Fat acceptance and the fantasy of being thin

I am in several Facebook groups for plus size women.  A couple of days ago, one of the moderators of one group posted the following question:

“Based on a few threads in here where some of us feel particularly low or unattractive I think a bit of forced positivity is in order….


When was the last time you genuinely felt attractive and sexy?

Where were you?
What were you wearing?
What in particular made you feel that way?
Why did you feel that way?”

Good questions.  My reply was

“I felt absolutely fab last night. I went to the wedding evening do of a uni friend and met up with some people who I haven’t seen for years. Despite the fact I am quite a lot heavier than I was at uni, I dress better and feel better about myself. Ive let go of the angst about being fat and have decided that as I’m never going to be thin, I will dress myself nicely now rather than putting it off (forever) with the mindset that I will wait until I’m thin.

Anyway, I got loads of complements from people, including from two guys I haven’t seen for 20 years. I also got a free drink at the bar and a lot of smiles from people. I think it’s cos I felt fab and happy and that made me look great”


But some of the other replies have almost had me in tears.  People saying that they only felt great when they were a size 10 and they could feel their hipbones grinding into the mattress, or saying that they lost 4 stone and felt great, but have put weight back on and feel terrible, or even that they have NEVER felt great.

The self hate of so many people in a closed plus size, supposedly supportive community is distressing.  Having been there in the past but escaped, it makes me very, very sad. 

And then of course there are the women who are dieting and have lost weight who are showered with congratulations (this is not a diet community). I always feel terribly awkward when people are congratulated on weight loss. Like you’ve made yourself smaller to take up less space and conform to the pressures of society, where’s the good in that?

WHY?  Why do we do this to ourselves?  Why are women of all ages so focussed on losing weight to conform to a single societal ideal?  Why do women think that there being less of them is a good thing?

Yes, I once felt the same having drunk the diet/magazine/media Kool Aid, but now I’ve come to a place where I know that the word “Fat” is a descriptor. I am fat, I have been less fat and more fat, but I have always been fat. It was learning that the word is not an insult, but just a word (even if meant as an insult) that helped me to come to terms with the fact that I can live a perfectly OK life as a fat women, and all the mental energy I put into hating myself and wishing I was “normal” could actually be put into my relationship, my career, my crafting hobbies, my ukulele playing and my friends.

No, I don’t feel 100% all the time, BUT when I feel “fat” I now recognise that I’m feeling unhappy/nervous/upset/apprehensive/insecure about something and that my body insecurity is actually my brain playing up.

I have found that people take me more seriously now in my career because I dress better and speak out and I’m not afraid of being insulted about being fat (which I always was before). And now it never happens. I’m very short (5’4″) but people alway think I’m taller and I think it’s because I project confidence in a fat body.

I WISH I could help some of the women who are so unhappy about their bodies to let them know that it is possible to get to a place where you don’t actually mind your body. I’m not a “body love” sort of person, I think loving a body that you are constantly told is defective/non-conformist is very hard, but I am definitely a fat acceptance person. I accept my fat body, dress it nicely, feed it and exercise it and then get on with living life.

Meanwhile, here is a link to a ground breaking, mind-opening blog post by Kate Harding that started me on the road to fat acceptance back in 2007.


“But then, the other day, I got to thinking about a particular kind of resistance that shows up every single time anyone dares to say that dieting doesn’t work — the kind that comes from other fat people and amounts to, “DON’T YOU TAKE MY HOPE AWAY!” Those of us in the anti-dieting camp are frequently accused of demoralizing fat people, of sending a cruelly pessimistic message. I’ve never quite gotten my head around that one, since the message we’re sending is that you’re actually allowed to love your fat body instead of hating it, and you can take steps to substantially improve your health without fighting a losing battle with your weight. I’m pretty sure that message is both compassionate and optimistic, not to mention realistic. But there will always be people who hear it as, “I, Kate Harding, am personally condemning you to a lifetime of fatness! There’s no point in trying, fatty! You’re doomed! Mwahahaha!”……..

