Fatsronauts 101: How Can I Love My Body?

[Content Note: Discussion of fat bias; self-image.]

Shaker M emailed me to ask if I had any suggestions for concrete steps a fat woman who wants very much to love her body can take to start that journey.

(Please note: No one is required to feel any particular way about hir own body. This piece is specifically geared toward people who want to love their bodies as they are. It may also not be particularly helpful to people with body dysmorphic disorders or fear of/lack of access to cameras.)

And I do have suggestions! Or, at least, I can share with you some things that I've done which have been helpful.

First of all, I want to mention two experiences that a lot of fat people have shared with me, both of which are also things I've experienced myself:

1. The experience of seeing old pictures of oneself and thinking, "I looked fine there, and I thought I looked terrible at the time!" And/or: "I wish I could go back and tell myself then that I shouldn't be concerned about how I look."

2. The experience of seeing pictures of other fat people, of the same size as or larger than oneself, and thinking how beautiful they look. Or, at the very least, failing to hold them to the same negative judgments one holds oneself.

Notice that both of these center around images, and judgment of people in images. That's not coincidental. Because seeing ourselves realistically, seeing ourselves as we actually are, is a key tool is loving ourselves. We can't love ourselves as we are if we don't acknowledge what our bodies really look like.

I used to loathe having my photograph taken (for reasons aside from my appearance), but allowing my picture to be taken, taking pictures of myself, and asking for pictures to be taken by people I trust in moments I was feeling confident, and then looking—really looking—at myself in those photos, and also in videos, helped give me a better perspective on what I actually look like, as opposed to what I imagined myself to look like (which was always way worse than the reality).

image of me, a fat middle-aged white woman with short, greying brown hair and glasses, on my front porch
Me, chilling on the porch, working on my greys.

At first it was hard, because I was judging myself not based on what I was actually feeling about my own body, but about what I was supposed to feel based on the biebillion metric fucktons of fat bias with which I'd been indoctrinated. I wasn't assessing how I looked to myself as much I was how I am perceived by others.

Back to those two aforementioned experiences, then:

1. I realized that this picture, in this moment, would in future look to me the same way I was looking at old pictures of myself. I resolved that I would not wait until the future to tell the present me to love how I look in this moment.

2. I realized that if this picture was of anyone else, I would not judge the person in the photo the way I judge myself. What if this was some other woman? What would you say about her? I resolved that I would not assess my own pictures with negative judgments I would never in a million years wield against another person.

With these resolutions in mind, I saw pictures of myself in a new way. I saw them through gentler eyes. And without the filter of judgment my culture exhorts me to use, using the standards of love and acceptance I would extend to any other person, photos of myself actually looked different to me. Literally different. I saw myself in a way I had never seen myself before. It was a genuine revelation.

I am not the first fat activist to make this suggestion. There are many amazing woman and men who have written about the value of taking pictures of oneself in order to facilitate a realistic (and lovable!) self-image. It is a widely recommended strategy because it tends to be an effective one for a lot of folks. We are taught to be afraid of seeing ourselves as we really are, but it only really looking at ourselves that we see our true selves, and not a self onto which we project narratives of hatred and shame as we quickly look away from a photo, from the mirror.

This is not an easy journey. And I want to say again, because I feel like I can't say it enough: There's nothing wrong with you for not feeling brave every day. There's something wrong with a world that necessitates our having bravery to participate in it.

In those moments where you are feeling brave, though...take a picture.

[Note: I realize that this suggestion is not helpful for people with visual disabilities that make photographs and video useless tools. I welcome and encourage suggestions on applications/variations that would work for Shakers with visual disabilities.]

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus