While waiting for my third installment of coming out at work to, er, come out, I wanted to give you rabble readers a chance to digest this golden oldie. It's got some pretty good food for thought about being fat, eating out and fat shaming. I'd love to know what you think.
Ok, guys, it’s time for me to come out. I know, you’re going to be shocked. I tried to deny it, but I just can’t. Now, don’t tell any other fat activists, but I REALLY LIKE SALADS (hides fattie face behind cushions). DON’T JUDGE ME! In this post I bitch about shaming fat women when we eat in public and throw in a picture of me stuffing my face for, like, reference. Enjoy!
I seem to be pretty obsessed with writing about fat at the moment. It’s really got my (baby) goat (casserole) going. How many times have us fatties heard such ridiculous comments? I still remember, from when I was an impressionable babe, how a relative once commented on how much fatter women are in America and how "they have such pretty, well taken care of, faces and nails." She implied that this was to compensate for the ugliness of their fat bodies. This comment has haunted me most of my life. It implies that fat people can never be beautiful and has struck the fear of fat into my plump heart.
Not too long ago a German friend of mine gave me this academic article on "The Experience of Eating Out for Fat Women." Reading the article I was, like, yes, I feel like that, yes, I do that, yes. It was painful to read, recognising my own pain in others’ experiences. The author, Dawn Zrodowski, collects stories about eating out from self-identified fat women. Unsurprisingly, many of these women choose to not eat out or modify how much or what type of food they eat when in company. Because as fat women what they eat (or don't eat) is commented on by others, they find the whole business of eating out fraught with self-hatred.
I often question how other people will perceive me when I eat out. Especially if I am alone. I imagine that I will be seen as a sad case, both for being fat and for being alone. The shame I feel around eating is similar to the shame I felt about being single, when I was. Both are discourses that are framed with concern for the health or happiness of the (fat or single) person, but both are actually very effective ways of demeaning women, while pretending to be nice. It's OK to abuse fat people -- through ad campaigns, the tyranny of the fashion industry, advice not to eat that donut because it’s too fatty -- because it’s common knowledge that you are "doing it for their own good." It’s also socially acceptable to undermine someone for being single. "You should bring a plus one, have you been seeing anyone lately, aren't you afraid you’ll end up alone and eaten by Alsatians (Bridget Jones reference)?" This false concern masks a chance to get one-up on fatties and singletons.
But this constant social criticism has almost nothing to do with the health of the fat person concerned. As Jackie, an excellent vlogger I recently encountered, argues in her It Gets Fatter video, discourse about fat and health completely ignores mental health. If society were so concerned for the health of its fatties, she argues, it would recognise the damage such shaming causes. (Please go check the project out. It is unutterably amazing.)
Like I’ve said before, such blatant shaming of fat people, fat women especially, has something to do with wanting to make us disappear. It's, like, a universal truth that women's bodies are naturally more fatty than men’s. Our curve-hating culture encourages us to spend our energy attacking our own female, fatty, bodies rather than taking our anger out on, like, the big evil patriarchy. Low self-esteem? Check. Anti-feminist? Check. Effective, huh?
Zrodowski concludes that a lot of fat women "choose to eat alone," a choice that worsens their "problematic relationship to food" and also alienates them from the social act of eating with other people. Our fat hate causes fat women to hide their "problem" away and we, as a society, collude in this hiding. I, for one, know that my impulse to hide the chocolate that I am eating from others only reinforces my own difficult relationship with food. Instead of enjoying something delicious, shame spoils the fun. It's a vicious circle. Recently, I have decided to stop hiding how much I eat from the people around me, and this is leading, gradually, to a far more happy relationship with food. No longer denying myself a pudding at the end of a meal, I am less likely to go home and binge in anger and frustration.
Being the stubborn feminist that I am, I often respond to the pressure to "eat thin" when out and about by deliberately choosing fatty foods, even when I don’t want them. Part subconscious conviction that this is a treat (because you shouldn’t eat fat, right?) and part middle-finger to the patriarchy, evil promoter of salads, this is my way of saying fuck you while enjoying a tasty treat. That said, I am recently discovering that I often don’t want the fattier food, but the more vegetable-y one, but refuse to order it because I imagine other people will think, "poor fattie on a diet" or, "good, you’re trying to lose weight." I know not everyone thinks like this, but I also know some do. And I don’t want to give them the satisfaction of thinking they’re better than me.
I'm not sure I can offer many pearls of wisdom on strategies how to deal with eating out for fat folks right now, but I know that reading awesome fat positive zines and books like Fat?So! by Marilyn Wann and Fat is a Feminist Issue by Susie Orbach help to free my inner fattie. Any other suggestions for awesome fat-positive blogs or books to read? How about your fat-loving strategies for dealing with fear of eating in public? All together now, after me, "Free your mind and the rest will follow..."
Over and out from Lipstick Terrorist, secret lover of salads...
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