On fatness and safety

Growing up as a fat kid, you rarely feel safe.

You can never know when a peer is going to bully you because of your size.

Going on a school trip is a blast, until you can’t fit into the ride at the amusement park; the message is clear – this space is not for you.

You sit & wait, fearful that the movie you’ve chosen to see with your friends is going to toss out a fat joke.

You never know when a parent is going to shame you for eating or choosing to watch TV/play games instead of being active outside.

Developing as a fat teen, you are rarely safe.

Hanging out at the mall is fun, until you non-fat friends drag you into straight size stores. They fail to understand that the reason you spend all your time looking at the accessories is because nothing else in that store is meant for you.

You wonder if the teen that seems to like you is just doing it as a prank; they couldn’t possibly like your fat body – this must be a gaff for friends.

Sitting in class you are taught along with your peers that body size is controllable – the law of thermodynamics is very clear that it’s a simple combination of calories in, calories out. It doesn’t matter that it doesn’t seem to work that simply in your body – this is physics. This is immutable.

Being a fat adult, you are never safe.

Turning on the television, opening a magazine, walking past an ad on the street – you are told that you are damaged and unworthy– you can never be wanted. You can never be sexy. Attraction is not something you are allowed to experience.

Politicians speak about you: obesity, they say, is a scourge on this nation; you are a drain on resources, a burden on society. You are not good; you are undisciplined and dangerous.

People around you moan about their bodies, talk of how friends have let themselves go, compare diet tips and secrets.

You hesitate to take the first step with the person you like, because they’d never find you attractive – we all learn the same lessons. If you know you’re ugly, then they must as well.

Creating safe spaces

As an academic and activist, I’m often able to create safe spaces for myself. I chose a profession that allows me to work in solitude if I see fit. I engage in online communities within the Fatosphere, surrounded by fatties who have similar lives and shared histories; fellow survivors who understand the dangers and societal pitfalls that obstruct my path. I can choose not to watch shows that capitalize on fat hate. I can select to ignore women’s magazines who wish to convince me that I am not enough. I can distance myself from relatives who shame and embarrass me. I can forgo visiting the staffroom for morning tea – escaping the fat talk of my colleagues, the moralizing of food and the excuses some may provide for not eating. I am lucky to have these choices and opportunities.

Of course, I can never truly be safe. I still overhear conversations in the hallway about diets, food guilt, and fat thighs. I am still blindsided when watching films and television (thanks, Glee & Dodgeball). If I tune in to any news, media, or political sphere, I am likely to hear fat jokes and proponents of social eugenics railing against the fatpocalypse. Even strangers offer me their advice and/or opinion on my fatness.

So am I safe? No.

Safety: It’s just one more thing denied to fat people.