Two things throughout my life have always been true: I’m chubby, and I’m unlucky in love. I go back and forth on whether these two things are correlated. I’ve clearly had plenty of guys express interest in me – just not ones that I like back. Or, it’s guys who think they can treat me like dirt and do so.
It’s also clear, however, that there are plenty of guys who are not interested in me because I’m not skinny. I’m not fat either – I fit in that weird space that is the size 14. Size 14 is the average American woman. At the very end of the “normal sizes” spectrum, but definitely not a plus size. You would think this means I’m just normal, right? Neither fat nor thin. And yet we seem to live in a culture where if you aren’t skinny, you’re fat. There doesn’t seem to be any kind of between. It’s very difficult for me to figure out where I stand. I’ve been told “You’re not fat! Have more confidence!” I’ve also been called a BBW by men claiming to be interested in me. And I’ve been called fat by people trying to hurt my feelings – it’s questionable to what extent these people are objective sources.
I don’t know how to assimilate this conflicting information. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with being fat. It’s just a descriptor, just a size. There’s nothing wrong with being attracted to fat people, either. But I do not identify as a BBW because I don’t feel that I’m that large and, even if I am/was, I want a guy to be attracted to me as an individual, not because I fit into a category that he fetishizes.
This is all compounded by the fact that I live in Washington, D.C., an incredibly image conscious city, where everyone seems to be working out all the time, where the standards of thinness – especially for women, but also for men – are fairly extreme, and where young, successful, intelligent, pretty women substantially outnumber comparable men. So whereas I might be perfectly normal by another city’s standards, by Washington, D.C. standards I am some kind of giantess.
And that’s what drives me nuts. I am surrounded by people who accept that fussing over their weight is a normal part of life, both male and female. People who get up and go to boot camp every day before work, people who spend multiple hours a day dedicated to the pursuit of looking “healthy” or “hot,” or both, depending on who you speak to (as though you must be super ripped or thin just to be “healthy” which is patently untrue) – because it’s not just the time spent working out. It’s also the time spent going to and from the gym, taking extra showers, buying workout clothes, cleaning workout clothes, changing – not to mention all the money and mental energy and emotional baggage that goes into it. If, as a group, we all decided to stop being so type A about every damn thing, to be more forgiving of ourselves and of others, and to say you know what, I don’t care so much about an extra inch or two, nobody would have to do that. Everyone could sleep in another hour. Everyone could save a ton of money that they spend on workout clothes and gym memberships and protein powder. Everyone would probably be happier, and we’d probably be nicer to each other as a result (Washington, D.C. is a cold, rude, self-absorbed, every-man-for-himself kind of city. I’ve never been anywhere like it and I feel like it has made me into a worse person).
I’m not saying that people shouldn’t care about health and shouldn’t exercise, just that people shouldn’t be obsessing over exercise. If you want to spend half an hour on the elliptical a few days a week for health reasons, want to go to yoga because it makes you feel better after spending all day sitting at a desk, play sports or run because you find it genuinely enjoyable and entertaining, or take a nature walk because you enjoy fresh air, then power to you. What I don’t understand is how people think it is normal to spend hours of their week getting screamed at by an instructor, putting themselves through physical pain and exhaustion, and then feel guilty if they miss a class or put on a pound. That’s not healthy, or physically fit. That is certainly not normal. That’s crazy.
And then they sit around and brag about it, and compare, and try to show off. My default response is to generally brag about how many pizza slices I managed to slam the night before. This usually gets them to shut up, because they realize we’re speaking entirely different languages. If you’re my friend, and running marathons is really important to you, I will support you and congratulate you when you meet a goal. But if you’re just some acquaintance at a party I have no interest in hearing how fast you run or whether you’re doing a half or full marathon next weekend. You sound like a douche. While we’re at it, please stop debating the merits of different energy bars. Being thinner than me does not make you more interesting, smarter, better or morally superior, so why are you trying to compete with me over it?
I don’t want to do that to myself. I am not a lazy person who hates exercise. I like going to yoga. I intended to use the elliptical for 20 minutes last night and found that I was actually enjoying myself so I stayed on for another 15, in no small thanks to the epic collection of 90s nostalgia music I had loaded into my MP3 player. And that was awesome, and I felt great afterwards. But if I have a day where exercise doesn’t make me feel great (which is frequent) and I just want to do 20 minutes, or not go at all, I don’t want to feel like I’ve committed some kind of laziness crime against the cosmos.
And yet it seems I have to be that way to get rid of the extra flub on my body that society says I shouldn’t have, that society says I need to get rid of in order to be attractive. I don’t feel unattractive. I don’t feel unhealthy. My blood work comes back so good that I’m almost an anomaly – I have great genetics. So I feel like I am being forced to make physical changes that are not necessary for my health, to adopt a lifestyle that I personally do not feel is healthy or believe in just to be able to enjoy a satisfying romantic life.
In fact it’s a matter of pride for me. Losing weight to get men strikes me as superficial and anti-feminist. It feels like I’m giving in, changing something fundamental about myself – my physical body as well as my entire lifestyle, my schedule, the food I like to eat – just to get a man. And I don’t want to turn into one of those superficial, self-absorbed, “popular kids” from high school – the kids who used to call me fat even though I probably wasn’t, the kids who taught me wear fatness as a badge of defiance, who made fatness into a part of my self-image, my identity. I don’t know what it’s like to be a thin person. That’s not who I am.
