New Year’s resolutions, to me, have long felt like sinister affairs. Year after year, both online lists of the most popular resolutions in the U.S. and in real-life conversations with friends, family members, colleagues, or sheer acquaintances confirm what I already know: Tons of people want to lose weight. Many either believe that they are fat, and therefore inherently unattractive, unhealthy, and wholly unremarkable, have a deep fear of becoming fat, or, if they actually are fat, have been made to feel as though they cannot possibly live meaningful lives until they shrink.
Regardless of the current popularity of “body positivity” on Instagram or popular women’s sites, fatphobia arguably remains as pervasive as ever. Day-to-day, I’m called a “fat c*nt” or “fat b*tch” just as regularly as ever. Fat people are denied healthcare just as regularly as ever, on the grounds of BMI alone. Fat discrimination in the workforce remains legal. Fat people still earn less money than our thin counterparts. Fat people don’t have the clothing access or media representation of our thin counterparts, either.
The repercussions are endless: Lives consumed by disordered eating and/or body dysmorphia, lives lived in fear of visiting the doctor’s office when sick, lives riddled by social anxiety (often the result of such frequent de-humanization), lives put on hold entirely, duped by the notion that life is not worth living unless one is thin.
For 2020, and beyond, we might consider resolving something differently: To combat our fatphobia and to take some steps to unpack that which still exists within many of us individually, and which affects not only our relationships to ourselves but to those around us. Ultimately, to be a little kinder to ourselves and to those around us. These are some potential resolutions to start with.
1. Explore the Notion of “Health At Every Size”
In 2018, an editorial entitled “Everything You Know About Obesity Is Wrong” published in Huffington Post’s The Highline went viral, and it is an excellent 101 course for the examination of health at every size (that is, the idea that both mental and physical wellness are possible at any size).
The article explores how so many of us are taught to accept that fat is always unhealthy, without ever being urged to interrogate why, or how, or if there might be other things going on beneath the surface. It also unpacks the life-threatening consequences of fatphobia in the medical-industrial complex.
Dr. Lindo Bacon’s, Ph.D., Health At Every Size is also a critical read for healthcare providers, for educators, for parents, and for everyone. If ever you have considered dieting (that is, restricting calories) in order to lose weight, r made to believe that losing weight is always the solution to a medical problem, I urge you to pick up a copy ASAP and resolve to read it in the new year.
2. If You are a “Small Fat” or “Mid-Fat,” Consider the Experiences of Those Larger than Yourself
Fatness exists on a spectrum, which is to say that not all fat people are fat in the same ways or to the same degree. Fat-positive advocate Ash, of The Fat Lip blog and podcast, created a helpful chart to outline this. Personally, I am a “mid-fat,” meaning I usually wear a 3XL, can shop some mainstream brands, but mostly only dedicated plus-size brands online.
When I first discovered the fat acceptance movement, I was thrilled to have a community and an outlet through which to discuss my experiences of fat-phobia growing up plus-size in a Colombian family — like the bullying by extended relatives and peers or the eating disorder I inevitably felt funneled towards.
What I didn’t do was maintain mindfulness for how my experiences as a “mid-fat” or even “small fat,” at times, might differ from those larger than myself; From those whose bodies are not welcomed on public transportation, from those sized out of even plus-size brands, from those mistreated in ways more frequent and debilitating than what I had faced or could relate to.
Everyone’s experience is valid but it’s crucial to remember that our experiences don’t exist in a vacuum. Fat-phobia affects us all, certainly, but we mustn’t forget to consider and advocate for those who are facing a much more severe and often life-threatening mistreatment than ourselves.
3. Work Out Because it Feels Good
If you feel inclined to work out more in the new year, consider doing so simply because it feels good. No one is disputing the fact that when we exercise, our bodies release endorphins, and those endorphins help us feel less pain and stress (hell, clinically the feeling is often compared to that of morphine). We also know that it helps our hearts grow stronger and better able to keep our blood pumping. These are reasons enough to do the thing while exercising for the sole purpose of weight loss can quickly begin to feel emotionally draining, physically dangerous, and just not a ton of fun.
It’s also worth considering what type of exercise best fits in with your preferences. Maybe quiet walks in the forest are your cup of tea, or evening swims at the local pool or jogs with your best friend or yoga in the comfort of your own home. It’s okay not to love going to the gym (fat people are often subjected to cruelty in public fitness spaces, so it’s understandable not to enjoy those environments). Luckily, there are other ways of incorporating fitness into our lives that just feel better.
4. Stop Saying “I Feel Fat” if You Aren’t
When you are not fat yourself, but you use a phrase like “I feel fat” to belittle your appearance, what you are saying to those around you — in particular those who are actually fat — is that you feel like you look like them and that their type of body is a ghastly, ugly, wretched thing.
Oftentimes when I hear this, it’s obvious that what the person is really trying to say is that a certain outfit makes them feel frumpy, or maybe that they haven’t slept well and are looking a little more haggard, or that they haven’t eaten a vegetable in some time and feel a little meh as a result. So, rather than insulting someone else’s body, and a whole lot of other people in the process, consider saying what you actually mean.
