My Big Fat Fabulous Life and Fat Shaming Culture

So yesterday I watched a couple of episodes of TLC’s new show My Big Fat Fabulous Life, which debuted last week. The show centers around Whitney Thore who, at 5’2″ and 380 pounds, reached internet notoriety after her “Fat Girl Dancing” video went viral on YouTube, in which she gets diggity down to a Jason Derulo song.

The show seems, at least thus far, to be trying to focus its gaze on Whitney’s venture into teaching dance classes, losing weight, and loving herself unabashedly along the way. Definitely three things I can get on board with, especially since as far as I’m concerned, girl can really dance! She’s also pretty funny, has a vibrant personality, and I do think that she makes for good TV.

Of course, as with most shows on TLC, I find myself a little bit torn about how I should “feel” about it. On the one hand, I appreciate the show’s attempts to portray an obese woman (relatively) honestly on her quest to live her life doing what she loves (dance) and get healthier without a specific focus on weight loss (though that is something that Whitney says she does want to achieve.) I also appreciate that she offers a frank portrayal of the difficulties she has being obese (chub rub, she has to have her mom help shave the back of her legs for her, etc) while not being apologetic about it.

But on the other hand, there’s also something, I don’t know, not quiiiiite right in the way that the show shapes its message. Whitney has Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, something that I admittedly know very little about. I understand that it can cause sudden weight gain and make it very difficult to lose weight, in addition to a myriad of other symptoms, and I don’t doubt that it has had a very serious impact on Whitney’s life. However, at least within the first few episodes, I feel like the PCOS thing is continuously shoved in viewers’ faces. Like, “Just so you remember, Whitney has PCOS! Her weight isn’t her fault! Don’t forget!”

There’s also the fact that the show does seem to focus on some of the more ridiculous (for lack of a better word) occurrences in Whitney’s life. I guess this is an argument that you could make about any kind of reality TV, to be fair, since these things tend to make for better TV. But when the show is spending so much time focusing on things like Whitney’s pants splitting at the grocery store, taking her measurements but the tape measure is too small to fit around her, trying on heels at the mall and almost toppling over… it still feels a lot like making fun.

Overall, I do think the show has a lot of good going for it. I try to take all reality TV with a big grain of salt, but for the most part, I do like this one. It helps, of course, that Whitney’s got a really likable persona — she really is pretty fabulous! And even with the skewed lens that TLC might be filming the show through, I can still appreciate its messages about self-acceptance, body love, and encouragement to those beginning their health journeys.

For me, the real heart of the show is in its portrayal of how Whitney has been treated due to her size. The show really shines light on the culture of fat shaming that we live in (something you can also pick up on in about 0.043 seconds of reading the comments on her YouTube dance video). In Episode 2, Whitney is walking out of a store with her friend, when a guy in a car stopped at a light calls her “Shamu.” In the same episode, she and her friends read hateful comments about her from folks on the internet, which say things like, “You should lose weight and then dance, not the other way around!” To which Whitney responds, “How am I supposed to lose weight if I can’t exercise?!”

And there’s the rub. America wants it both ways: we’re to lose weight, be healthy, and stop being the lazy fat asses we obbbbviously are, but ehhhh, nobody really wants to see it. We need to make like Monica on Friends and somehow magically lose all our weight in secret. (As a sidenote: I’ve been rewatching Friends since it’s been put on Netflix, and while I’m still in love with like 99% of the show, including the total lack of internet and shocking number of denim overalls worn, I gotta admit I don’t really love the Monica-was-fat jokes anymore. Go figure.)

Anyway… I recognize that I am super lucky to never have experienced outright hatred or animosity because of my size. Granted, given the fact that I put my entire life out here on the interwebs, I have experienced my fair share of anonymous comments and concern-trolling, but I’ve never been laughed at to my face. I’ve never had to deal with people gaping in awe at my girth. I’ve never felt outright discriminated against because of my weight. I’ve never incited commentary from random strangers out in public.

That said, I absolutely still feel the effects of our fat-shaming culture. We live in a world where people actually think it’s not okay to love yourself if your pants are over a certain size. Where people feel free to comment on your body and your choices because “it’s not healthy” and they’re “concerned.” Where if you are overweight and aren’t actively trying to change that fact, to lose weight, to slim down, you’re lazy and a “bad role model.”

