A fortnight of fatphobia

These last couple of weeks the anti-ob***y rhetoric seems to have hit an all time high. First the UK Government announced it’s going to start weighing children in school. Then a group of dentists in New Zealand published a highly suspect study about their miraculous new device designed to keep fat peoples jaws’ closed.

Both of these developments completely ignore the science. Both of them are potentially extremely harmful and could, directly or indirectly, lead to the deaths of the people they are intended to “cure”. Both by leading to eating disorders, the second through the risk of choking. Both place the blame for obesity squarely on parents, or the obese themselves, while ignoring the 100+ other factors which play a part.

Fat people like me live in a world where we are judged by everyone around us, from the mainstream media, to healthcare professionals, strangers in the street and online, to our loved ones. We are labelled as greedy, unhealthy, lazy, a drain on the NHS, a scourge on society. If we would just lose weight and fit into society’s neat little boxes of what good human beings look like, all would be right with the world.

Except that’s not possible. There is NO truly effective permanent method of weight loss. No, not even bariatric surgery. Diets fail 95-98% of the time, not because fat people are greedy, but because human bodies are hardwired to stop us from losing weight. But that never makes the international headlines. Presumably because no-one stands to profit from that.

For decades I blamed myself every time my weight trended upwards. I thought it was my fault, that I had no self control, no discipline, that I needed to exercise more, keep purging, just stop bingeing. Why couldn’t I be happy living on lettuce? Why wouldn’t my body do what I wanted it to? Why couldn’t I shame or hate myself thin? Because I was deeply ashamed, and I truly hated myself.

Then I started treatment. The first thing the Eating Disorder Team taught me about was the Minnesota Starvation Experiment. I didn’t understand. It explained what I was going through, and yet contradicted everything I had been told since I was a small child. It meant that in order to heal, I had to stop restricting. I had to stop starving myself all day to counteract my binges, because that was actually causing my binges?

In order to recover, I have had to unlearn everything that society has taught me about dieting and ob***y, and accept the weight I have gained in the process. But the rest of society hasn’t unlearned those lessons yet. Every day I have to make a conscious decision to prioritise my mental health over society’s expectations of me and my body.

Not a day goes by when I don’t wish I were thinner. Because the world was built for thin people. Because the demand for thinness is all-pervasive; there is no hiding from it. But my determination never to go back to that dark place, to live my live free of constant thoughts about food to the exclusion of all else, just to allow myself to be happy, stops me from restarting that destructive cycle.

I dream of a time when universal acceptance and equality exists. When stereotypes and stigma in all their forms are a thing of the past. Until then, I know there will be fortnights like this one. That they will be hard to deal with. But also that I have been through worse, and I will get through them too, bruised, but still intact.

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