes I would have friends who I genuinely thought were beautiful no matter their size, and they hated their bodies, and I could never understand why. I would try to be sympathetic, to tell them they were beautiful, but my words never helped, which is frustrating from a friend's perspective. There was a fundamental disconnect in the way they saw their bodies and the way I saw mine or theirs, even if our bodies were similar. It was something I just couldn't wrap my head around, like quantum physics. I am loving the entire series but this post especially gave me a little bit of insight into their thought process. The idea of control and agency is definitely an intriguing one. Thanks so much for writing!

why it helps

no matter our size, we all are fat.

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rljd

Mapping beauty successfully

Totally with you on following Sex and the Fat Girl as it also boosts my self esteem, although I'm physically "average" according to BS BMI standards. Loving my body and coming to see it as beautiful has taken the better part of my life. For many years I thought that I would never measure up to what I saw daily in television, magazines, movies, etc. and that I should just take what I could get romantically. It took years to finally see myself as having worth and to stop abusing myself over the (albeit small) fluctuations in my weight. I take better care of myself now (e.g. no binge drinking or cutting or beating myself up for not having the porntastic body type American culture celebrates) and have come to love my body, fully knowing that it will continue to change as I age. Now, when I find that my pants don't fit, I don't try dieting and exercising like mad with the hope of fitting into them. Instead, I buy new pants.

Hi, lovely post. I was

Hi, lovely post. I was wondering about your reference to "skinny girl in a fat body." What is this? I've never heard the phrase/concept before.
Thanks

Skinny girl in a fat body a

Skinny girl in a fat body a phrase used in the belief that everybody is naturally skinny. For example, “I just started this new diet, I just know there is a skinny girl inside me under all this fat.” Thats how I have come to understand it anyway.

Well, quite like a braveheart

Well, quite like a braveheart in the body of a nervous wreck! :) I loved the post - but comment threads like these make the Blog even more worth reading. :) Cheers!

Have you seen the movie

Have you seen the movie "Shallow Hal"? That expression reminded me of it. It's a movie about a guy who for some reason develops the supernatural ability to see people according to their "inner beauty" instead of their outward beauty, so supermodels who are awful people end up looking conventionally unattractive; the really nice girl who is overweight ends up looking like Gwyneth Paltrow, and he ends up falling for her.

Shallow Hal Indeed

It's so interesting that you bring up the movie "Shallow Hal". Although the makers of the movie were obviously trying to promote the acceptance of all people no matter how they look, they kind of did the opposite. When Hal can see people's 'inner beauty' he falls for Rosemary (who is fat), but only because he is blinded to what she actually looks like. The movie still promotes the usual stereotypes of what is considered beautiful, because Rosemary's 'inner-beauty' is personified by a tall, thin, blonde and leggy Gwyneth Paltrow. Although at the end of the movie, when Hal sees the real (fat) Rosemary, he says, honestly, that she is beautiful, I don't totally buy it. The other problem this "fat-is-beautiful" attitude highlights, though, is our fixation on (female) beauty. It's all of a sudden become politically correct to say that all women are beautiful no matter what their size, but I always think we should be focusing on something other than beauty and the physical. Does this need to call ourselves and everyone else beautiful really show that we've evolved? Changing the parameters of what we can call beautiful doesn't get us any further away from our obsession with the superficial.

glad you added this; i wasn't

glad you added this; i wasn't being very articulate when i left the initial comment, but i highlighted the movie for some of the reasons you mentioned. it doesn't invite people to re-conceptualize their ideas of what beauty means at all, let alone question our preoccupation with it, and the directors/whoever seem to think that the only way they can convey rosemary's "beauty"/goodness as a person is masking her with the typical centrefold type of beauty.

Thought-provoking

Thanks for the thought-provoking piece. I've just written an article on female beauty, co-dependence and valuing ourselves as we are: http://lizfarsaci.wordpress.com/beauty-diary/.

I think Naomi Wolf put it well in The Beauty Myth when she wrote: "A cultural fixation on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty but an obsession about female obedience."

obedience

Ohhhhhhh I forgot that line!!! That's so important to remember - it also applies very directly to eating disorders, which are treated as behavioral pathologies because the medicalized problem is whether women are able to carry out their prescribed roles, not whether they feel in control of their bodies.

Good stuff, Naomi Wolf. More of that please!

