Jennette Fulda, better known as PastaQueen, may have lost a couple hundred or so pounds, but she’s been a commenter on and visitor to Big Fat Deal for a long time. On a blog tour for her memoir, Half of Me, she offered to stop by and answer the toughest questions I could come up with about weight loss and fat acceptance. Feel free to discuss the book, her responses, or my questions in the comments here—I know it will be a respectful and interesting discussion. Thanks again to Jennette for answering these questions so extensively, and giving us so much food for thought.
You say: “Whenever I tried hanging around fat-acceptance sites, I felt as if they were trying to make me feel bad for wanting to be thin, which was just as bad as anyone who tried to make me feel bad for being fat… if there were simply a self-acceptance movement, maybe I could have joined that.” What do you see as being the differences between “self acceptance” and “fat acceptance”? What would your self acceptance movement look like?
Before I make any comments about the fat acceptance movement, I’d like to acknowledge that there are many different ideas and forces at work within it, just like any philosophical or political movement. Asking someone what they think of fat acceptance is like asking them what they think about feminism or democracy or Bob Dylan. Maybe you liked his acoustic stuff, but didn’t care for the electric album. The current battle going on in the American Democratic party is proof that even when people are on the same side, they can disagree vehemently on certain issues. I was very careful in my book to only mention my personal experiences with the FA movement. I’m not trying to summarize it as a whole or write any treatises or manifestos. My book is a memoir, so it covers my memories and my personal experiences, nothing else.
That being said, I have visited fat acceptance sites where people tried to make me feel bad about my desire to lose weight. I never told anyone else to lose weight. I never tried to make anyone else feel bad for being fat. I just had to admit that I didn’t like being fat and I didn’t think there was anything wrong with that. If I didn’t like being a brunette, no one would give me shit about dying my hair blonde. At the same time however, I believe that fat people should not be discriminated against or made to feel bad because of their weight and that fat people deserve equal rights. I just think it’s okay if you prefer not to be one of those fat people. Not everyone agreed with me, which is why some of the sites I personally visited were less like fat acceptance sites and more like “accept you if you’re fat” sites, or at least “accept you if you’re fat and you like it” sites. Acceptance that comes with terms attached isn’t truly acceptance.
So, the difference I see between fat acceptance and self acceptance is that self acceptance means you are cool with whatever you are – fat, thin, a fat person who wants to be thin or even a thin person who wants to be fat. Many people in the fat acceptance movement embody this philosophy brilliantly, others not so much.
In your memoir, you also talk about fat girls who “let their thunder thighs steal their thunder.” What would you say to those girls?
First off, I promise that you are not nearly as fat as you think you are. I look back at photos from high school when I felt like a human blob and now I think “You were so thin!” Second, your size only matters as much as you let it. If you’re really self-conscious and feel bad about yourself, it will show in your body language no matter how big or small you are. If you walk into a room confidently, it will radiate out of you. There are many plus-sized role models who demonstrate these qualities, like Queen Latifah or Beth Ditto, and hopefully there will be many more in the future.
You talk about weight loss blogs and fat acceptance blogs not being mutually exclusive–and yet I’m sure many bloggers would disagree with you. Some fat acceptance blogs are not welcoming of people trying to lose weight at all, and some weight loss blogs claim that fat acceptance is the same as turning one’s back on weight loss. Do you think either of these concerns is valid? I think ultimately both of those types of blogs are about the same thing – the right to do with your body as you chose. For some people that means losing weight and for others it’s declaring that they don’t feel a need to drop any pounds. Just as fat acceptance members don’t want people to give them crap about being fat, people who are losing weight don’t want people to give them crap about eating salads.
Sometimes people take their pride so far in one direction that they create shame in the other direction. For instance, I’ve read threads on message boards where overweight women justifiably complain about how women are mocked on tabloid covers for being fat. Then those same women will make jokes about Kate Bosworth for being a “bag of sticks” and say she should “eat a cheeseburger.” How is this any different than saying a fat girl is a “tub of lard” who should “get on a treadmill?” In both cases you’re ridiculing women for their bodies. Some women are naturally fat and others are naturally thin, and neither group deserves to be humiliated or degraded because of that.
If the lines of communication were more open and welcoming between these groups, I think we could make a lot more positive progress in the world than we do by hating on each other. There aren’t that many people who’ve lived life as a morbidly obese person and as a thin person. This gives me a unique perspective on issues and it would be sad if I was shut out from sharing it with one group or the other simply because of my current size. Sometimes I’ve gotten nasty comments on my blog from people on the extreme edges of the fat acceptance movement. It’s ironic that in a movement that is about not judging people for their size, they’ve stopped by to judge me because of my size.
You talk about accepting yourself, and in that process, accepting that you weren’t happy being fat. Do you think it’s possible to accept yourself as a fat person without accepting your fatness? Do you think the fact that you thought of it this way is what enabled you to lose the weight? In other words, do you think if you’d been a more self-confident fat girl, you might never have been motivated to become thin?
No matter how self-confident I might have been, there were things about being morbidly obese that just sucked. It had nothing to do with what fashion editors in New York put on the covers of magazines. I was so fat that I injured my knee walking up the stairs. I had to have my gallbladder removed at age 23. I became exhausted just tossing a ball around with my cat. My weight was seriously inhibiting me from living the life I wanted to lead. Because of that, I believe I would have been motivated to lose weight no matter what.
