A few days ago I read an article that George Takei (or whoever manages his Twitter if he doesn’t do it personally) shared on Twitter. This article explained the trauma of a man of large size who had gone to a restaurant and, after an otherwise normal meal, discovered that his waiter had identified him as Fatty 2 on the bill. The man took offense and I suppose complained to the store, as well as online, raising public outrage. The waiter was fired by his father, the owner of the restaurant, who then apologized and so on. Many people replied to Takei’s retweet of this article, including myself, except that my message wasn’t as much attacking the attitude of the waiter, as criticizing society.
A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post about why the word “fat” had become an insult. If you’ve read it, you can imagine what I replied. If not, see below:
To my message, one man replied asking since when it hadn’t been offensive? I explained that was irrelevant, I’m not sure he got my point even after I elaborated, but you can’t always win. In any case, I did explain that being fat is not a bad thing, it’s only a description of size. Feeling insulted when fat for being called fat is like feeling insulted for being called a brunette when, in fact, my hair is brown.
I suppose this man needed to confront me partly because I hadn’t chastised the waiter. I do find his use of “fatty” on the ticket unprofessional, but not more than if he had used “blondy1” as an identifier.
The issue comes with the misuse of language, I suppose. Fat was never created as an insult, but its use as such has corrupted its basic meaning, which is a person of bigger size.
Now, in a world where image is constantly at the top of everybody’s conscience, it is not surprising that size has been vilified, and now even the thinner ones are starting to feel it. Because god forbid you were too (extremely) thin, or even a tiny bit overweight (the balance hasn’t been achieved quite yet on this).
In these circumstances, how are we to tackle body image issues and the eating disorders that are often attached to them? I’d like to know, I have one of those eating disorders.
And no, I am neither anorexic nor bulimic. I have what is only starting to be known as Binge Eating Disorder, or BED. Binge Eating is exactly what the label says. You binge on everything to can find.
But it’s not actually a question of amount of food. A friend recently asked me how much food did I consider a binge. Thinking back, what I considered a binge ten years ago is far less food than what I consider a binge today. Bingeing is not related to quantity as much as it is related to control or lack thereof. I feel I am bingeing when I feel I am eating out of control. And control is a big part of the cycle of eating disorders.
Eating disorders have everything to do with control and self-worth. Our self-worth is intimately attached to our size and weight and our ability to control it. The first thing we do is go on a diet, which is often restricting and forces you to deprive yourself of sugar, carbs, fats, whatever it is depending on the diet you are doing. And you follow your diet for a while (two weeks, for me) and you feel good, because you’re sticking to it, but at the same time, you’re becoming preoccupied with food. You are hungry, you crave the foods you can’t have, you obsess over it and even dream about it, until one day, you’re in a bad mood or stressed, or lonely, or a long list of other things, and you give in to the cravings. Here is where the all or nothing behavior kicks in. You’ve given in, you’ve eaten an ice-cream, and then you tell yourself “now that I’ve messed up, I might as well go for it and start again in the morning”. And you binge. And you might start again in the morning, or you might start again on Monday or six months from now, it really depends. Eventually, you feel so much self-loathing that the only way to regain some positivity is to regain control. And how do you do this? You go on another diet, often stricter than the one you started in the first place. You can see how this becomes a cycle.
And you will say: well, you just have to stop the cycle…
Ah, but if that was so easy, we would have done it already!
It is much harder than it seems. For a lot of us, we have used this behavior to cope for a long time. While seeing a therapist, we identified that I started this behavior when I was as young as nine or ten years old. Of course, it wasn’t what it is now, but it’s when I started to eat things in hiding, to cope with my then feelings of inadequacy and loneliness.
Don’t think either that this behavior is completely random. It serves a purpose, it allows us to cope with some very powerful feelings that we would have no way to handle otherwise. Eventually, though, that coping mechanism is not necessary anymore, but you’ve done it for so long that it’s hardwired in your brain. And then you feel trapped. There is no way out. Even as you are doing it and you’re telling yourself you could stop, you keep doing it, because you really can’t. The part of your brain that is telling you to do it has become very strong, while the part that wants to stop is young and new and weak.
You can see, I hope, where the problem with the vilification of size plays a role in all this. If we weren’t so afraid to be fat, so terrified of it, actually, we wouldn’t need to put the wheels of control (and diets) in motion. Indeed, if we accepted ourselves the way we are, we would find it easier to break the cycle, because there would be one less cause of stress, the ever looming extra weight that comes with every binge, the monster, the enemy, our own body, but fat!
And why should “fat” be a bad thing worth of insult? We don’t harm anybody. We don’t destroy the world. We don’t step on anybody’s toes while getting fat. A smoker, in comparison, pollutes and imposes the toxic smokes on non-smoker bystanders and yet “smoker” has not become an insult (nor should it, by the way). But “fat” has, and with a nice dollop of venom in it.
I am at that point in my recovery that I mostly accept myself. I won’t lie, though, sometimes I can’t bear the sight of my body in the mirror, but it has less to do with size and more to do with the results of two c-sections.
So call me fat all you want. Fat is not who I am, it’s not what I do. It doesn’t define me or dictate my life, it’s just a word that describes my size.