We live in a culture where one of the worst things you could possibly be is fat. Far worse than being stupid or unsuccessful or mean or selfish is being fat.

Which is why, despite the fact that it may still be working out its kinks, watching My Big Fat Fabulous Life made me pretty happy. It’s chock-full of positive messages, even if there are times when Whitney herself is clearly not as totally body-confident as she would probably want us to believe. For example, she almost turns down being in a plus-size fashion show in episode 3 because she’s worried that there won’t be any clothing that fits.

Regardless, it is a show that challenges common misconceptions about weight + health, and the idea that you can’t love your body if it’s not the perfect size-whatever. And that’s something I know I can get behind, since even as I am working on my own personal fitness and trying to lose a few pounds, I’ve long-acknowledged that it’s unlikely I’ll ever be conventionally thin. Even at my lowest adult weight, I was still donning a size 12, and even with me trying not to make my weight the main focus of things this time (trying being the operative word, haha), I still need all the help I can get in shifting my mentality.

Oh, and as one last aside, episode 3 makes a big deal out of Whitney making herself a banana and mayonnaise sandwich for breakfast — apparently this is a thing in the South?? Would love to hear if any of you guys have eaten this concoction before… I mean, peanut butter and banana sammies, sure, but banana + mayo?!

All About That Bass

I am not a petite woman. This we know. At 5’9″ and 200 pounds, nobody would ever describe me as a small person. Which, as the mission of this blog tries to convey, is something that I’m coming more and more to terms with every day. Hey, I’m curvy, I gots booty, it ain’t no thang, right?

Well, unfortunately, as most of our media-laden, celebrity-stricken society continues to perpetuate bias against the big gals, just because I’m getting more comfortable with myself doesn’t mean the rest of the world is. Sure, there’s less straight-out animosity towards us totally lazy and disgusting fatties, but all that former vitriol seems to have simply been replaced by concern-trolling under the guise of being worried about the health of every plus-sized person in the world.

And while there are songs out there that celebrate the whole concept of being beautiful on the inside (Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful,” comes to mind), there has yet to be a Billboard chart-topper that specifically celebrates what we’ll go ahead and call the non-ideal body standard.

Enter: Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass,” which my friend Lara sent to me just yesterday. First off, this is the catchiest song you’ll probably hear all summer, and I apologize in advance for the fact that once you listen to it, you will DEFINITELY have it stuck in your head for the rest of eternity.

Aside from possessing an outrageously catchy chorus, however, the song also has a pretty empowering message. As Meghan (looking absolutely fab-u-lous) sing-talks:

Yeah, it’s pretty clear, I ain’t no size two
But I can shake it shake it
Like I’m supposed to do
Cause I got that boom boom that all the boys chase
And all the right junk in all the right places

Of course, it’s difficult to ride the line between empowerment and appreciation for one body type without dissing another. As a cursory glance at the comments section on Youtube will tell you (once you’ve tossed out the ones trolling on Trainor’s appearance, since we know all the dregs of humanity hang out in the Youtube comments section), there are quite a few folks who feel that Trainor’s song crosses the line into body-shaming, particularly with this line:

I’m bringing booty back
Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that

“Skinny shaming!” they cry. “I don’t have a booty, so you’re saying boys don’t want me?” they ask. And, to be honest, with my new persona of a body positive lady (and that’s all bodies, yo!), I was ready to jump on the bandwagon with them at first. After all, body image issues exist for women who are 80 pounds, women who are 280 pounds, and women everywhere in between. So regardless of whether you are bootylicious or a skinny bitch, I can see why some people took offense to that line.

But I also think it’s more complicated than that.

