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Is “fat” really the worst a person could be? 

Gemma Atherton has made the news for telling on a feminist podcast the story of when Hollywood producers sent a personal trainer on the film set, and the PT would film her to prove she was exercising. She also told the story of an overweight producer making a comment on the snacks she was having. Now, Gemma Atherton is by all of the unhealthy standards of our society pretty damn perfect. And with the demands of life on set she would have likely burnt the calories of those dried apricots anyway. 

She is the opposite of the comedian speaking up in one of the related articles suggested underneath. She recounted how her attitude changed after drunk men shouted vile things at her for her weight. There is something insidious about so-called fatphobia. We’ve made being fat the worst a person can be, and so it becomes a line of abuse for people who aren’t even fat.

When I was a teenager, I was underweight. You wouldn’t have known from looking at me, because I have a relatively large frame. By then everyone had started to catch up with me, but for years I was a tall and relatively awkward child, saved only by the hours spent on the floor of a gym rehearsing rhythmic gymnastic, and a grandmother of the old stock. I had no reason to be confident in my own skin even if you erase my aunt preventing me to ever enjoy food because it would make me fat, and being bullied in school for allegedly being so already. I wish I was a tiny, elegant creature like my mother and Kristin Scott-Thomas, but that’s never going to happen. Behind the blue eyes and blonde hair I was going to grow into a Sophia Loren kind of figure, I just didn’t know it at the time. 

It would be years before men would notice me, and moving to another country (where, according to a so-called friend, local women are so fat even I look thin). To this day I can’t buy Italian brands because the XL doesn’t fit my hips, but have dresses in a small from Scandinavian designers. I’ve been for many years convinced it’s cultural, and thank goodness my parents live near the Swiss border still (that’s where all my clothes were from before 5 years of accumulating M&S clothes).

At 14, I had no idea what would happen. I was just told nobody could ever truly like me and I was only good for sex because in times of need every hole is a trench, they say.   It was clear that fat was the worst thing someone could be if you wanted to be loved. For years I would be puzzled by larger women happily settled because that message was all I had heard, and if they could be happy so it clearly wasn’t true, then why was it never true for me? It’s a tiring way to live. 

I understand the drive to make body positivity a widespread thing, and make people who are fat see that fat is just an adjective, but I can’t see how that will happen while people who aren’t fat are made to worry about their weight so much. I realised just how much I did it myself when I eventually put on weight as a result of medications, illness and poor mobility, and the British drinking culture. Being overweight, and losing the weight being largely beyond my control, meant I had to let go of some of the obsessive thoughts I had. At the same time, I became aware of just how much people treat being fat as the worst thing you can be, as if it always depended on you whether you are and that made you lesser than everyone else. 

I’d love to wear a size 12 full time again, but at present I have other concerns like finding the time and energy to actually eat real meals again, and exercise more because it improves some of the medical issues I face. Weight would impact some of those, but the extent to which losing one size makes a difference is tiny. I know it because I dropped that much during the general election. It wasn’t healthily and I went half-way back up. Most of my smaller clothes fit when I’m not flaring up but not all, and not always. 

And here’s another thing about all this that bothers me: if I’m flaring-up, I look and feel heavier. I notice that people look at me differently from when I’m not. Maybe it’s that being well, energised and having a flat stomach make me more confident, or maybe I really look as bad as I see in the mirror when I flare up. Either way it is a swing that is not about my weight, and can happen really quickly and go away quickly enough. It’s so pronounced people ask me when my baby is due. That’s an improvement on being told I’m unlovable, but strikes me as a lack of understanding that not all bodies are normal and even those who are, aren’t always working as we think they should. 

We put too much emphasis on a binary view of looking a certain way, being slim as the good one and being fat as the bad one. Even when there are many reasons why someone looks large but isn’t fat, someone looks thin but has internal fat, and many are indeed fat but not out of character deficiencies. If people were really concerned with health they would be more informed about these many sides, especially with Type 2 diabetes on the rise among “healthy looking people”. I may fit clothes that didn’t fit last summer, and the summer before, but I’m not healthy when I have one meal a day and it’s take-away, or I drink on an empty stomach at an event. 

But the truth is people who say they care about health often don’t. It’s just the more socially acceptable way to keep making being fat the worst thing a person can be. As someone with a history of eating disorders, I know too well for how long I’ve felt that fat was the worst I could be. Hand on heart there are times that I still do (mea maxima culpa). Not long ago, a controversy arose around a guy praising himself for loving his curvy wife! We are a long way away from the day fat will be just a descriptive adjective with no moral weight. Maybe we can start by stopping people who are very much fine from excessively worrying they could become fat, which often ends up in them becoming too thin? And at the same time respecting people who are fat because that’s just what their body is at the time, and not all that there is to them (they are people)?

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2 Comments

  • Reply Patty

    Can i just hug you!? I APPLAUD this kind of honesty…I whole heartedly agree there is an unhealthy emphasis on slim vs. being heavy. Body type is different for each person for.so.many.reasons…lets shame each other less on this world, okay!?

    well said!

    August 26, 2017 at 6:46 pm
    • Reply Alessia

      I’m hugging you back really tight. Thank you so much for your kind words, it was really hard to open up about it and I was really scared of the reactions <3

      September 4, 2017 at 9:59 am

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