By ena ganguly
“Good job! Keep doing this and you will lose the weight in no time.” A brown nameless uncle smiled through his moustache at me. I was still breathing heavy, one hand on a baby tree, only a little taller than me. I stared at him, too tired and breathless to say anything but a ‘Thank you.” accompanied by a quick hand wave that said, politely, get lost. Not only was I annoyed that this man assumed I was trying to lose weight as I jogged slash briskly walked around my neighborhood, but being publicly heckled while every ounce of strength was ebbing in and around me felt like the smug cherry on top of the cake that is only meant for skinny people to engorge on.
It’s not that hard to pull these interactions from my memories. It happened too often growing up, and still happens, to this day. I used to think about these interactions through a gender lens. I assumed that because of my femininity, people believed they had the right to say whatever they wanted about my body to me. As if I was public art on display for every one to critique, one hand underneath their chin and another folded across their chest, deep in contemplation. Trying to figure out the purpose of my existence, why I look the way I look, and how come I can’t look like something else?
Of course body shaming is gendered. Of course women and femmes experience body policing because of how they present. However, body shaming isn’t always the same thing as experiencing fatphobia.
Fat-pho-bia. It’s an irrational fear of fatness and/or fat people and bodies. It looks like a friend carelessly saying, “I feel fat” while laying on the couch eating potato chips. It looks like your mother never being happy in the body she inhabits, as her weight yo-yos from one end of the spectrum to another. It looks like looking through the store windows and knowing that none of the mannequins are wearing clothes for fat people, or designed by fat people.
That’s fatphobia, my friends, and yes, it’s a very real experience that leads to tangible health outcomes for fat people. Layer on the racism, homophobia and transphobia, and you have yourself a pretty nasty mix of obstacles to navigate. So, here is the billion dollar question: How do you navigate fatphobia as a queer person of color?
By no means am I an expert, nor have I accomplished, or even tried some of the suggestions I’m about to offer you, but I am a strong believer that we have the power within ourselves to demand the change we deserve. No one has to empower us for us to do that. So here it goes:
Advocate for yourself. You know best what you deserve and what you do not. Do not let other people decide that for you.
I had some horrible experiences with my health care providers, especially my general physician and my OBGYN, two providers who were, and continue to be, critical to my health. They both shamed my weight every time they saw me and recommended that I eat less, exercise more, and the OBGYN even recommended I try Weight Watchers. Their assumptions about my lifestyle, without any real conversation, and constant shaming of my body was fatphobic and violent.
Now, as someone who has a chronic illness and a mother who dieted for most of her life, these experiences were traumatizing for me, and I made a pact to myself to never go to a provider who treated me as if I deserved not to live. As a result, I haven’t consistently seen a health care provider for probably six or so years, maybe more.
Point is, I am working up the courage to find the right health care provider for me, but that requires me mentally preparing myself to not take any bullshit if and when the time comes that I need to advocate for myself and my well being. (P.S. Here is a database that may help fat folks find health care providers).
Remember that there is always space for you to push back and make important interruptions, whether that is apparent or not. It doesn’t have to be in a medical setting. It can be when you are dating, meeting new people, at school, or at work.
I practice advocating for myself. I do it in the shower. While I work, or write. Even while I’m stretching and doing yoga. I practice the words I would say, the movements I would make and my actions for when I experience fatphobia again at the hands of a provider, or really, anyone.
I know it sounds silly and that I sound jaded, and that’s absolutely fine. I know I am jaded. It’s okay to be cynical about spaces that have historically marginalized fat bodies, even if that one fat person was you.
Do things that make you feel confident. If that looks like wearing a piece of clothing that makes you feel good and powerful, or listening to a type of music while you drive. It can be anything that you want it to be, but choose something, if you can, choose it every day, that makes you feel good and comfortable in the skin you are in.
For me, that’s dancing. Almost no one knows it, but I love to dance. I love to dance to Bollywood music especially, as well as the classical music of South Asia. I find it freeing and body positive, as I can wear whatever and be whoever I want to be, and not worry about judgment or critique. It frees me to be myself and be happy in my body.
Bring awareness to hurtful self talk. This is a practice I believe we should all be more mindful of, because most of the time, the messaging we receive growing up and even now as adults, stick in our conscious and come up at the worst times.
For example, whenever I catch myself on my phone’s selfie mode, I often cringe as it shows an ‘unflattering’ angle of my face: with all my double chins. However, that is the reality of my face at a certain angle, you can see that I have double chins. That’s just a fact. What’s wrong with it?
I bring awareness to my feelings and my reaction to seeing my face like that when it happens. I don’t necessarily try to control my feelings or change my reaction or shame myself for feeling the way I do. I just bring awareness to my feelings and my very internal reaction to my own feelings. I realize, I’m hurting myself by caging myself in self-loathing.
This self awareness is an act I am committing myself to so I can unlearn the things that hurt me as I relearn how to love myself.
Eat and rest. Do these two things every day. Eat what your body needs to feel nourished. Sleep for however long makes you feel rested. My personal mantra these days is that ‘You can never go to sleep too early’, because I can sleep for 10+ hours, easy.
I am also putting this suggestion as one of the ways to navigate fatphobia, because experiencing fatphobia is tiring, especially if you’re queer, trans, Black, Latinx, underinsured, uninsured, undocumented…the list goes on. You need to eat well and sleep well, so you can refuel and be better equipped to be your best self.
Another reason I say this is because fat people are very rarely told to rest and eat, which is why fat people who struggle with eating disorders are often misdiagnosed or even applauded for doing so whereas other folks who don’t face the same form of phobias or isms are given access to the health care that they need to stay alive and rehabilitate themselves. Here is a resource for fat folks who are struggling with eating disorders.
Yes, eat and rest. Eat well. Rest well. And do so unapologetically. That is also an integral part of navigating fatphobia with all the lovely, important parts of you intact.