Content note: this post is about body image, dysmorphia and weight loss.
The current resurgence of the fat- or body- positive movement, or perhaps my raised awareness of what was always there, has left me feeling conflicted.
How do I talk about Body Dysmorphia – when a large part of my hatred towards my body is rooted in my weight – without it sounding negative towards “fat”? It’s not right to keep on about hating my size and shape while other people are working to make being larger just as desirable as the model in the notoriously shitty “beach body” ad.
I love the fat-posi movement. They’ve made me realise and confront deeply held prejudices that I never knew were there. This podcast, where comedian Sofie Hagen talks to artist and activist Scottee, made me feel like old issues to do with size, sexuality and identity were finally being dealt with in a new way. I wish they’d been around when I was growing up.
But all that falls to pieces when I try to apply these ideas to myself. Like (I’m guessing) all Western women and some men, my conception of my size, and my feelings towards food, eating and fatness are deeply rooted in feeling and emotion. They’re not something I can rationalise away, no matter how much I cognitively want to.
My problem was that I had got fat, and it made me desperately unhappy, triggering feelings of dysmorphia that had been latent since my teens. I couldn’t look in the mirror, I couldn’t leave the house. Back in July I blogged about how I’d stopped seeing friends due to my appearance, and looking back this period of self-imposed exile lasted months.
From being a pretty stable size UK 10-12 all my life, I began to gain weight uncontrollably. I had no idea why, or what was happening and neither did the doctors (not much change there). However, its no coincidence to me that my sudden and rapid weight gain coincided with the worst ever mixed bipolar episode I’d experienced, and nor is it much surprise that as my symptoms started to recede, my weight dropped.
In the July post, I wrote about my body and my concerns about how I was feeling. I was desperate for someone to talk to about it, but it was strangely hard to get support. Eating disorder services wouldn’t deal with me, because I hadn’t got an eating disorder. Everywhere else I tried referred me back to ED services. I was torn between wondering if what I was feeling was actually just “normal” and how all women felt, or that there was something deeply wrong with me. In the end I got no help regarding how I felt about my changed body, but I did get help on how to stabilise my mood, and consequently my appetite plummeted like a stone. I’m now one of those annoying arseholes who can use the phrase “the weight just dropped off”.
I’m sure in a large part this is down to quitting alcohol, as I was probably getting through my daily calorie allowance in booze alone, and that’s without the crisps that inevitably accompanied it. Mmmmmm, memories of lovely crisps and booze…
Something else that helped ease the symptoms of my BDD was accidental. Due to a change in domestic set up, I moved to a bedroom without a fixed full-length mirror. Only having to see my entire body when I chose to (which wasn’t often) helped a lot in terms of processing my feelings towards my body. Ultimately, though, my BDD eased as I returned towards my old weight. It’s not gone altogether, as I now direct my hatred to my ageing saggy face.
Up to now I’ve lost fifteen kilos, which Google tells me is two stone five pounds, and I hope to lose more (but then I don’t think there has ever been a moment of my life, at any weight, when I haven’t wanted to be thinner). To return to my opening comments about feeling conflicted, basically by listening to fat-posi people I’ve realised that it’s not really OK to go round shouting “hey look I’ve lost all this weight aren’t I great”, but now I’m not really sure how to talk about it. I know it’s perfectly OK for me to have a personal goal and to reach that, but I don’t know how to talk about this without fetishising thinness, and feeding into the insidious social pressure about our bodies that causes me and millions of other so much pain.
So it doesn’t feel like reaching a goal, or happiness, or victory. Psychologists would no doubt say that I fudged confronting my feelings about my fatter body by losing the weight rather than learning to accept it and be happy. Nasty little right wing neo-liberal shitbaskets might say I got off my fat arse and did something about it. In reality, I can’t claim that I’ve had the mental strength required to follow a diet or eating plan – my appetite has just reduced, and weight loss has been an unsurprising side effect. In the end, thinner doesn’t feel better, just different.
Which is probably how it should be.