Putting aside the fact that the music industry is just as responsible for perpetuating the ideal of thinness as the television and movie industries (I swear, if I hear one more person say something about Adele’s weight…), if you really look at the full lyrics of the “skinny bitches” line, I think it’s obvious that there’s a different kind of message at play here:

I’m bringing booty back
Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that
Nah, I’m just playing I know y’all think you’re fat
But I’m here to tell ya
Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top

So, sure, it’s in a lyrical, rhyme-y way (since, let’s remember, this is a SONG which means the lyrics have to sounds good first and foremost, which has the potential to affect the clarity of one’s message), but Trainor is obviously not saying, “Skinny bad! Fat good! Yarrrr!” Rather, she’s saying that everyone’s got messed up body image (which they probably do), and in spite of that, everyone is already perfect (which they probably are). So instead of dissecting her word choice, let’s go ahead and bask in the warm fuzzies of that sentiment, shall we?

Here’s the bottom line for me: just having not-Megan Fox’s body in today’s day and age is hard enough on a personal level, let alone on a public one. Weightism is one of the most accepted forms of discrimination still occurring today, and since it’s just a fact that being fat is always going to garner way more criticism and judgment than being thin, I say that any attempt to make The Ideal Body more realistic is worth it.

So, yes, I am indeed all about “All About That Bass,” and its outrageously catchy bottom-line message:

Every inch of you is perfect, from the bottom to the top.

The Power of Words

I like words.

I mean, I must, right? I wrote an entire book that consists of over 80,000 of them, and I’m working on another. (Slowly, slowly, hahahaha.)

I don’t know if it’s because of the whole Shakespearean pen being mightier than the sword thing, or if it’s just because I love to hear myself talk (which, of course, I do), but I just really like words.

There are quite a fair few words that I have a particular affinity for. I don’t just like them, I really like them. Words like:

  • Effervescence
  • Proclivity
  • Defenestrate (literal meaning: to throw out a window)
  • Irrevocable
  • Kerfuffle
  • Ineffable

But then, conversely, there are a handful of words that I really, really, really hate.

And I don’t just mean the bad words, you silly goose, I mean that there are a few words out there that incite nails-on-a-chalkboard-esque cringing from me. Maybe it’s because of the sound it makes when you say it aloud, maybe it’s because of the way it looks when it’s spelled out, maybe it’s because of its meaning (or the fact that nobody seems to know how to actually use the word correctly — I’m looking at you, irony), maybe it’s because OH MY GOD THAT IS NOT ACTUALLY A REAL WORD. A-hem. But for whatever reason, some words are just the worst.

And because I love you guys oh, so very much, I’m going to go ahead and, potentially causing myself (and other word-sensitive folks) irreparable harm, list some of them:

  • Moist
  • Irregardless
  • Squirt
  • Viscous
  • Phlegm
  • Sanguine (most confusing word ever — it’s derived from the Latin word for blood and yet means optimistic?!)

So, yes, I guess I should refine my original statement to say that I like most words. But I think I should note that the word I hate most in my entire earthly existence isn’t even on this list. It’s a word that I hate so very, very much that I don’t know if I want to write it again here now.

And what is this awful, terrible, no good, very bad word, you ask?

  • Fat

hate the word “fat.” I hate it so much that sometimes I get angry just thinking about it. And do you know why I hate this word so much? It’s not because of its meaning, or because of how it sounds, how it’s spelled, or any of that.

It’s because I honestly think that I could trace almost every bad feeling I’ve ever had about myself, every ounce of self-loathing I’ve ever felt for my body, every time I binge ate, every time I forced myself to throw up, and even now, the self-worth I feel as a (sort-of) adult, to that word. So many of my thoughts and actions throughout my life have gone into attempting to avoid being called that word. 

I hate that any word in any vocabulary of any language has ever had that kind of power over me.

My first memory of being called fat is still vivid. “Aiyah, you’re getting fat,” was precisely how it was phrased, a few words from an aunt who I’m sure had no idea the impact those words already had on me. She didn’t really mean anything by it, I’m sure. I couldn’t even tell you exactly how old I was — 8, 9 maybe? — but that comment marked the exact moment I consciously realized that getting fat was bad. (I don’t know if it’s important to note or not, but I was not a heavy kid. My struggle with my weight really began when I hit puberty.)

Of course, I’d soon come to realize that it wasn’t just bad to be fat, it was the worst possible thing you could do as a girl. By most of modern society’s thinking, that is. Forget being cruel, bigoted, jobless, uneducated, selfish… no, no, being fat was, of course, much worse. I like to think that the tide is beginning to turn on that particular train of thought, but then I make the grievous mistake of reading the comments on certain posts on Facebook and, well… whether it’s under the guise of concern-trolling or it’s actual hatred for non-standard body types, people are pretty damn nasty.