“Overcoming The Fantasy of Being Thin might be the hardest part of making it all the way into fat acceptance-land. And that might just be why I’d pushed that part of the process out of my memory: it fucking sucked. Because I didn’t just have to accept the size of my thighs; I had to accept who I am, rather than continuing to wait until I magically became the person I’d always imagined being. Ouch.”


Day 99/366: feeling low

I’m putting on weight.  For all the body/fat acceptance work that I have done with myself, I still feel awful and ashamed about it.  I have been on a particular medication for two years and I was taken off it at the end of February, and I think this is what is causing the weight increase, as I lost weight (unexpectedly and without trying) when I started taking it, going from a solid size 20 to a 16/18.

Add to this nearly losing our dog Marley to an attack of ideopathic vestibulitis two weeks ago, grief from losing Bella and extreme work stress,  I feel terrible both mentally and physically.  Marley still isn’t quite well although he is a lot better and back on his feet.  As he’s so old, I worried that we are keeping him alive for our sake rather than his (although he is so much better now and is definitely still interested in life).  It’s a really hard call, but he didn’t tell us that he was ready to go even when at his sickest two weeks ago, unlike Bella did two months ago.

Sick marley
Poor sick Marley

The question is, why is my sense of self worth so tied up with my weight?  I do wonder if the huge amount of stress and grief I’m going through at the moment is actually making my emotional reaction to my (so far very small) weight gain worse.  I have observed in the past that when I’m feeling low my attitude to my body is far more negative.  It’s that classic “I feel fat” feeling which really should be more accurately interpreted as “I’m stressed/scared/tired/anxious/upset”.

The problem with documenting my outfits on social media is that I can see the difference between me this year and me early last year.  I wore the dress in the picture below on Tuesday to a meeting and I spent the day feeling incredibly self-conscious about myself.  When I wore the same dress this time last year, I felt wonderful.  Looking at the two images, there are differences, but they are very subtle, so why do I feel them so acutely? Why do I feel ashamed of how I look on the left, but happy and confident on the right?

Kerry who blogs at Ruby Thunder blog (http://www.rubythunder.com/) posted a video on Facebook earlier today.  Its called Embrace and is a trailer for a documentary by Taryn Brumfitt of the Body Image Movement (http://bodyimagemovement.com).  I sat and watched it and cried my eyes out as it pinpoints the fact that most women feel awful about themselves and how they look and that it’s such a complete waste of energy and emotion.

The part that set me off was when the majority of women that Taryn interviewed in the street and asked to describe how they feel about themselves said negative things about themselves.  There were at least five women who called themselves disgusting.  No one should feel that their body or appearance disgusting, but we are living in a society that encourages people to pick on their flaws rather than celebrate the diversity of human appearance.

This is such a sad state of affairs for us, so much negative energy spent telling ourselves that we don’t meet arbitrary societal standards rather than putting that energy into making life better for ourselves and others, or having more fun, or volunteering or baking or doing art or making music.  We spend too much time staring in the mirror pinching our flesh and criticising the vessel that carries us around; feeling inadequate, or thinking that people are staring at us and criticising us for our appearance.

And yet, I know that I don’t go around looking at people in the streets or at meetings or in the pub and thinking critical things about their appearance.  I’m more likely to be concerned about what they do, how they act and how they treat people. So why do I think that other people are looking at me critically.

I seriously need to get myself out of this negative self talk as my work life is unlikely to get better or less stressful over the next two years and my appearance has nothing to do with how I cope with what’s going on. I have had a period of four or five years where I have felt significantly better about myself, partly down to reading wonderful fat acceptance blogs and actually meeting some of these amazing, positive women who have created this social movement for self-acceptance.  I feel like I need to go back to the beginning and start again.


Day 22/366: looking back at where it began


Theme this month :

“Talk about how our teens/childhood influence our choices in clothes and things today”

I’m unofficially joining in with this Blog theme as it fits so well with what I have written.

This was a surprisingly difficult blog to write and it has brought up some really unpleasant memories.  But I think they need addressing as they are part of the root cause of my shopping issue.

