I Am Living

[Content Note: Fat hatred.]

"I would die if I looked like that."

The words floated across the space between where I was sitting and where a group of 20-something women were sitting in the interior of a crowded mall at the holidays. I was waiting for Iain, who was making a purchase inside a small store that didn't need any additional bodies, and I was people-watching happily while I waited.

They were people-watching, too, but for an entirely different reason. We were all unwitting contestants in a pageant they were judging.

I would die if I looked like that. It hadn't been said in that faux-concern for fat people's health way, but in the I would die of embarrassment way. The I would kill myself way.

I assumed they were talking about me, but when I glanced over, I saw that they weren't. They were talking about a woman who might as well have been me.

Some of them caught me looking and registered the expression of contempt that must have been on my face. They had the decency to look slightly ashamed. I greeted their shame with a bright smile, not because I felt like smiling, but because I needed to communicate to them with a single look that I was not dead, and that their hatred wouldn't kill me.

One might reasonably imagine that I had an urge to respond angrily to this open hostility. And I suppose part of me did. But what I know is that people who hate fat often fear it — and those words, I would die if I looked like that, are words of fear as much as hatred.

What I wanted to tell them, and what I will tell any of you reading this who might regard my body as a figure of hatred or a cautionary tale, is that you probably wouldn't die if you looked like this.

image of me standing in a full-length mirror, turned to the side, so my belly rolls are on full display
I look even fatter sitting down!

People who look like this have varied experiences with looking like this, have all kinds of different relationships with their bodies, have wildly disparate lives, as the human experience prescribes.

So I am not speaking for everyone who looks like this when I tell you that I am not dying, of shame or humiliation or self-loathing.

I am living.

And I am living more contentedly than many people who are certain they would die if they looked like me.

I have a job that fulfills me. I have a spouse who complements me; who loves and likes me. I have pets who make me happy. I have friends with whom I actually have the amount of fun it looks like we're having in our Instagram photos. I have a home in which I feel lucky to live every day. I have some minor talents that I try to put to good use or good fun. I have a big laugh that carries across a room.

And I have a body that has (at this size or bigger) carried me across the sandy shores of the Indiana Dunes and up the slopes of the Scottish Highlands and through the waves of the Caribbean and back and forth in the lanes of a pool for a mile at a time. I have a body that cannot sweat, which makes physical activity difficult and has limited me more than being fat ever has. I have a body that is strong and a body that is disabled. I have a body that holds a mind that thinks complicated thoughts valued by lots of people, and a heart that loves fiercely and loyally.

I am living in this fat body. And I am doing it well.

What I wanted to tell them is that someday they might look like this, and, if they do, they can also live well.

And that they could do a lot better not looking like this, too. Judging others, publicly and loudly, is unkind. But it's also a kind of death — the death of something you can allow yourself to be. It puts up walls, ever more rigid walls, around a life that gets smaller and smaller by what options are set off-limits by judgment. It's a thousand tiny deaths of your own possibilities. And your own self-love.

They were dying in the constrictions of their own judgments.

I know, because I have felt it myself, long ago, long before I knew how to live well.

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