I know that for me, even with the strides I’ve taken and how far I’ve come in my journey of self-acceptance, I still fear being called fat. Lately my emphasis and goals have been in accepting and loving my body as-is, and so I try to exude an aura of self-confidence and body love despite of — or rather, because of — my size. But in reality, I am still so affected by the words and opinions of others, and I’m still afraid of other people calling me “fat.”

There are a lot of awesome folks out there working hard to redefine the word “fat,” and regardless of your feelings about the merits of being fat vs. thin, or of your opinions about what it means to be at a healthy weight, I think that’s something we should all support. This isn’t a post about fat acceptance or the obesity epidemic, it’s about taking away the power from a word that can, at least in my experience, cause immeasurable harm to one’s ability to love oneself.

This is about taking one more small step towards being able to take back the word “fat,” to reclaim it, to return it to its roots. Roots that most definitely did not include making someone feel like they are less worthy, less beautiful, or less deserving of love just because of their size. For all the nine-year-old girls out there who are barely on the cusp of learning what it means to own their body at all, I think it’s so important that we do start to turn that tide.

“Fat” is just a word. It’s a word that, in this context, is used to describe appearance — the same as “thin” or “fit” or “tall” or “short” or “brunette” or “blonde.” But we have injected so much significance and negativity into those particular three letters, that it has the power to affect us more than any of those other words ever could. (Well, I guess you could argue that the word “thin” has as much of an affect, just in a different, much more positively accepted way.) So in attempt to take one small step towards changing that, if for nobody else but myself, here I am, embracing it. This is my personal attempt to redefine that no good, very bad word in my life:

I am fat. I have fat on my body, just like every other human being on this planet. I have more than some, and less than others, and the particular amount of fat that anyone has does not define their worth as a person.

Of course, I’m sure I’d still feel less than amazing than if someone else were to call me fat, since my natural inclination is to assume everyone else does so with the implication of judgment and insult attached, but hey, it’s a step, right? And while I do hope one day that, as a society, we can help de-awful-fy my least favorite word, for now, I’ll just work on making these words more of a fixture in my vernacular:

  • Worthy
  • Beautiful
  • Honest
  • Significant
  • Memorable
  • Wonderful

Body Love vs. The Desire to be Thin

Howdy, folks! Happy Wednesday! I don’t know about you folks located outside of the Eastern seaboard, but here in Northern VA we got hit with a ridonkulous amount of snow yesterday!

Everything you read on your friends’ Facebook feeds is true. My car is currently buried under half a foot of fluffy white stuff and it literally comes up to my dogs’ bellies when they go outside. It’s kinda nuts, especially when you consider it was almost 60 degrees on Monday!

But speaking of fluffy white things and my pups, yesterday was also Daxter’s birthday!

Can you believe he’s FOUR years old? *sniff* They grow up so fast! I still remember him when he was thiiiiiiiis big:

Anywho, now that we’ve gotten all that adorable feel goodery out of the way, I wanted to dive into something a little deeper. I’m not sure how I got to it, but I recently came across The Militant Baker‘s amazing blog and, specifically, her post about the Smash the Scale Revolution. And, as it will likely do for you, it got my brain cogs movin’. And since this blog is pretty much the place I go to air out all my weird thoughts on the rare occasions that I get them, well… here we are!

So, the Smash the Scale project is pretty much exactly the awesome thing you probably think it is: a movement to try and get women (and men!) to stop focusing on making their bodies culturally and societally appropriate. In The Militant Baker’s words: “It’s about making a conscious decision to detach your worth from that number on your scale. Smashing the Scale isn’t about being unhealthy. It’s about deciding what your definition of beauty is and knowing that it is enough.”

See, I can wax poetic for ages about how I want to get healthy and be strong and how I’m not at my best when I’m being lazy and unmotivated — and all of that is true. But what I don’t say very often, what I don’t even really admit to myself, is that underneath all of those good intentions and righteous reasons for doing, well, this, is still that pervasive, seemingly unavoidable desire to just be thin.