5. Read More Work by Fat Liberationists
Instead of picking up another tabloid magazine from the grocery store checkout line with a headline article about dropping all that holiday weight in two weeks, why not read some books, articles, or blog posts written by fat liberationists? By writers who are actively invested in creating a more inclusive, compassionate existence for all of us? Surely these have to make for more pleasant, uplifting, potentially life-changing reads?
Some of my favorite books include Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Handbook For Unapologetic Living by Jes Baker, You Have The Right To Remain Fat by Virgie Tovar, The Body Is Not An Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor, Fearing The Black Body: The Racial Origins Of Fat Phobia by Sabrina Strings, and Big Girl by Kelsey Miller.
In terms of essayists and journalists, I cannot recommend Your Fat Friend and Melissa A. Fabello enough. If fiction is more your cup of tea, consider checking out Dietland by Sarai Walker or Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy. There is no shortage of information out there, and all of these authors (plus many others) are producing work that will no doubt help you create an alternative, more fulfilling, less toxic narrative for yourself.
6. Don’t Correlate Health to Worth
Not all of us are healthy, for an infinite variety of reasons encompassing physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. Not all of us are healthy, regardless of the size found on our jacket tags. Still, all of us are worthy human beings. All of us deserve kindness. All of us should feel positioned to live the lives we want to live.
There is nothing wrong with striving to feel well, whatever that means to us as individuals, but when we talk about health as something that makes a person acceptable or unacceptable, we not only frame it as a beauty standard in and of itself but risk alienating and de-humanizing a lot of people for which “health” isn’t possible or aspirational. We risk ableism. We risk further marginalizing those who might just need our advocacy the most.
7. Learn About Who Profits from Your Insecurities
I cannot remember when, or through whom, I first came across this question, but I know it changed my life (no exaggeration): Who profits from your insecurities? Because it sure as hell isn’t you.
Begin recognizing that there are multi-billion dollar industries whose survival depends on us hating ourselves. Their survival depends on manufacturing flaws that will inevitably plague us for a lifetime: The mainstream beauty industry with its anti-aging focus, the mainstream fashion industry with its exclusion of fat bodies, the medical-industrial complex, and the weight loss business (one of the most successful ones in the world). Corporations thrive when we do not but we can choose to break that cycle when we acknowledge its existence.
8. Wear the Clothes You’ve Always Wanted to Wear
Even in 2019 (the era of supposed “body-positivity”), antiquated sartorial rules persist. “Don’t wear horizontal stripes if you’re big, for they will only make you look bigger.” “Avoid form-fitting dresses if you have body rolls, for no one needs to see that.”
I was always interested in the exploration of fashion but, until I encountered fat-positivity, I never allowed myself to dress in ways that were fulfilling. Now, there are more plus-size brands serving consumers than there have ever been and I have learned to just put on the clothes.
The worst thing that has ever happened when I’ve rocked a crop top, a bikini, or a pencil skirt in public has been being called a “fat b*tch” on the street a couple more times than I might be on a day when I’m in a baggy dress or puffer coat. These moments are not especially pleasant but when I feel good in myself and my cute ensemble they are far easier to brush off.
9. Curb Diet Talk
Women, in particular, are undoubtedly conditioned to bond with one another over negative body talk. We learn to chat about our thick thighs in disdain, or our grey hairs in resentment, or our weight loss goals in desperation — and, along the way, we perpetuate so many harmful ideas about ageism, fat-phobia, and sexism. We hurt ourselves, and those we are with, and those who can probably hear us from the sidelines.
The easiest way to distance ourselves from this is simply to stop. Stop participating, stop engaging, and respectfully ask to change the subject. As a mother to two girls, for example, I am committed to never saying anything critical about my body in front of them. Why would I, anyway? Every single body looks different, feels different, and is wholly different from the one next to it — and that’s just as things should be.
10. Remember, Fat is Not…
“Fat” is not a synonym for “ugly,” for “undisciplined,” for “corrupt,” or “cruel,” or “selfish,” or “unf*ckable,” or “uninteresting,” or “unhealthy,” or anything else that it is so frequently compared to. So, let’s actively work to stop those associations.
To do so, we can put an end to using it as a catch-all insult when we wish to criticize someone who is morally condemnable. We can stop using it when we wish to criticize an aspect of our own character that we want to work on.
And we can let fat people use the word to define our own bodies when we feel inclined to do so. We can utilize it as a neutral character description when it is accurate. We can type it into Google as we search for all those fat-positive advocates who are sure to impact our lives, and when we pass our findings on to those who might also benefit from them. Because the truth is, everyone can benefit from them.
Combatting our own internalized fatphobia is not easy but definitely a great goal to tackle in the new year — and beyond. When you work to resolve your own issues with your body, you can let go of judging others too. The kind of dehumanization faced by bigger bodies isn’t easy in our world but you can do your little part anyway.