So, I obviously knew I was fat and accepted that I was currently a fat person. However, I also believed that I could lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle – and I did. I didn’t accept that being fat was an inescapable part of my life, and for me that turned out to be true.
You lost a great deal of weight without surgery, and have kept it off. Do you think it’s possible or desirable for every fat person to do what you did?
I think every man and woman faces different challenges when it comes to weight loss. Some people are naturally thinner than others and don’t have to work as hard to be slender. Some battle eating disorders which can make it dangerous for them to try losing weight because they do so in ways that are harmful to their health. Some people just don’t have access to fresh fruits and vegetables and lean meats that are part of a healthy diet. These are aspects of our lives that we don’t control. However, we can all exert some control over our environment by choosing to exercise and to make the best eating choices available to us. So, I think weight loss is definitely possible, though it may be harder for some people than others, and potentially dangerous if they go about it in the wrong way.
As far as desirable goes, I think it’s desirable to eat healthy and maintain an active lifestyle. Many times that leads to weight loss, but you can still be somewhat overweight and healthy. According to my BMI, I’m still technically overweight, but all my medical tests say I’m in excellent health. Ultimately, everyone has a right to do with their body as they chose, so they get to lead whatever lifestyle they want to, be it fat or thin, fit or unfit, or any mixture of those adjectives. Leading the life you want to lead is the most desirable thing of all.
You also say you don’t feel like a fat person on the inside anymore. Do you think you were disconnected from your body when you were very heavy? Or do you think the gradual process of weight loss helped you to adjust? Or is there another reason?
I feel defined by my actions. Last weekend I ran a half marathon, which is not something a morbidly obese person can do. (They might be able to walk it, but I don’t know of any 400-pound people who can run the whole thing.) I can carry my groceries up the stairs without panting. I can fit into my car without my belly brushing the wheel. All of these things make up my daily life and make me feel like a thin person.
The slow process of losing weight over 3 years certainly helped me adjust to the changes. I used to check myself out in the mirror ALL THE TIME when I was losing weight, a lot more than I do now. I think it was my mind’s way of recalibrating my self-image every day.
Also, when I was morbidly obese, I didn’t quite have a sense of how fat I was. When I watched a video of myself or saw photos, I was shocked by how large I appeared. It was like hearing my voice on an answering machine and not quite believing it was me. So yeah, I was disconnected from my body back then. I find that all the exercise that I do these days keeps me in touch with what my body is capable of and more in tune with it in general.
There’s been talk in the fatosphere recently about people’s healthy eating habits, exercise regimes, or weight loss being threatening and triggering, or reinforcing the idea of low-self esteem, of something being “wrong” with you if you aren’t thin. People reading this might see the discussion of your weight loss memoir in a size acceptance blog a hostile act. Admittedly, this is an extreme point of view, but what would you say to counteract it?
As I said earlier, my book is about my personal experiences. No one has to live the life I led or make the choices I made. The decision as to whether you should try to lose weight, or if you even need to, is up to every individual. What I’d like for people to understand after reading my book is that you can lose weight without it being an act of self-hate or self-loathing. And you can learn a lot about yourself through the process.
I think you hinted at the answer in your question when you said “size acceptance” and not “fat acceptance” or “thin acceptance.” I think we all want to be accepted no matter what our size – fat, thin or shifting in between. Just as people who are fat don’t want to be attacked for not being thin, people who used to be fat don’t want to be attacked for having become thin. If we’re going to accept people’s bodies, we’ve got to accept them no matter what size they are, have been, or will be in the future. You’re not really being accepting if you say it’s only okay if someone stays fat or stays thin and anyone who changes their dress size is evil. If size truly is irrelevant to our personal identity, it doesn’t really matter whether you’re fat, thin, shrinking or expanding.
Many times our reactions are more about our own issues than anything else. If you automatically assume that everyone who talks about exercise and eating right is judging you for not being thin, it probably speaks more to your own feelings about your weight than anything someone on the Stairmaster is really thinking about you. I don’t think I’m superior to anyone else because I run 3 times a week and I find it odd that some people assume I do feel that way.
What would you say to Big Fat Deal readers who are focused on body acceptance and not trying to lose weight. Why would they want to read your book?
While my book is a weight-loss memoir, ultimately it’s about transformation and the possibilities life holds for all of us. I’ve always liked the parts of body acceptance that emphasize possibilities and I dislike the parts that focus on limitations. On the surface, my book is about losing a lot of weight, but the deeper message is that you can shape your life into whatever you want it to be. You can lose a ton of weight, find a better job, get out of a bad relationship, start a salt-water taffy stand – whatever you want to do, you can do it!
I also hope they would read it and understand that you can love your body and be making changes to it at the same time. Self-acceptance isn’t the same thing as self-satisfaction. Self-acceptance means you’ve faced the truth of who you are, flaws and all. Self-satisfaction means you’re happy with it. I think it’s okay to admit that there are things you don’t like about yourself and to strive to make changes in a positive way. It’s okay to admit that you don’t like being fat. It doesn’t have to mean that you hate yourself. It just means there’s something you want to change in your life. As long as you go about it in a healthy, sane manner, there’s nothing wrong with that.
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