I’ve never been thin. Not really. I mean, I think maybe I was a lanky child between the ages of 5 and 7 1/2, but other than that, I’ve always — always — existed more as a Mindy Lahiri type:

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. I mean, all those times in high school when I thought I was fat? I would KILL to still think THAT’s me, fat. I mean, not really, obviously what I really wish is that I *didn’t* think that being 5’9″ and weighing 160 pounds is fat, but I digress. The point I’m trying to make is that I’ve never really known what it’s like to be THIN. Like, I dunno, wears clothing with an “S” on the label, able to pull off stomach-baring shirts thin. And logically, I think that I know that my body type is not and was never meant to be skinny in the conventional sense. I’m tall, I’ve got wide hips, big bones, big other things that start with “B”, yada yada. But “knowing” that and KNOWING that are two very different things, and the fact of the matter is that even now, even after all the growing I’ve done — or at least thought I’ve done — there is very little I wouldn’t do if it meant I’d magically wake up tomorrow as a size 4.

So, clearly, despite all my best intentions, I still very much buy into the societally-pressured, glossy magazine idea of conventional beauty. Which is why it’s so hard not to hate myself for re-gaining the weight that I worked so hard to lose, because somewhere inside, underneath, below, there’s a part of me that basically equates me being fat with me being ugly. Which is RIDICULOUS. And I know that it is. But, hey, given what the kind of messages blasted at us from every direction, can you really blame me?

I try to focus on the good, the parts of myself that I know that I love. And I try to gain objective perspective about the parts that, while I don’t necessarily consider beautiful, are not exactly grotesque either. But it’s hard to always focus on the positive, to always accept yourself the way that you are. Which is why I so commend things like the Body Love movement and the Smash the Scale Revolution. Because we really need all the support and inspiration we can get when it comes to this. And because it is never as simple as you think.

I really don’t believe in the pressures and demands that society and culture puts on women (and men!) to look a certain way in order to be considered beautiful. But I still succumb to them. I don’t believe that being thin automatically equals being beautiful, or vice versa, but I still want to be both. And as a weight loss blogger, as someone who is actively working to lose weight — yes, to be healthy and strong but also to, well, lose weight (duh!) — am I simply perpetuating the cycle? Broadcasting my specific attempts to lose weight, and thus to become at least slightly thinner, is not exactly me screaming to the world that I am part of the Body Love movement.

In a perfect world, I would be able to love my body as it is AND still be okay with changing myself. It wouldn’t be about rebelling against society and showing the world that Big is Beautiful, and it also wouldn’t be about trying to “fix” the way I look. It would be about being okay with whatever I WANT to do — whether I want to lose weight or I want to stay the way I am. And if I wanted to lose weight, it really would be because I wanted to be fit, not because I wanted to fit in. And if I wanted to stay the way I am, it would be because I really did think that I am beautiful as-is, no changes needed (and because, as we know, fat does not automatically mean unhealthy anyway!).

It’s awesome that there are so many body love/body acceptance/size acceptance movements happening, because obviously the current “ideal” absolutely needs to change. But pressure comes in a lot of different forms, and Hollywood isn’t the only one with opinions on how people should look or act or think. If I’m being honest, sometimes it feels like my only options as a large-and-in-charge lady are to either A) want to lose weight and hate my body or B) stay fat and love my body. Like, if I were a true proponent of body acceptance, I shouldn’t want to change. But I want to be able to both love my body as it is AND still want to change it. And I want it to be okay to want both things.

The fact is, some days, I do hate my body. I tear up thinking about the stretch marks that I will have forever. Some days, I hate the fact that I’m not naturally blonde and I hate that I have arm hair and I hate that the fingernail on my right middle finger is weirdly smaller than the one on my left. Maybe it’s because I caught a glimpse of my pooch in the mirror as I bent down to pick something up. Or maybe it’s because even though I’m a size XX at Old Navy, when I try on the same size at J.Crew, it doesn’t fit. Or maybe it’s just because it’s a Tuesday and that’s how I woke up feeling.

