When I was 21 I was taking a feminist studies class and one of the assigned readings was a collection of excerpts from Fat!S0? by Marilyn Wann. As someone who had been bullied, teased and hated for my weight, I was eager to find out more about the book and the movement. I read Fat!So? in one day and over the next month devoured anything related to fat acceptance that I could get my hands on. Books, articles and zines all offered me a new perspective. A movement that encouraged me to love my body and accept it where I was. Not where society told me that I should be. I loved this new perspective and was eager to get involved.
I started by attending fat acceptance events in my city. They were wonderful and beautiful and I met a bunch of people who loved themselves as they were and who were amazing advocates for the fat acceptance movement. I was loved and accepted for who I was and I was having the time of my life. This sense of community and belonging led me to dedicate my undergraduate thesis on fat acceptance. Writing my thesis also allowed me to submit my work to journals and conferences. Writing my paper opened doors and I was able to present at both local and international conferences. This opened me up to so many amazing and wonderful individuals across the fat acceptance sphere. I found myself belonging for the first time in my life and I loved it. I loved finally having a sense of community and a love for my body and self. I thought I would be a part of this community that was so close to my heart but my body changed and so did my acceptance in the community.
In 2010, I got really sick. It started out seeming like a really bad flu. I couldn’t keep anything down. I repeatedly went to the doctor and was told that it was the flu and that it was just a really bad version and that I would recover soon. For an entire month, I got sicker and continued not being able to keep anything down. This was couple with gastrointestinal symptoms which are also common to the flu. After the first month, I ended up in the emergency room a couple of times with dehydration but still being told that it was a very bad flu. Through this time, for the most part I was able to continue to work. Three months later my health took a turn for the worst at work. According to my coworkers, I turned green and fainted. An ambulance was called and I ended up at the closest emergency room. The doctor on duty was a really nice lady. She too thought that I had the flu but decided to run some extra tests just in case. When my inflammatory markers came back sky high, she admitted me to the hospital. One week and plenty of tests later, I was diagnosed with crohn’s disease. By this time, it had been nearly four month since I had been able to keep anything down and I rapidly lost weight. By the time I was released from the hospital two months later, I had lost around 100 pounds.
Recovery from my hospitalization was difficult. I could barely walk 10 feet, I had to adjust to having an auto-immune disorder that would impact the rest of my life and I also had to adjust to a new identity. People all around me were shocked by the change in my weight and body. They would comment on how great I looked having lost the weight. They would say how envious they were that I was so easily able to lose weight. I had to bite my tongue when people said these things but I understood for the most part that their own perceptions of weight were impacting what they were saying. It was annoying but I have come to understand that people are ignorant and feel that they can comment on your weight. I accepted this as I had accepted the bullying and criticizing my body. It was normal for me and I was too weak to challenge these people at the time. But over time the endless comments on my weight loss and body began to get to me and I turned to fat acceptance movement for help and advice.
I thought that I would find solace from my friends in the fat acceptance movement. I thought that the people I had grown close to and shared my oppression with would understand and be able to offer advice. Unfortunately, that was not the case. I found that even though I still identified as fat, I was no longer seen by the fat acceptance movement as fat. Therefore, I was no longer belonged in their community. I got told over and over that I was now “normal” and therefore should just accept the compliments and be happy that I no longer had to suffer or identify as fat.
In this time after my hospitalization I felt isolated. I was no longer invited to speak or attend fat acceptance events and was told by various people that I did not belong. I still identified as fat and struggled daily with coming to terms with my changing body and what that meant in terms of acceptance. I didn’t know how to find where I belonged and this led me to writing. I wrote about my experience with sickness and fat. I wrote about my experience with fat acceptance and losing weight. I wrote about how I lost my faith in the fat acceptance movement. I wrote to heal and to find my place in the movement.
My writing led me to a place where I found myself continuously writing hate letters to my body. I hated it for not working and for having an auto immune disorder. I hated it because it was no longer clear that I was fat. I hated it because my hair was falling out and my once beautiful long hair was now gone. I hated it because I was in pain and I couldn’t walk. I hated it because I was told by people who had accepted me it no longer belonged. But slowly as I released the hate and feelings associated with it. I came to view my body in a new way. I came to see that it didn’t matter whether I was fat or not, it was my body and I had a choice whether to love it or hate it. Others could project on to my body, but I had the decision whether or not to accept it. I decided that I needed to challenge myself and stop approaching my body with hatred. I started small by celebrating the small things. The day I was able to walk one block. The day I was able to go shopping by myself without the support of a cart. The day my inflammatory markers were back in normal levels. The day my hair grew back enough I no longer had to wear a wig.
I shared these small movements on my now defunct blog and through my writing, I was able to find other people who were in the same position as me. People who had lost weight either by choice or by circumstance and had been excluded from the fat acceptance movement as a result. The more I wrote, the more stories from others poured in to my inbox. I found that I was not alone and I was able to bring together an email list of people who were likeminded. Together we supported one another, discussed topics, gave each other advice and came together as a community within a community. We are all fat activists and we are all still fighting for fat acceptance. We just have to do it on the margins of the movement.