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I'm Still Unlearning Internalized Fatphobia
I’ve come a long way from my past of hating myself for being a fat girl. However, because fatphobia is so insidious, I’m still unlearning the internalized fatphobia. Even as a fat person myself, I still find myself thinking fatphobic thoughts. It takes work to unlearn fatphobia. Fortunately, I am determined to unlearn fatphobia by any means possible.
Throughout my entire life, society told me I was less of a person because I'm fat. People judge me negatively due to my weight. Because of this, I consistently received certain messages from society about my fat body and fatness in general. For instance, I learned from the larger culture that fat is unattractive and therefore undesirable. I also learned that my opinions didn’t matter as much as those of a thin person. I feel like I’m constantly being judged for being fat. I’ve faced so many struggles to be taken seriously as a person of size, I don’t even know where to start.
Before I started getting into fat liberation, I always thought of my fat body as a work in progress. I focused on diets instead of just eating healthy. I saw myself and my body as “incomplete” without achieving weight loss. Ever since I started embracing fat positivity and body positivity in 2005 (my sophomore year of high school), I started realizing I could be a complete person while still being fat. I began confronting the negative thoughts and attitudes I internalized towards my fat body and fatness in general. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself.
I’ve come a long way since 2005. It’s been a transformative experience. Reading fat liberation literature didn’t result in instant self-acceptance, but it pushed me in the right direction. Thanks to fat liberation, I started seeing myself as worthy of respect, the same respect given to thin people. This helped me confront my bulimia and accept that purging wasn’t good for me. Although this realization didn’t stop my bulimia altogether, it helped me stop being in denial about my eating disorder. Ultimately, this realization sparked my journey to healing my negative attitude about being fat and fatness in general.
I didn’t realize how ingrained fatphobia was until I made the conscious effort to unlearn it. For instance, whenever I looked in the mirror, I would be momentarily mortified and self-conscious about my fat body. Instead of letting the shame continue, I asked myself this: Would I be thinking these negative things if my body belong to someone else? My answer was and still is no. I think fat bodies are just as beautiful as thin bodies. I would gladly lift up other fat people who were putting themselves down, so why would I deprive myself that comfort? The more I confronted my fatphobic thoughts, the more I noticed they decreased in volume and intensity. This lead to me feeling better about myself.
Fatphobia didn’t stop me from loving myself, especially as an autosexual and autoromantic, but it did get in the way. My fatness didn’t diminish my attraction to myself. I just thought my attraction was invalid because I am a fat person. Furthermore, I didn’t think it was even possible to be attracted to a fat person. Now I know my opinions and perspectives don’t matter less due to my weight. Despite knowing better, I still sometimes worry about being taken seriously because I'm fat.
My attitudes towards fatness weren’t consistently positive since 2005. When I went to Purchase College (2009 to 2013), I was obsessed with dieting and exercising. Although I was still fat in college, I was smaller than I had previously been. I linked my entire worth to making my body smaller, but if someone asked, I would say I did it to be healthy. Not only did I put myself down for being a big girl in college, but I even once dissed another girl I didn’t like for being bigger than me. I’d never put down any of the fat girls I was friends with - I would tell them they are beautiful because they are, regardless of whether they’re bigger than me or not. I’m not proud of this stage in my life and I’ve vowed to never reach that low point ever again. Truthfully, I’ve succeeded in never stooping that low again. I learned my lesson and I’ll never perpetuate that kind of fatphobia again.
I think one of the most important aspects of unlearning fatphobia is learning from your mistakes. You might have set-backs, but don’t let them stop you. Let your mistakes turn you into a wiser person and move on.
As for now (2018), I’m currently more brave about being fat than I ever have been. I’ve reclaimed the word “fat” by shamelessly using it as a descriptor for myself. I do this to teach others that being fat isn’t the F-word people think it is. I think using the word “fat” in neutral or positive ways can help destigmatize fatness.
I wish I could say I never have fatphobic thoughts, but if I did, I would be lying. Even as a woke fat person, fatphobia still manages to infiltrate my thoughts. After all, I spent most of my life learning fatphobia, so I recognize that it’ll take time and effort to unlearn fatphobia. When I was trying on clothes the other day, I looked at my naked body in the full-length mirror and felt self-conscious by the sight. To combat that self-consciousness about my fat body, I started focusing on how beautiful and abundant my body is. I admired my stomach and rubbed it with a sense of pride. I reframed my size and weight as something that contributes to my presence, not something that takes away from it.
My most valuable tip for unlearning fatphobia is to process any fatphobic thoughts, attitudes, or behaviors you have. For instance, is it really a bad thing if an outfit makes you look “fat”? (News flash: As a fat person, I can tell you that every outfit makes me look fat.) Do you take someone’s opinions or experiences less seriously due to their weight? Do you associate fatness with laziness or immorality? Do you think fat equals unattractive? When you’re unlearning fatphobia, you’ll be asking yourself a lot of questions like the ones I previously mentioned and a lot more. These questions require honest answers. Then you'll need to ask yourself why you think this way.
Whenever fatphobic thoughts pop up, I challenge them. I find that if I’m not consistent in doing this, more fatphobic thoughts pop up. If I don’t keep challenging my internalized fatphobia, my mind turns into a sick game of whack-a-mole in my head.
Most importantly, give yourself time to process your thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors. Be patient with yourself. You’re not going to unlearn a lifetime of fatphobia overnight. It takes time, energy, and dedication to unlearn fatphobia.
Once I give myself honest answers, I analyze those answers and confront my thinking. To answer all of the above: I don’t think an outfit has to be “slimming” to look good on a plus size person, so I shouldn’t be ashamed of dressing how I like. I know my opinions and experiences are worth sharing, even when they are from my fat perspective. Being fat doesn’t make me lazy or lacking in morals.
Fatphobia has a tendency to distort one’s perception of reality. Unlearning fatphobia is about unpacking the baggage you’ve internalized surrounding fatness. Unlearning fatphobia takes work, but the results are very rewarding. Internalized fatphobia decreases your quality of life and burdens you with negativity. Stop letting your fear of being fat dictate so much of what you do. It’ll make you a happier person.