My mother used to call me fat every day, and make it out like I was some kind of monster pigbeast – no human being, no matter how fat, is as ugly as my mother used to make me feel. She used to buy me an outfit and then tell me the very next day that I shouldn’t be wearing it because it didn’t look good on me. In jr. high she dressed me in baggy boy’s clothes that got me made fun of all the time. My friends used to ask why my mother was so mean to me all the time. Women, complete strangers, came up to us in the fitting room at stores to chastise my mother for how she spoke to me.
I distinctly remember that one night when I was 14 my mother had a craving for KFC. Well, I hate chicken, and my parents knew that, but my opinion on food never mattered. So we went to KFC and they got a big bucket of dead animal parts and I got a fried chicken breast sandwich because it’s the only thing I found palatable. We sat down around the kitchen table and just as I was about to take my first bite my mother turned to me and said, “You know, you really shouldn’t be eating that.”
It must have been bad because this is the one time in my life I remember my father ever sticking up for me when my mother said something like that. Granted, my dad just usually wasn’t around because he worked so much. I knew there was no way for me to win this fight, so I put the sandwich down, left the room, went to my room and closed the door. Well, that didn’t work either. I was never allowed to just leave a situation when I got upset, even though, as an only child, I was always outnumbered. Any time I tried to retreat from a fight my father would follow me, burst in the door and either start screaming, if the situation had already escalated into a screaming fit with my mother, or pestering and guilting me if it hadn’t. In any case, he would not leave until I gave in and came back into the lion’s den. So, unshockingly, I was made to return to the kitchen and suffer the indignity of eating a fried chicken sandwich in front of my mother.
Eating whatever I wanted became an act of psychological self-preservation, a way to fight back and to show my mother she couldn’t control me. I lived in a situation where I had no choice but to fight. If that was the case, I was going to win. My mother offered me some cake once (if I’m so fat why are you offering it to me? So you can have the pleasure of making me feel bad after I eat it?) and I really just didn’t feel like cake, so I said no thanks. She congratulated me on my responsible decision. “Good for you.” My response? “I didn’t do it for you.” I grabbed the cake and stuffed it in my face.
And that has been my response ever since to any suggestion that there is something wrong with me, that I need to lose weight, that I have to be thin in order to be pretty. It is a matter of pride.
I am a self-sufficient human being. I have a great job where I make enough money to support myself. I am interesting, busy, popular, and have lots of hobbies. I am intelligent, intellectual, educated, well-rounded. I’m great. I don’t need to be thin or to have a man to be a complete person. And yet, I’m watching all my friends partnering off, getting married – eventually they’ll start having kids (I also don’t want kids, but that’s an entirely different conversation). They are not as available to hang out with me as they used to be. They still hang out, but they want to bring their SOs. If I have a party, the SO comes. It’s not the same.
I’m only 28. Everyone tells me I have time. But this has been a persistent pattern. Am I supposed to assume that it will magically change in the next 4 years before things get really desperate? Granted, there’s also no guarantee that if I lose copious amounts of weight that that will change the situation, either. It could be something else entirely. I could just be extremely unlucky. But a friend put it to me recently that, while some guys like curvy, more guys like sporty, and that by appearing sporty I can increase the likelihood that men will be attracted to me, thereby increasing my chances, and therefore, logically speaking, if the stress I feel about never being in a relationship significantly outweighs the pain of giving up my pride to lose weight, I should lose weight.
Another friend recoiled at the thought and quoted what I’m used to hearing. You are fine the way you are. You shouldn’t change yourself just to get men. If a man doesn’t like you as you are he’s too shallow and not worthy of you.
Is that really true, though? People are allowed to be attracted to what they’re attracted to. People in our society, for reasons that are very much influenced by social factors they individually do not control, are typically more attracted to thin people. And physical attraction is an important part of a romantic relationship. Wanting to be with someone you’re attracted to doesn’t make you shallow. I’d like to be able to look at my weight as a kind of filter, a way of sorting out the assholes who only care about how I look, about having arm candy to show off to their friends. But that’s not fair. It’s more complicated than that. And frankly, I’m no better. There are guys I’m simply not physically attracted to and whom I would never consider dating, regardless of how awesome they may be in all other aspects of life. I don’t think that makes me a bad person, either. It just makes for a shitty situation, because there are a lot of great, interested guys out there I wish I were attracted to. That would make my romantic life a lot easier.
So what am I supposed to do in this situation? Be true to myself and stay as I am? Sacrifice a part of myself because it’s the only thing I can think of that I have any control over that might turn my romantic life around? Move?
I’ve decided to lose weight. I feel ashamed even admitting it. I don’t want people to congratulate me on making this decision. I don’t want people to congratulate me or tell me how good I look once I lose it (and I will). I don’t feel good about it. I don’t feel like this is my choice. I feel kind of sick, actually. It feels wrong. But I don’t know what else to do. And I don’t want people to tell me, upon hearing of this decision, that I look fine and don’t need to lose any weight either. Because they’re preaching to the choir.
I’m not going to try to make myself super-skinny. That’s not how I’m built. There’s no way to get there in a healthy way that I can maintain, and it’s a documented fact that when people lose extreme amounts of weight they gain it all back and more. And that yo-yoing effect is much worse for your health than just being consistently fat.
I want to lose 30 pounds. Tighten up, get to where I was before I started gaining weight in my mid-section in law school. I always had weight in my butt and hips, and never really had a problem with that. I developed what I call my law baby as a consequence of beer and stress, and that’s the unhealthy kind of weight gain that increases risk of diabetes and other issues. It’s not like exercise is a bad thing. It’s not like I’m doing something – as long as my goals and my means of attaining them are within reason – that is harmful to myself. A lot of people would say it’s good for me.
Then how come it makes me want to curl up into a ball.