But some days, I love my body. And I don’t just mean when I’m focusing in on my eyes or the cupid’s bow dip of my upper lip or sticking my chin out so you can kind-of-sort-of see my collarbones. I mean sometimes I look at the rolls on my stomach or the fleshy part of my upper arm and I am really, honestly, truly, just like, “Huh. Cool.” It might not be as often as the days when the reason I love how I look is because of my eyes or my cupid’s bow, but it has indeed been known to happen.

There’s no rhyme or reason to how I’m going to feel about myself or my body at any given time, because I’m fickle and I’m emotional and I’m constantly changing and I’m HUMAN. But I would certainly like the scales to tip in favor of loving everything about myself — even if I still want to change some things.

While I won’t be literally smashing my scale any time soon (I still intend to weigh myself as a way to chart my progress, of course), I am really grateful to the Smash the Scale Revolution for opening my eyes and making me really think about my motivations for why I’m doing what I’m doing here. Because in the end, just wanting to be thin is clearly not enough of a reason to make weight loss stick. I’ve found that out the hard way! And maybe if I learn to really love myself at 233.2 pounds, then when I get to 220 pounds or 190 pounds or 160 pounds or wherever I end up, I won’t have to worry about anything other than just being me.

Yelp’s Biggest Loser & New Beginnings

Wellps, Happy 2014, friendos!

I hope that your new years are starting off with a bang. Mine has already gotten off to a pretty stellar start, with a few minor (read: not really minor) exceptions. I’ll spare you the photo details for 2014’s first traumatic event, but it entailed my little pup Daxter getting into a dog fight with a much, much bigger dog and having to go to the emergency vet (for, yes, the 5th time in his not-even-4-year-old life). Thankfully, he’s okay, but since those of you who have been around for a while now know how much I looooove my dogs, you can imagine that it was not really a fun time for anybody involved.

The second big happening of the new year is a totally different kind of traumatic, but it does come with photos, so there’s that. See, you wise readers probably haven’t been ignorant of the fact that I’ve basically been ignoring the topic of my weight for the past, oh, I don’t know, year. Which, granted, is pretty sucky of me because this blog is LITERALLY about weight loss. (Okay, sure, it’s also about food and life and dogs and photos and stuff, but the title of the blog has the word “shrunk” in it, so let’s just face facts.)

I’ve been skirting the issue for the better part of a year, so I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you that I have re-gained a lot of the weight I had formerly lost. Almost all of it, in fact. And, honestly, finally admitting that out loud makes me want to crawl into a hole forever and ever and ever. I mean, sure, chalk it up to the new job, or being in a happy relationship, or just the fact that, despite all I’ve done to try and change my mindset, I still just love food too damn much — whatever the reasons, here I am again. And, whether it was because I was in denial, or I was too busy, or I just plain didn’t care, I haven’t done a thing about it. Until now.

happy relationship gut

I used to say that there was no “Aha!” moment that motivated me for my weight loss the first time around. There was no snide comment, no bad photo, nothing specific that finally pushed me into being able to turn my super unhealthy life around, things just finally got to be too much. Well, that’s not really how it happened this time. No, this time, it was more like the entire universe was screaming at me to get going again… while I was sticking my fingers in my ears and going “Lalalalalalalala,” hoping that it would all just go away.

But you can’t fight the universe, bro.

And so when my wonderful Yelp coworker Kimberly informed me that she would be participating in the 2014 Yelp’s Biggest Loser challenge, AND I got asked to participate in an upcoming Cupid 5K run, AND after leafing through all the photos of myself from recent Yelp events, I couldn’t find a single one that didn’t make me want to cry, I finally pulled my fingers out of my ears and my head out of my ass.

hohohorrible before photo

(Sidenote: I don’t really consider it a benefit of the job that I am professionally photographed at least once a month — NOBODY is attractive when they are caught mid-sentence whilst giving a speech. I just want to put that out there.)

Bottom line: Yes, I regained a lot of weight. Yes, it blows. But it’s a brand new year, right? And with the Biggest Loser challenge, the upcoming 5K, my new gym membership (thanks mom & dad!), and the support that I know I can count on from you on… I mean, hey, if I can do it once…

then and then

So, in the end, this long, wordy, loooong overdue post is basically here to say:

I hope you’ll stick around for the ride. Again.