January 2014

New Year's revolution

By Katharhynn Heidelberg

First, the disclosure: I just ate a hunk of red velvet cake that was enrobed in thick, butter creme frosting. It was part of my birthday leftovers; it was good, and I am a grown-up who can make my own food choices.

And yet, I confess to doing it, and yes, I just caught my body-positive self using the word “confess” in relation to a slice of pastry. There are many such confessionals floating around right now — ’tis the season for exorcising (and exercising!) the ghosts of Christmas indulgences past, present, and future. Somewhere, deep within the subconscious, people’s Inner Realists smirk and say: “Same time, same obsession next year?” but they’re usually drowned out by all those dern diet commercials and other testimonials that ride the New Year’s “this time will be different!” optimism wave.

The first week of January, Salon.com offered a bumper crop of weight-obsessed folks. One contributor spoke openly and frankly about her inability to stop eating and the mixed results of her gastric bypass. For this, she was flamed, lectured about what she “should” do (even though she had meticulously detailed having undertaken many of those same steps), and told how weak she was.

I just was sad that any functioning adult could hate herself so much for something that is so meaningless in the long run. But I understood why she felt that way, especially when I cashed in some sanity points and began reading the comments. The woman tried everything, yet to most of the commentators, nothing she did was enough because she remained fat (even though she lost 153 pounds.) At least one person told her to kill herself; the best I can say is perhaps this was intended as an attempt (a miserable one) to use hyperbole make her see that she was overreacting to her “problems.”

Salon also published a man’s column about having seen a hypnotist for weight loss. I found it odd that he thought stacking 40 pounds on top of 190 was the end of the world, but what really caught my attention was this comment on the website: “Jump off a bridge, you’ll lose weight and your pudgy life. When you jump, instead of crying out ‘Cannonball’ you can scream ‘Big Mac.’”

This is why I am constantly on the bodypositive bandwagon. I am aware that my friends and loved ones don’t see me as “fat” (what I look like) but instead see me as Katharhynn (who I am). It’s people like the commentator above whom I worry about, and who prove fat hatred is real.

The hatred comes in many forms, not just overt statements that the planet is better off without fatties cluttering the view. A car window decal: “No fat chics. Car will drag.” Well, damn. I guess this “chic” missed another winner! Because nothing says prime catch like someone who doesn’t notice his edgy little decal is misspelled, and who has spent more money pimping his ride than the underwhelming econo-box is worth in the first place.

This sort of self-righteousness doesn’t just come from random nitwits, however. Many intelligent, gifted people see it as their duty to conform, to celebrate conformity or to demand conformity. A few years back, a leading women’s magazine published an accomplished professional’s 600-word cry fest about how she had failed as a wife by gaining 25 pounds in five years, swelling from a size 8 to a size 12. She began working out again, and concluded she didn’t want to “break” her marriage. What retrograde trash is this?

Of course, people have the right to their opinions. If they want to lose weight, whatever the reason, that is their business. In some cases, weight loss will improve health; in others, health improves because of actions (a balanced diet or exercise) that may also lead to weight loss. Certainly, people who want to lose weight deserve respect and support — especially if they retain healthy habits regardless of whether weight loss results — and it does require discipline.

I just wish society would stop treating these private decisions as revolutionary when so many of them are motivated by the desperate hope of being seen as human. (Given the responses people on Salon.com dished out to the gastric-bypass patient, though, there’s fat chance of that!) I wish society would stop celebrating fat-shamers as people who boldly say what “needs” to be said, especially since such toxicity has been spewed for decades and has failed to make fat people thin. I wish people would stop assuming that all fat people are lazy, overeating, unhealthy, irresponsible wretches who “deserve” ill treatment because that will somehow provide incentive to conform. And I wish people would stop packaging this steaming poo sandwich in wrappers stamped, “We’re not childish bigots; we’re just concerned for your health/ health-care costs.”

The true revolution is this: Refusing to internalize broad and multi-leveled loathing of body size. Refusing to believe that I am not “good enough” until I have lost the right amount of weight. Ignoring advertisers’ absurd messages that my life “begins” when I have achieved weight loss, so I must hie me unto the store and purchase their products. Laughing at the notion that the “real” me is trapped inside the fat me. Calling out advertisers and public scolds who have co-opted body-positive messages to sell their product or to peddle fear.

It is revolutionary to ask the “no fat chicks!” crowd: “What makes you think fat women want you?” It is revolutionary to call out modern women who, in national magazines, as good as say it is their spousal obligation to be thin. It is revolutionary to point out the sort of rank hatred that manifests as death wishes. It is especially revolutionary to do all of the above when you know society at large is unlikely to have your back.

It is revolutionary to demand respect as you are and to reject the ceaseless message that if you are fat, you are not worthy of respect until you become un-fat. It is revolutionary to become informed about the real risks of excess weight and the risks that have been exaggerated or are plainly false to begin with.

It is revolutionary to refuse on principle the surgical mutilation of your stomach if you have no compelling health reason to undertake such a drastic — and dangerous — step. It is revolutionary to go the gym several times a week even if you do not lose weight, because you understand physical activity, far more than weight, determines health.

It is revolutionary to be comfortable in your own skin, and to stand in front of a whispering, pointing, discriminating, prejudiced society with a certain finger defiantly in the air and say: “Your opinion won’t be my destiny.” It is revolutionary to look within yourself to halt hypocritical thoughts — in my case, smugness when I encounter people even heavier than me. It is revolutionary to be thin or average weight and refuse to participate in fat-hatred, or for that matter, any type of body hatred and judgment.

These things — not attempting to cast off the supposed shackles of fat just because everyone around you says to — are the revolutionary acts. I may resolve to eat better. I may build on my success in 2013, which saw an average gym attendance of every other day. I may even lose weight, though that is not the goal. The only resolution I make, however, is to continue the revolution described above.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is an award-winning journalist in Montrose, Colo.