Thursday, January 14, 2016

Fat is not a synonym for ugly

I’m fat. Let’s not waste energy debating the use of the ‘F’ word. Fats are long chain molecules consisting of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen; in most plants and animals they represent an efficient way of storing energy. When we consume more energy than our body immediately requires it is stored in our adipose tissue as fat. According to the World Health Organization BMI classification, I have an above average amount of energy stored in my adipose tissue.

As Lillian Bustle so eloquently stated "Society has turned fat into a synonym for ugly. But fat just means fat."

For a very long time society has told us that it is not OK to be fat. The “thin ideal” (the pursuit of happiness through attaining an ideal body shape, typically thin) gained momentum in the 1960’s when thin, waif-like models such as Twiggy displaced fleshier models such as Marilyn Monroe. During the 1970’s another shift occurred, it wasn’t enough to be slim, you had to be slim and toned; female celebrities such as Jane Fonda were there to show us how to achieve the perfect body.

I have always aimed to be a strong woman with solid feminist ideals and yet I had never questioned my pursuit of the thin ideal. Like many women I made a correlation between self-control and weight loss, I equated power with self-denial. I believed that lapsing on my diet was a weakness and if I wanted to be a strong woman who was in control of her life, I had to be thin. 

I wasn’t even aware that I was caught up in the hype of the weight loss industry which only remains profitable through the perpetuation of unrealistic ideals and the ultimate failure of the consumers to lose weight.

The message that society thrusts onto overweight individuals is that if you can’t lose weight you aren’t enough. You aren’t strong enough, you aren’t disciplined enough, you aren’t active enough, you don’t care enough, you aren’t smart enough, you don’t want it badly enough. You. Are. Not. Enough.

Instead of feeling like you are not enough, why not just lose the weight?

Here’s the thing; I have lost weight. Over and over and over again. The first time I decided to ‘battle the bulge’ was in my twenties and I lost over 30kg. It all came back again, with a vengeance. The second time I was in my thirties and I decided that dieting doesn’t work, I needed a ‘lifestyle change’ and I lost over 40kg (I had to lose the extra weight I regained). It took a couple of years but I regained most of it. The most recent attempt at ‘gaining control of my life’ resulted in another 40kg loss, 5kg of which consistently fluctuates up and down throughout the year. As such I still remain 10-15kg overweight.

I am an expert at losing weight, in fact I have more first-hand experience with weight loss than most nutritionists, dietitians and doctors you will ever encounter. The moment I had that realization was the moment I decided to become a dietitian. Perhaps if I studied the science behind food, nutrition and weight management I could crack this nut wide open and cure obesity, perhaps not on a global scale but at least for myself. Then, finally, I could be happy.

Studying to be a dietitian isn’t easy, it is a highly competitive degree and at my age there are limited pathways available. I chose to enrol in  a Health Science Degree and work my buns off so that at the end of my second year I could prove to a panel of judges that I deserved to be offered a place in the Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics. There were dozens of applicants vying for only a handful of positions and as it happens the cohort in the year I enrolled were well above the grade point average.

For two years, day after day, I had the strength to keep showing up, I had the discipline to study, I had the smarts to achieve a GPA of 7.0; there could be no doubting that I wanted it badly enough. Throughout all of this I ran an average of 15-20km per week and I became involved in a host of extracurricular activities; by anyone’s standards I am certainly active enough. On top of all this I am a wife, a mother, an artist, a cook and a dog lover. By any standard you could possibly derive I am enough.

Except for the fat. Every achievement I just listed suddenly became diminished by society because I have stores of body fat. I’m not buying into that nonsense any more.

I have spent enough of my life hating my body and by extension hating myself. It’s time to move in a different direction.

Once again I borrow from the beautiful Ms Bustle: 

I am 5'6" so I call myself short, I am enrolled in university so I call myself a student, I weigh 80kg so I call myself fat. And I am beautiful so I call myself beautiful. And I am all of these things at once.



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