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Monday, July 18, 2011

Never Apologize for Your Fat

My friend Jill ( has a magnet on her fridge which reads: “Never apologize for your art.” However, when I glanced at it recently, I read: “Never apologize for your fat.”
I then thought, “What would ‘Never apologizing for my fat’ mean? What would be the lived experience of it?”
The first question to ask, of course, is “Do I apologize for my fat?”

The Experience of My Everyday
Yes, I do, I do it much of the time. I try to take up as little space as possible on the bus. I feel self-conscious wearing bright clothes (and often don’t) because I want to take the focus away from my fat. I’ve only recently started referring to myself as a fat woman, after years of stubbornly thinking (unconsciously) that if I didn’t say it, others wouldn’t say it (much less think it). And if no one thought of me as being fat , then I'd be different (and better) than all the other fat people I fiercely, continuously, and silently criticized most every day of my life..
 And I apologize for my fat by pull myself in, because I don’t want to stand out.  I don’t want to be seen, so I try to occupy less space nearly everywhere I am. I suck my stomach in (so much so that I do it when I am alone; letting my stomach “out” now feels unnatural, foreign). On the sidewalk, I quickly stand to the side to let others pass, even though they could walk by me. I don’t want to risk, you see, the sure embarrassment if they weren’t able to do so. Then they might have to squeeze by and possibly touch The Fat Woman. Surely they would then resent her. I know I would.
And I pull myself in socially, assuming potential friends on first meetings and think, “They won’t like me because I’m fat.” Or reflect on the very long list of things I don’t do because I don’t want to draw attention to my fat. When you are Of The Fat, this is often what you do.
The most insidious form of this is that I pull myself in from the current moment. I do this in many ways. I future trip, fantasizing about when I am slender, how conversation will stop the moment I walk into a room, all sleek, cute, and self-possessed. How my life will change—how I will become bolder, more dynamic, more alive—when I am defatted. When you are Of The Fat, this is often what you dream.

The Why Of It
And the why is simple: my many shames and internalized hatreds:  (1) because I am fat (2)  because I am a fat woman (3) because I am a fat African American woman (4) because I am a fat, Black, middle-aged woman. I am a walking stereotype, and I hate it. I am ashamed of being fat because I’m smart, and we know, of course, that fat people are sluggish, boring, stupid.  And we are ugly, and without control. And I’m fat, so I must be all of these. (And, as well, others must surely think I am, as too many are surprised when I’m not.) Even greater is the fear of being shamed and humiliated because I am fat.
And how, of course, swimming in all of this toxicity, every day, could I not hate myself? 

The How of It
Never apologizing for my fat first means claiming it, not shaming it (or myself). It means relaxing as much as possible, taking up space, and being willing, eager even, to be seen. It means not equating small with perfect, not holding back, waiting to be freed by That Golden Moment.
Not apologizing for my fat means welcoming fat with love and no judgment, no comparison, and no punishment. It means, most of all, not to shame myself or others, and to try and live once in my life as a free woman.


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