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rljd

Yes, ma'am

It's so awesome to hear this from someone else's mouth (or, I guess to see it in someone else's text.... or whatever). I often get into little mini fights with myself over this very topic in my head (often while sitting in line at a drive-thru, because that's really when it hits me), and you articulated it beautifully here. I'm familiar with fat acceptance and I am a fat-positive lady who is comfortable in her body and generally revels in waving the flag of fat pride, and yet there is something that's always been uncomfortable to me about the FA movement being so hardcore about HAES. I'm not against it by any means, in fact I think it's great, because obviously, being healthy at any size is a wonderful thing, and fat people need to feel comfortable enough with their bodies to play an active part in seeking out proper avenues of ensuring their physical, emotional, spiritual health without feeling stigmatized and shamed and so on, so in that regard HAES is awesome and makes lots of sense. But what I don't like so much is the the feeling I get from people within the FA movement that seems like they sort of look down on people who "perpetuate fat stereotypes" by choosing not to move around a lot or eat food that is notoriously unhealthy. Like my behavior sets fat people back 30 years or something. The truth is that reasons for being fat vary immensely from person to person. Biologically, you could chalk it up to metabolism, genes, glandular conditions, etc. And sure, I understand that another argument may be that some fat people who do eat poorly and lack motivation to exercise do so because they feel psychologically relegated to these behaviors as a result of oppression and subsequent depression, self-hatred, etc etc, and I feel for them and totally understand that in many cases, it's not 100% their "fault," but for me personally, that simply isn't true. I don't abstain from the gym because I feel embarrassed about going or fear that I'll be mocked/judged. I simply don't want to go, because it sucks, and I don't enjoy it, and I feel that I can find methods of movement that are more fun and enjoyable to me than a gym, so I don't go, and I'll readily admit that to anyone. Similarly, I don't eat fast food because I lack a basic sense of self-love that would otherwise give me the power to make the "right" decision and put down the big mac... I eat it because I'm hungry, and it's there, and it tastes good and will make my hunger go away. Basically, the need for people to accept fat bodies AND the personal choices of the people inhabiting those fat bodies is something that definitely rings true for me, so thanks.

This is a great article. I

This is a great article. I have only recently been able to accept my body, which is average and not perfect. In a class I'm taking on gender, we've been discussing the impossible standards of beauty presented in the media, and we talked about the recent-ish obsession with not just thin but well-toned and in-shape bodies. I actually had a revelation in class: It's normal for the stomach to roll when sitting down, and someone who doesn't have that happen at all when they sit is really unhealthy. It's sad that I didn't really think about this until age 23, but I think that shows how much influence our media has over our perceptions of ourselves and others.
I really like the line "To enjoy sex you have to LIVE in your body" because I think having sex opened me up to acceptance of my body. Before sex, I always thought that my body couldn't be attractive to men. Having sex has helped me realize two things: that my body IS attractive and sexual to others, and that whether or not others find me attractive doesn't matter. It's weird that one thing could lead me to those conclusions simultaneously but it's true. I realized that my boyfriend loves my body as it is and doesn't think about it in pieces (this part too big, this part too small) but as a whole that is wholly sexual and attractive. But more importantly, with the introduction of sex in my life came the introduction of living in my body, as Tasha Fierce says. I became comfortable walking around the apartment naked when alone. I stopped thinking about how my yoga workouts might help me lose weight, and started thinking about how they made me feel more comfortable, relaxed and energized. I've (mostly) stopped worrying about one meal or snack that could 'ruin' my appearance. One milkshake doesn't add five pounds (though some are good enough to be worth it if they did!).
I think the point of this blog, being comfortable with your body, is something that so many women need to know and embrace. While Tasha Fierce is talking about a certain type of woman, I think it applies to all. We'll never get men to stop criticizing our bodies by tearing them apart and analyzing all of their imperfections if we can't stop doing that to ourselves. Women need to call each other (and themselves) out on this. We need to make sure our friends are dieting for good reasons (like health) and not to meet some standard based on how others feel about them. We need to encourage our friends to love their bodies as is, without feeling the need for changing them.
I really, really appreciate these Sex and the Fat Girl blogs!

Self-love at any size

Another wonderful gaze into our perceptions of size and self-acceptance. There is no power, in a Foucauldian sense, in allowing ourselves to be given up to our biology without recognizing that we pay an important part in our bodily existence. Thank you for pointing out how easy it is to fall into excuse patterns. I know what it is like to live on both sides of the size spectrum and that we are capable of negotiating where we lay to a certain degree. Your honest claim that you have chosen to exist at a certain size is inspiring because you unabashedly love yourself where you are.

I totally feel this. I'm

I totally feel this. I'm probably not what most would consider "fat" but I live in a culture where anything over a size 2 is considered overweight. Anyway, I've noticed that when I'm around other female friends, I feel pressured to talk about how I need to lose weight and eat less fatty foods, simply because I know it's expected of me. A girl who's content with her appearance?! Never! How thoroughly vain! But the truth is that, while I have my self-critical days like everyone else, I'm mostly okay with how I look, and I don't really feel the need to change my eating and exercising habits. I enjoy eating rich foods now and again, and I'm not very athletic, and personally I don't feel any need to change that, except for paying lip-service to it due to societal expectations.

Just had to comment I am

Just had to comment

I am not a fat girl, but I have serious problems with self-hate and dieting. I feel like I have to fit in some sort of twisted reality where how my body looks is decided by society. On the other hand I've been reading a lot of fat acceptance blogs lately and come to slowly realize that it is whitin my power to break free from this.

This piece really hit me. It was wonderfully written and brings across something not often touched upon - that you can actually be fat by choice and loving it. Often, being fat is seen as something you either are genetically or you're fat just because you're a lazy bum. Your view is refreshingly open and honest!

Thanks!

No more excuses

one thing you hit on the spot is the fact that most people do not take responsibly into their own hands. They always seem to blame the pie or the cake sitting one the table or the fact that her boyfriend made her so stressed out that they just had to eat that extra cookie.

Take it upon your selves people! Just say No to cookies...