The Protection of a Fat Body

January 13, 2011

[Now, please don’t be offended by my unabashed use of the fat in the title – it is a word that I simply refuse to be afraid of anymore and intend to continue to use it here, but please know that this my understanding of this word is a body type that elicits negative reaction from general society, particularly in the midst of this obesity epidemic, and my use of the word here is to make our understanding of body weight and the uses of that weight more complex and dynamic, as you have no doubt found them to be. ]

Growing up, I was caught in the overwhelming cycle of: feeling fat, wanting to lose weight, dieting/purging/exercising, succeeding in losing weight, becoming terrified about the overwhelming attention I received in this thin(ner) body – often sexual, and immediately packing the weight back on. This is a frequently occurring phenomenon. As girls go through puberty, and their bodies become more and more sexualized, for many this new identity or self image is terrifying and can be the subject of uncouth conversation and behavior. For example, my chest was huge – in the fourth grade.


photo by Zawezome

While my friends’ bodies were later to develop, my chest and womanly body, and the fact that I had to wear a bra, became the subject of lively conversation with my peers, as if because I was one of the first to mature in this way, I was a specimen to examine. Though I know that in an ideal world I would not have internalized this conversation or allowed it to make me feel ashamed, I immediately felt badly about my body – wanting to cover it up in huge clothing, under layers of fat, where it was safe from public view.

I hated the fact that grown men catcalled me as the curvy one when I was walking down the street with my, much thinner and less curvy, friends. I internalized my curves as something that only attracted scary older men who sexualized me become my comfort level, while other girls my age had nice age appropriate boyfriends who wanted to hold their hands in public and buy them chocolate on valentines day.

I equated my understanding of my own body and sexuality with something dirty, scary, and undesirable.

The unfortunate thing about adolescence is that messages that are received, internalized, and ultimately, traumatic to our understandings of ourselves during this time tend to find a place nice and deep in our heart to take up residence. And now, as an adult, even though intellectually I know that I am safe even when I’m not buried deep under a safety coat of weight – being the subject of overt sexualization or objectification makes me feel simultaneously panicked and powerful.

It seems to me that when, as a nation, we commit ourselves to eradicating fat and creating a war against obesity, we might need to take a second to consider the psychic fallout that occurs when people who have used the manipulation of their bodies as their ultimate coping mechanism lose weight, possibly for the first time. Yes it can be freeing. Yes, culturally, we are obsessed with the prospect of it. That said, it is crucial to consider the multitude of reasons that people cultivate their bodies – either consciously or unconsciously, and the protective factors that that those bodies can have.

What do you think?