For years as a teen and twenty something, I didn’t have any nice clothes.  I lived in ugly ill-fitting jeans, oversized men’s t-shirts and rugby shirts and fleeces.  This wasn’t actually because I wanted to dress like this, but was more that I did not fit into clothes sold in standard shops.  I was also terribly, horribly, awfully body conscious and thought that I didn’t deserve nice clothes.  I thought that I couldn’t possibly be attractive if I did wear pretty things, and that people would laugh at me trying to dress up, because of course I’d been told all my life that it wasn’t possible to be fat and look nice.

The photos above show me at three different parties at ages 18, 19 and 20.  The one on the right was taken at a Christmas dinner and all the other girls showed up in dresses.  But I was too self conscious to wear anything that would even slightly show my figure and also, it was almost impossible to buy pretty clothes in my size.  In the 1980s and 1990s, most clothing shops (suitable for a teenager!) went up to a 14.  16 if you were lucky.  This was the time of Small, Medium and Large equating to sizes 8, 10 and 12.  Dorothy Perkins only started carrying size 18 around 1994.

crop DP maternity

The photo above was taken when I was 14 or 15.  The shirt I’m wearing is a Dorothy Perkins maternity shirt.  I remember the excruciating shame of the fact I had to buy maternity clothing to fit me because I wasn’t able to get into tops that fitted loosely enough to hide my body.

These two photos are me being as properly smart as I ever got.  On the left I was wearing this exceptionally ugly suit at a christening where I was a godmother. There are no words I can think of to express how awful I felt in it.  I knew I looked terrible, but I wasn’t able to find anything more suitable to wear that fit. The photo on the right was taken when I ended up wearing one of my Mum’s Laura Ashley dresses to the sixth form dinner.  I look more middle aged in this then than I do now.  It’s so sad to think how much I hated myself, how much I absorbed the jibes and bullying about my appearance.

I was so unhappy with the way I looked. I felt frumpy and horrible. And to be honest, I looked frumpy and far older than I actually was.  I was 32 in this picture, but I think I look older than I do now and that’s down to how I was dressed and how I comported myself.


It wasn’t really until I was in my late 30s that I even started to consider that I could wear nice clothes.  I make a few forays into something different which included wearing tunics over jeans (I seemed to think that I couldn’t possibly not wear jeans or the world might end) and finding some interesting skirts.

I finally bought a couple of dresses which I didn’t wear often because I felt embarrassed despite the fact that I looked really good in them.

In 2006, I had started following Livejournal’s Fatshionista community which was so incredibly liberating to be a part of. It was radical fat acceptance at its very best, it was the start of a new online movement.  As the Fatosphere developed with blogs like Kate Harding’s Shapely Prose (The Fantasy of Being Thin is possibly the best post on diet culture I’ve ever read, seriously worth a read) Lesley Kinzel’s Two whole Cakes and Marianne Kirby’s The Rotund I discovered more and more amazing women talking about body image in a way I had never imagined possible.

I was obviously absorbing some of the amazingness of these wonderful women.  By 2010 I had started wearing skirts and dresses a lot more of the time, in fact I would wear them to go out and walk the dogs or go up to the allotment.  I had a slow revelation that I was so much more comfortable in skirts and dresses and that I found trousers and jeans so restricting.


In 2010 I bought my first Beth Ditto dress which remains one of my favourites even now.  I was on a roll, I actually liked how I looked in this!


I am so grateful to the fatshion, fat acceptance, health at every size blogs that I read over the past nine years.  I realise how far I have come in accepting who I am and how incredibly important and empowering it has been to be part of a community of supportive women.  I don’t love myself and sometimes I can’t even describe the feeling as “like”, but I no longer feel the crushing shame that I did all those years ago.  I don’t feel ashamed of my body for looking the way it does; most of the time I’m neutral about it which is a good place to be in compared to how I thought of it in the past.

But….. I’m fairly certain that this acceptance of myself for how I look and my sudden blossoming interest in clothes which are now actually available in my size has led to my shopping issues which I will talk about in another post.


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