In Latin America bodies occupy a more public space than in North America, where others’ bodies are seen as intensely private, a thing not to be commented on or spoken of so openly. In Nicaragua it is not uncommon for someone to comment on my body and I am often referred to as grande (big) or gorda (fat) by my friends here and it doesn’t bother me because the statement is said in an affectionate manner with no malice. It is stated as a fact – my body is fat the same way it is true my hair is brown and my eyes are blue. In fact, I wish this were more the case in North America where the word fat has become wrongly synonymous with lazy, unhealthy, ugly, gross, unworthy. It has me thinking of my experiences as a fat woman living in Canada.
I’ve been fat for most of my life, ever since I was a young girl. I often felt defined by my weight and most certainly ashamed of it. I have been ridiculed for my size and made to feel less worthy because of it. Near the end of University, when I lost a lot of weight, obsessively working myself down to a “normal” size, I realised how much less threatening and friendlier the world was in my new thinner body. I got more respect, men noticed me more and treated me better and I felt less invisible in ways that were sometimes obvious and sometimes subtle. Nothing about me had fundamentally changed, yet many people around me acted as if something had. Fat people face discrimination all the time and losing weight made me realise this even more. Yet many people don’t recognize size discrimination as legitimate, but it is. It happens in institutions, in the media, in interpersonal relationships and it needs to be talked about and dealt with in the same ways as other forms of oppression.
I am a firm believer in size acceptance, in practicing self-love and accepting the fact that some bodies are not meant to be thin and that’s okay. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes and the problem is that our society passes moral judgement on those bodies that don’t conform to what is culturally acceptable. I used to buy into the lie that my happiness and worth was intrinsically linked to my weight. If I could just get down to this magical size, happiness would – poof – come to me and I would be more deserving of love. It was at my lowest weight when I really realised how foolish these beliefs were. Being thinner didn’t make all my problems or insecurities go away and, to be honest, I was exhausted from the mental and physical task of trying to get my body down to a size it really isn’t meant to be. So I decided to take a new approach to happiness – one that wasn’t dependent on numbers on the scale. I decided to try giving myself the freedom to be fat and to be okay with that. I focused on finding fulfilment in other areas of my life and in surrounding myself with people who loved me as I was. Yes I gained some weight, but the self-acceptance and contentment I gained with it were worth every pound.
It saddens me when I think back to my younger self, who believed I would have to find a partner who would love me despite my size. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself how wrong I was. I am lucky to have found a husband who I adore and who loves all of me, including my body. My husband has been attracted to bigger women since his teens, and yet felt the need to keep this a secret of sorts until later in life – afraid of what people would think of him. Part of the problem is that we also live in a society that teaches men it is wrong to be attracted to fat women or that such an attraction amounts to some sort of deviant fat fetish. No one tells men who prefer thin women that they have a skinny fetish. I wonder how many more men are out there, afraid to openly date fat women, also sacrificing their happiness for fear of what others may think of them. My husband, like me, thankfully got to a place where he just didn’t care what others thought about him. My hope is that others – men who love fat women, fat women and everyone else – are able to join us in just not giving a damn as well.
It took me a long time to get to the point where I am at today, where I can say with sincerity that I appreciate my body and its curves. I have moments of course when I wish this part or that part of me was different, but for the most part I feel good about my body. I don’t care what anyone thinks of me being fat. More importantly I no longer feel defined by my size, because ultimately I realised it just doesn’t matter. I am so many more important things – a traveller, a feminist, a human rights activist, a friend, a sister, a daughter, an aunt and a wife. I am someone who loves to read and who loves animals. I love the colour blue and taking long walks. I am opinionated, reflective and kind. I don’t need or want thin to be on that list.