This weekend I was reminded how playful teasing stays with people long after they are children. A friend in her early 40s divulged that she suffered an eating disorder in her 20s. She told of how so-called good-natured ribbing from her family bubbled gently under the surface for years, until a serious of life changing events manifested those feelings and thoughts into an eating disorder.
She said she thought an eating disorder was something that only happened to teenagers, and she felt ashamed for that. The truth is, the things we are told as children, often by our families who should be the safe place we turn to for unconditional love and support despite what we do and how we look, stay with us well into adulthood.
There aren't many things I am afraid to say or discussions I'm afraid to have, but there is a word I try to avoid. I don't know what to do with it, how to navigate it. I suppose I'm afraid of it, I guess that makes me part of the problem. So, I choose to avoid it altogether. It's fat. It's crazy but I'm more afraid to say fat in front of my daughter than f***. The ramifications of f*** I know how to deal with.
I am no expert in fat phobia, I suppose I'm a product of diet culture, I've heard whispers about the reclamation of the power of the word fat and I love Los Angeles although fat is only allowed to exist in certain suburbs, but since my daughter was born, that word has passed my lips only a handful of times, mostly when referencing a cut of meat and never about anyone else, and more surprisingly, myself.
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At a simplistic level, I am entrenched in this wicked web, as when I look in the mirror my eyes immediately go to the places that I was, for want of better words, lovingly teased about by my family. Not a day goes by that those words don't speak out, I can remember things I was wearing and where I was when they were said. Designed to be affectionate and not to cause harm, they have. I understand my friend's struggle and for years I have been horrified and ashamed that I have used the word fat as a weapon against other people. I am deeply sorry for that.
The formative years of my late-teens were augmented by large doses of girl power thanks to the Spice Girls. Representing a little of many different people, they were seen to be progressive and a strong new way forward for women and girls. I watched a clip from the latest three-part Spice Girls documentary and I felt sick. Victoria Beckham being made to stand on a set of scales to check her weight three months after having a baby to prove she was back to normal? One comment summed it up perfectly, "How did any of us of that generation get out alive?".
No wonder I don't know how to approach the word fat. Slowly we are moving on from those moments, but many people have difficulty moving on from how we judge ourselves. I don't know the best way to handle it; whether I'm doing the right thing by avoiding fat or if I should normalise it and remove the stigma around it, saying it like I don't give a f***. I don't want fat to be a word that our daughters will use to measure their or others' worth against. That's what I want, what I really really want.
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