"When I Get Panicked by My Own Fat Body…I Cry"
"Is that what I really look like? I look disgusting."
I have been avoiding social media since June of 2020. At that time – after months of comparing my quarantine life with others, after being inundated with posts from well-meaning people (very similar to myself) on the racial unrest that didn’t seem to actually do anything, after seeing everyone on my feed’s reaction and beliefs (or disbelief) about the validity of Covid19 – I committed to a month of no social media. It started as a gift to myself before my 28th birthday, an action I was hoping would lower some of my baseline anxiety. And then it just continued.
And now, on the rare occasion that I check social media (think: going on to see photos from a friends’ wedding or pictures of my college roommates' first baby), I occasionally glimpse photos of myself. And sometimes I’m floored by the amount of dislike that floods my brain for those photos. After not seeing photos of myself regularly for years, it can be startling. Is that what I really look like? I look disgusting. The comments on this photo are of people saying I look good – if that’s what I look like when I look “good”, how fucking ugly do I normally look?
I’m 5’ 3”. I’m 29 years old. Last time I looked, I weighed over 200 lbs, which was the heaviest I’ve ever been. Despite changing medications, a life long history of eating a lot of vegetables and unprocessed foods, and having my bloodwork come back as almost 100% healthy (my skinny doctor seemed annoyingly surprised, btw), my body has continued to take up more space as I’ve gotten older.
I’m a firm believer in not dieting – the research really seems to indicate it just isn’t worth it (1)– and at my core I strongly detest the societal demand for women to be “attractive” (even though a very deep part of me just wants to be pretty). I know the fact that a person who is “overweight” and works out has better health outcomes than a person with a normal BMI and doesn’t work out (2). I’m a firm believer that weight stigma is significantly responsible for poor health outcomes for fat people (3).
But even still, I sometimes get hit with these waves of sadness and grief and panic that my body isn’t what is considered desirable. I feel angry at myself for my body shape, weight, and the amount of fat stored within my skin. The majority of the time, I try not to think about my body – but every once in a while, I get overwhelmed with the fact that my body is labeled as undesirable, by society and by parts of myself. And it sucks that the expectations society has messaged to me my whole life cause such a deep-seated hatred and panic to arise when I unexpectedly see photos of myself.
When this happens… I cry.
Like I am right now while writing this. I let myself experience the emotional wave that hits me – I don’t fight it but allow my sadness and fear and self-blame and shame to flow and build. I let the parts of myself that hate my body speak their piece. And I witness my own distress. I acknowledge that it does suck to feel your body isn’t desirable, worthy of attention or respect.
And as I let these parts of myself surface and express themselves, I have other parts that respond with empathy and compassion and perspective. Or sometimes the best I can even hope to muster is neutrality. As I accept how I’m feeling without judgment or holding on to it, eventually the feelings peak and then ebb and I’m able to get my feet under me again.
The beauty industry tells us it’s in our power to feel better about ourselves, but I disagree. Not only because the industry is trying to sell us stuff, but because I know that body acceptance isn’t about sheer willpower. I know that part of the work I can actually do when it comes to cultivating body acceptance (and really, a sense of my own self-worth) is to just empathetically and compassionately allow myself to fully feel my sadness and fear until it dissipates.
It doesn’t make everything better – it doesn’t get rid of the parts of me that are so upset with how I look. But I usually feel calmer…more steady and able to take perspective.
It helps me have just a little bit of hope that things will be ok despite my being fat.
And sometimes, that’s enough.
- Grace Harrington, LCSW (about)
Psychotherapist, Starks Therapy Group
Memon, A. N., Gowda, A. S., Rallabhandi, B., Bidika, E., Fayyaz, H., Salib, M., & Cancarevic, I. (2020). Have Our Attempts to Curb Obesity Done More Harm Than Good?. Cureus, 12(9), e10275. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.10275
2. Farrell, S. W., Braun, L., Barlow, C. E., Cheng, Y. J., & Blair, S. N. (2002). The relation of body mass index, cardiorespiratory fitness, and all-cause mortality in women. Obesity research, 10(6), 417–423. https://doi.org/10.1038/oby.2002.58
Phelan, S. M., Burgess, D. J., Yeazel, M. W., Hellerstedt, W. L., Griffin, J. M., & van Ryn, M. (2015). Impact of weight bias and stigma on quality of care and outcomes for patients with obesity. Obesity reviews : an official journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, 16(4), 319–326. https://doi.org/10.1111/obr.12266
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