In so many questions submitted to Ask a Fat Girl, I was asked how to start loving your body. I gave many suggestions, but I want to touch on something that I think is integral to truly loving your fat body—taking responsibility for it. What I mean by taking responsibility is not denying culpability in your fatness to ward off judgment. You can’t love your body and at the same time view it as being outside your control. I recognize that a main party line of many in the fat acceptance movement is often that fatness is not a choice. And I also recognize that when you’re oppressed, it’s easier to take the path of least resistance, which in this case would be the denial of culpability. To enjoy sex you must LIVE in your body, and living in your body means accepting the state it is in and the choices you make that affect it.
Although outside the fat acceptance community it is not popularly accepted that fat people may not be fat by choice, within the fat acceptance community it is a cherished tenet. Of course many, many fat people are fat despite their best efforts. But there are also many fat people who are fat because they choose to be, who may be able to lose weight but simply choose not to attempt it. I am one of those people. I believe my fat body is beautiful, that I deserve love and pleasure no matter what my size and my self-esteem is high—yet I choose to count fast food as a major part of my diet and am perfectly happy to admit it. Many fat activists claim that if you love your body, you’ll “treat it right” by adjusting your eating and exercising habits or practicing Health at Every Size. Our worth as fat women should not rest on our doing “all the right things.” Many of the women who espouse the innocence line would be the first to give me the side eye should I start practicing HAES and lose weight. My love for my body doesn’t falter as the scale fluctuates, nor does it waver when I eat nothing but McDonalds all day and move very little. This has everything to do with your mental health and little to do with physical health. You can love your body when you’re physically healthy and when you’re not. But you can’t love and accept your body if you’re preoccupied with your perceived lack of agency over it.
Likewise, a preoccupation with control over your body through dieting prohibits you from experiencing true self-love and acceptance. When you’re constantly dieting you are existing in a state in which your self-image and ability to exert control over your body are fluid. You never truly inhabit your body because you’re constantly seeking to change it. Yet some say the feeling of self-love and dieting are in a way not necessarily mutually exclusive. Some women may diet because they love themselves/feel beautiful and misguidedly seek to have their external appearance be validated by society in the same way it is validated by themselves. This is the old “skinny girl in a fat body” trope often executed in film and TV. I would argue that believing you’re beautiful “on the inside” and that your true beauty can only be expressed by shedding the “shell” of fatness is not a belief consistent with true self-love. What your body looks like at this instant is what’s important, not an idealized vision of yourself that you feel is hiding under layers of fat. In this sense, control over your body becomes something you perceive yourself as having too much of rather than something you innately lack. Same trap, different way to spring it.
When agency over our body becomes something we willingly surrender in an attempt to shield ourselves from persecution, we’re not gaining ground. There’s no way to create a viable self-image based on body politics that encourage resignation over celebration. Coming to terms with that lays a foundation for the cultivation of healthy self-esteem and true body acceptance, and in turn starts you down the road toward total self-love.