How I've learnt (and re-learnt) my fat body is enough - ABC Life

 abc.net.au  10/13/2018 10:37:18 PM 

I'm rarely patient enough to learn new skills. I'm bewildered by friends who join pottery classes or learn Spanish before a holiday. I've never gotten past my learner's licence.

Despite my disdain for most activities that I'm not immediately good at, I've spent the last decade learning and then re-learning that my body is enough.

I think I'll be a lifelong learner.

'Bodies like mine are an easy punch line'

Before I learnt how to love my body, I learnt to not love my body.

I was bullied at school, which I know isn't a unique story. Nobody senses weakness faster than a classroom full of kids in the '90s.

Those jibes at school sowed a seed that germinated as I noticed that it wasn't just bullies who made comments about fat people.

Monica Geller was in a fat suit on TV and Shallow Hal was playing in the cinema.

Bodies that looked like mine were an easy punch line. I learnt that my body, swollen from puberty, was something to be ashamed of.

As I grew up I deliberately never mentioned the size of my body. I hoped that if I didn't mention my size, the people around me might not notice, despite them being able to actually, you know… see my body when we spent time together.

I spent my last teenage years willing everyone around me to think of me as a floating head.

The idea that there was nothing wrong with my body started as a tiny, indignant voice.

I started to hear it after high school, when I studied for a bachelor of arts at university — one of the only times in my life that I've pretended to be interested in sitting around in a cafe discussing Foucault.

We drank a lot of goon, but we also learnt about politics and social justice.

My friends and classmates became more politically aware but they still made fat jokes. How could someone believe in equality and kindness but laugh in disgust at fat people?

As I discovered body positivity that indignant voice got louder. I read work by fat activist writers like Kate Harding and Lesley Kinzel.

I started to grow stronger in my conviction that the word 'fat' didn't have to mean unattractive or unhealthy — it could just be a describing word for bigger bodies.

I embraced the idea that I could be fat and beautiful at the same time.

I started to practise not hating my body.

'Freeing myself from hate let me take care of myself'

I wore tighter clothes that cupped my belly and my thighs. I dared to enjoy eating pizza in public. Living joyfully in a fat body can be an act of resistance.

Ally Garrett posing in a red bikini by a pool and smiling
Image "I started to respect my body for what it could do and not resent it for what it looked like."(Supplied)

When I first started toying with the idea that my fat body was good enough, I focused on the idea of health.

So much fat stigma seemed to be rooted in the relationship between weight and physical health. I thought that as long as I was fit and healthy, then surely my body was OK.

Freeing myself from hating my body gave me more scope to take care of myself and I slowly built up to running for 30 minutes at a time.

I took up yoga and amazed myself at the poses I could maintain.

I started to respect my body for what it could do and not resent it for what it looked like. Why should other people care what my body looks like anyway?

'It's difficult for fat people to fit in — literally'

Discrimination against fat people has tangible consequences.

Like the time I presented to an unfamiliar GP with a urinary tract infection, desperate and with blood in my urine, and he suggested that losing weight should be my first priority.

Before he would prescribe antibiotics, he advised that I should eat less fruit. "Fruit has a surprising amount of sugar," he said.

Like the time when I was heading home from the beach, and a man in a car slowed down to call me a fat pig. I walked the rest of the way home wondering how it could have affected someone who wasn't as confident as me.

It's sometimes quite literally difficult for fat people to fit in, whether they're on a plane or just trying to find clothes to wear to work.

When you live in a culture that doesn't celebrate your body, it takes more than one moment to realise your body is enough.

There's lots of little moments where you feel like you're enough, and you have to collect them to use them like armour.

There's wearing a bikini in public for the first time and feeling the ocean break on your stomach.

Going out for dinner with fat friends who order extra chips and savour the crunch of every bite.

A lover who can't stop smiling as they undress you, eagerly tracing their fingers over flesh.

There's realising that no matter what you look like, your pet will still fall asleep on your chest.

'Now I take selfies and buy bikinis'

I practise loving my body all the time.

When photos are taken from an unfamiliar angle, I study the picture until I find three things I like.

I moisturise with oil, rubbing it slowly over my bulky bits.

I use the word fat freely, I take selfies and I buy a smaller bikini every summer.

This path towards accepting my body hasn't always been perfect.

I cringe a little at the memory of myself as a white university student, comparing different structural oppressions and wondering why weight didn't get a look in.

I wish I had acknowledged the relationship between weight, race and gender norms sooner when examining my ideas about valuable bodies.

It was important for me to fall in love with movement and learn to exercise without punishing myself. But I wish I had learnt sooner that people shouldn't have to meet arbitrary health standards to be deserving of care and respect.

There have been times when the pressure to love my body has felt like a millstone around my neck, rather than liberation. That's a lot of pressure on an individual for a systemic problem.

I still have days where I don't like my body.

Days where I feel like packing it in just so I can easily buy a nice bra in the shops. Days where I wonder if there's something wrong with me because a thin person describes feeling insecure as "feeling fat".

On those days, the days where my usual approach of radical vanity doesn't work, I try for body neutrality instead of body positivity. On those days I know that I just need a bit more practice.

I remember that I'm a lifelong learner. My body is enough because it's the one I have right now. My body is enough because it's been with me every day so far. My body is enough because I'm enough.

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