The other day I looked in the mirror. I was surprised to see my face. My fat nose, too small eyes, not full-enough lips and always unshaped eyebrows. I’m really selling myself, I know. I am an advocate for women, yet I will sit and berate myself and easily drive myself to the tipping edge thinking about all the ways I’m unhappy with the way I physically look. I walk into rooms, meetings, spaces and I am almost everyday crippled by the idea that I am taking up too-much-space.
Here, I will talk about the way I feel about my physical body when I am in social settings and how crippling that is and, why I am hyper aware that I am taking up more space than society has allotted to me. I am aware of this. I worry about being perceived as lazy and dirty. People must think I don’t care about myself. These are all the things I think in silent moments or before I walk into a social situation. I shouldn’t care what boundaries society has set but as with many things, that is easier said than done.
Taking up space
Am I the only one who dreads going to a restaurant and looking the waiter in the eyes when I order because my fatness is already screaming that I don’t need to eat another meal? I either imagine it or it happens and maybe it’s not happening right then but because I’ve been sold this message of fat is disgusting over and over again, the situation is awkward and uncomfortable for me.
It’s difficult. I am constantly worried about taking up too much space in physical spaces: on the bus or on the tube — well any form of transport really, I’m worried about not fitting in the chairs on public transport or at the cinema, I worry about getting past small tables at the restaurants, heck if I’m going to an event I will think about all the people who are there and prepare myself for being the big person amongst all these thin-waisted beautiful people who are perfectly dressed, smile and have conversations easily without wanting to run away because all they keep thinking about is their weight. I think all my achievements are shortcomings because I’m STILL fat (but this is another post in itself).
In 2016, I made a huge mistake and I wish I could be honest with my friend about it but I can’t. One of my friends got married, I confirmed my attendance and then didn’t turn up very last minute on the day. I know, I am shit. We haven’t really spoken since, she mostly just ignores my existence and I let her because I can’t explain, the reason I couldn’t come to the wedding. I can’t explain that I couldn’t be in the situation where I was the fat-friend, I couldn’t get past my weight. I was scared of the way I might be perceived and the way I perceived myself. So I didn’t go to her wedding.
Yet, I have friends who are not perceived as thin by society and I wouldn’t dream to think of them in this way. I respect them and I am proud to be their friend. So why do I do it to myself?
The terror I make myself go through is mostly internal and in my more recent adult life nobody has outright bullied me or questioned my weight, well unless my Mother counts or my family or my wider community. But this terror inside me has been built up over years and years, mostly from the unkindness of school days. This fear that my body shape isn’t appreciated, it is wrong. I see these messages daily, thin models paraded and plastered over ads and posters, they are all over my YouTube and Instagram feed and I can’t get away from them. I often feel ashamed and embarrassed of my body, of the way I can’t shrink my bulging belly or scoop away the extra weight from my hips.
On that day I looked in the mirror and I thought I looked alright, I didn’t salvage things by making my usual excuse of, this is as good as it gets. I was surprised when I saw my face, because I didn’t expect to like the face looking back at me. For so long I’ve been trying not to take up space, sometimes I forget the physicality of myself, that I exist is a physical form. On that day I felt okay to be taking the space I needed. I only just peer into the mirror for seconds before walking swiftly away each morning after I brush my teeth. I treat my body like it is a burden and I know this is wrong. So it felt empowering to start my day and feel comfortable in my skin for the first time in a very long time.
Being fat – a work in progress
How I rationalise my irrational self-image and mental un-health is to ignore my body’s existence. To separate my physical self form from the rest of my what makes me, me. I think of myself in ideas, achievements, friends and family, in memories and experiences. I don’t think of myself as a block of flesh that weighs in over her allotted space in life. I’m sorry I don’t offer a beautiful resolution or a positive outlook on this matter, but this is where I am now and probably will be for a long time to come.
I understand that being fat shouldn’t dominate my identity. But the only way I know how to stop that is to stop looking in the mirror long enough to see myself properly. I am in awe of women who have the confidence to let themselves be more than just their body size because for nearly all my teen and adult life it has been and still is a struggle for me. Somewhere in my very unreasonable mind I am sure that all the problems and lack of opportunities and bad relationships in my life come down to my weight. I know, somewhere in my rational mind, that they don’t. But in my irrational mind they do. I am still working on fixing those thoughts in my brain and fixing myself.
I’m going to start my body image journey by reading Susie Orbach’s book: Fat is a Feminist Issue. Have you read it yet?