As I sit alone in a San Franciscan cafe, I have a half full latte and the crumbs of a smoked salmon and sour cream laden bagel on my plate. It was satisfying, but the triple chocolate fudge cookie has caught my eye and is sending out some serious ‘I know you want me’ vibes. I go to ask for one, but I hesitate. I haven’t exactly had the healthiest meal – should I really be topping it off with an extra decadent chunk of chocolate-loaded goodness? I mean, I know for a fact if there were no one else in the cafe (or the world, for that matter) I would be reaching my pudgy little hand into that cookie jar quicker than you could say “hedonist”. But the slim and stylish barista stops me. The guy in gym clothes walking his dog (who has made a pit stop for a black coffee, with “just a dash of soy milk”) stops me. Just the possibility of their judgement stops me.
I chastise myself. Even if, for my own personal reasons, I decide that I’m not going to have that cookie – I hate that I need to have that inner dialogue… that the decision to eat or not eat is polluted and confused by the idea of expectation and public convention. It makes me mad, and sad, and indignant, and ashamed, and often very confused about the intersection of all those emotions.
On the flip side, I often feel just as vulnerable being spotted publicly eating something considered to be ‘healthy’, like a salad. There’s a hesitation that people will judge me for being an imposter (“if you really liked salad, you couldn’t be that fat”), or fear of the inevitable comment that summises “congratulations – keep up the healthy eating and you’ll lose all the weight in no time!”
And what if, on this particular day, it was an apple I was looking to finish my meal with? How would my feelings vary? The difference between a cookie and an apple is that the apple says “I’m sorry I’m fat, I’m trying really hard not to be. Look, see, I really DO care about my health!” Whereas the cookie says “I do whatever I want” – and that is tremendously confrontational to “devout members of the Wellness Church” (in the words of the incredibly intelligent & witty Jes Baker).
I wish I had a magical solution to shield myself against the vulnerabilities and stigma of being a fat woman eating in public, be they real or projected. But, as I decide to order that cookie, I remind myself that I cannot control how other people perceive me, or what they think of my choices. What I can control is my perceptions and perspectives.
So here’s the 411. Here’s some thoughts that help me through these kinds of scenarios, and if you’ve been nodding your head along to this article, you may also find these musings helpful:
You’re not alone in these sorts of feelings. They are very real, and very valid. You have no reason to be ashamed or angry at yourself. In the words of Ragen Chastain from the blog ‘Dances with Fat’, “whatever you do, remember that we live in a society that is truly fucked up around food, even more when it comes to food and fat people, and even if that becomes our problem, it’s not our fault.”
Actual experiences of vitriol directed at you and your body are more than likely enacted by somebody who is unhappy with themselves. In addition to this, it could be a strong reaction to seeing a woman not consumed and controlled by society’s expectations that she be entirely preoccupied with her looks, which is an antiquated but still deeply engrained notion of women fulfilling their gender role.
Recognise, learn about and truly understand the cultural conditioning that now equates health with worthiness. We live in a time of health policing and an idolisation of health culture, which is a result of issues much bigger than you and I. Activists and writers (like Jes Baker and Virgie Tovar, amongst many others) are working to change the way our society thinks about food, body size, body shape, diet, health and exercise – how they all intersect, and more importantly: how they do not impact on a human’s worth. Imparting these truths onto yourself will help to shift your own personal perspectives, and make dealing with outside ignorance and misconceptions just that little bit more tolerable.
Defying these conventions is a political act – just as I also believe fashion for people of size is. Solidify your defiance, and be the change you want to see in the world; even when it feels most difficult. Just one cookie at a time. Just one crop top at a time.
And finally: our bodies are our own. It sounds cliché, but in the words of Isabel Foxen Duke; “your body isn’t a democracy. It’s a dictatorship, with you as it’s autocrat”. BELIEVE AND OWN THIS. It is the absolute truth, I swear it on all the chocolate chip cookies in the world.