Existential perfection, problematic cultural systems, and being okay.


Existential perfection, problematic cultural systems, and being okay.


I am com­plete­ly and utter­ly over­whelmed by the response I’ve got­ten from “The body I have.”

On the one hand, I keep check­ing my stats with ever-widen­ing eyes and a grin that I can’t quite get rid of. “People…are actu­al­ly read­ing what I wrote? They like what I had to say?”

Then my intro­ver­sion comes out, and I think, “I’ll just hide under a rock for a while until they all go away.”

And then my depres­sion and anx­i­ety kicks into high gear, like it has right now, and I fran­ti­cal­ly feel like I’m a fake and every­one will hate me if I’m dis­cov­ered — until some­one brings me back to plan­et earth with a reminder like this:

And now I can breathe a lit­tle eas­i­er.

Why did I write that piece in the first place?

I’ve been ask­ing myself that a lot.

I think it boils down to me being sick of our cul­ture.

A cul­ture that scru­ti­nizes women’s bod­ies or appear­ances and pro­ceeds to make judg­ment calls about their very per­sons. Fat? You’re lazy and glut­to­nous and stu­pid and need to put the Chee­tos down. Skin­ny? You’re vain and anorex­ic and stu­pid and need to eat a sand­wich. Dress fash­ion­ably? You’re shal­low and insipid and waste­ful. Dress comfortably/unfashionably? You’re hard­ened and arro­gant and sim­ple.

A cul­ture that thinks that women exist for the sole pur­pose of plea­sure, whether visu­al or sex­u­al. Women in pub­lic spaces are sub­ject to sex­u­al scruti­ny in ways that men in those same spaces almost nev­er are. Wear­ing some­thing that shows any skin what­so­ev­er? If you’re a man, you’re prob­a­bly just warm and dress­ing for your com­fort. If you’re a woman, you’re an easy slut, ask­ing for atten­tion. Wear­ing some­thing that cov­ers you from head to toe? If you’re a man, you’re prob­a­bly just cold and dress­ing for your com­fort. If you’re a woman, you’re a frigid prude and need to loosen up. A man jog­ging down the street shirt­less is bare­ly noticed. A woman jog­ging down the street in sports bra or tank top and shorts gets cat calls and leers. Same peo­ple, same space. Dif­fer­ent sex, dif­fer­ent expec­ta­tions. The man may mind his busi­ness. The woman is expect­ed to per­form.

A cul­ture that takes the above even fur­ther when it comes to mat­ters of sex­u­al abuse, sex­u­al assault, sex­u­al harass­ment. A cul­ture that doesn’t under­stand that you can’t touch a woman sex­u­al­ly with­out her expressed per­mis­sion. Being mar­ried does not give some­one per­mis­sion to your body. Being drunk does not give some­one per­mis­sion to your body. Being asleep or uncon­scious does not give some­one per­mis­sion to your body. Being afraid for your life or well-being does not give some­one per­mis­sion to your body. Know­ing the per­son does not give them per­mis­sion to your body. Being naked does not give some­one per­mis­sion to your body. These are things I nev­er, ever, ever heard until the past 2 or 3 years.

A sub-cul­ture in which I spent most of my life that believes itself to ele­vate women to a high­er lev­el of respect and hon­or, but still teach­es that women “belong” to their hus­bands, are more eas­i­ly deceived, are weak­er, are unfit for lead­er­ship, are expect­ed to obey like chil­dren or ser­vants. If unmar­ried, these women must answer to their fathers, until they are “giv­en” to their hus­bands. To remain unmar­ried is seen as a sign of an unsub­mis­sive rebel­lious spir­it. They must be pure, they must be silent, they must be sweet, they must be kind, they must endure abuse with­out a word, they must nev­er “allow” them­selves to be in “com­pro­mis­ing” sit­u­a­tions, they must shoul­der the blame for the lust and desire and sex­u­al sins and even sex­u­al crimes of their broth­ers in the faith. None of this may be intend­ed, but too many of us have felt this weight, and it can­not be the yoke that is easy to bear, the bur­den that is light.

These cul­tures, these sys­tems of thought, are per­va­sive. Good peo­ple with good inten­tions per­pet­u­ate these sys­tems unknow­ing­ly with­out under­stand­ing the con­se­quences.

But these sys­tems do have con­se­quences.

For me, those con­se­quences includ­ed extreme self-hatred — of my body, my per­son­al­i­ty, my entire exis­tence. They includ­ed a deep shame that I still can’t shake — shame over my weight, shame over my breasts and hips, shame over my sex­u­al­i­ty (because, oh yeah, women aren’t sup­posed to be sex­u­al crea­tures, only sex­u­al objects). Con­fu­sion over whether I want­ed to lose weight to be attrac­tive final­ly to some­one any­one on earth, or stay fat so I wasn’t a temp­ta­tion to any­one (not that PCOS gave me much of a choice on that one). The belief that I had to be thin in order to be con­sid­ered a non-embar­rass­ing love inter­est.

There are so many things that I nev­er knew until recent­ly. Things like the fol­low­ing:

  • It’s not okay to com­ment on someone’s body if you don’t have the kind of rela­tion­ship with that per­son that it’s mutu­al­ly agreed that it’s okay. In fact, it’s rude.
  • It’s not okay to com­ment on someone’s health if you are not involved in their health­care or they have not asked for your input.
  • It’s not okay to touch some­one with­out their per­mis­sion.
  • It’s not okay to make fun of some­one for look­ing dif­fer­ent­ly than you want them to look.
  • It’s not okay to treat women like they are inca­pable of intel­li­gent thought, self-care, basic and more-than-basic abil­i­ty to rea­son and act and make deci­sions and lead and live.

And the oth­er day, when shop­ping for pants that fit my size 20 bel­ly and butt and thighs, the ridicu­lous­ness of my thought process­es and mem­o­ries and expe­ri­ences hit me so hard. And I tried to dis­miss them, and tried to dis­miss them, until final­ly I thought, “I’ll just jot down a few thoughts to clear my head.”

The more I wrote, the more it all came togeth­er. I saw the sys­tem of fat-sham­ing at play from my youth. I saw the sys­tem of puri­ty cul­ture and mod­esty doc­trine from my teen­hood, that direct­ly fed into my guilt and pain from being assault­ed and the vic­tim-blam­ing that takes place when peo­ple won­der if per­haps cloth­ing or actions invit­ed such an attack. I saw the sys­tem that told me that I as a fat woman was inher­ent­ly wor­thy of less affec­tion, less love, less respect, less dig­ni­ty.

And it final­ly, final­ly, for the first time in my life real­ly and tru­ly hit me that I have the body that I have and it’s okay. And I am the per­son that I am, and that’s okay. And I am a woman, and that’s okay.

I am okay.

I am almost 26 years old. It has tak­en me this long to learn that I deserve respect, in large part due to the sys­tems I just talked about.

These sys­tems affect real peo­ple. They have deeply affect­ed me.

And that is why I wrote that post.

Posted in Fat Girl,