Ambivalently Formerly Fat

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April Herndon, Ph.D., teaches English at Winona State University and is the author of Fat Blame: How the War on Obesity Victimizes Women and Children. Not surprisingly, she is a proponent of the “Health at Every Size” philosophy, which holds that obesity, in and of itself, is not a health problem. It is in fact an identity, as in the phrase “identity politics.” In the academic realm, fat can be spelled with a capital F.

Ever since she was a child growing up in the 1970s, Herndon had been overweight. Until a few years ago, she weighed almost 300 pounds, and was simultaneously aware of and comfortable with her size. She always had trouble with the “traditional narrative” of obesity — the energy balance narrative — the model in which calories in and calories burned are supposed to match up. Herndon readily believed people who claim to have a healthful diet and to exercise, but who are unable to lose weight, because that was her own story.

The big change

But when Herndon had advanced well into adulthood, she rapidly dropped more than 100 pounds. Sadly, the impetus was the sight of a loved one’s decline. Her mother, although not obese, suffered from type 2 diabetes, and Herndon was motivated to bring her own blood glucose situation under control. She says:

I thought I might lose ten or twenty pounds as a side effect of eating smaller portions of carbohydrates and trying to exercise more. I had no idea I’d lose one hundred pounds without really trying to lose weight, but along with regulating my blood sugar came pretty drastic weight loss.

There were qualms. Being a scholar of Fat Studies, she was aware of the widely-disseminated statistic which warned that 95% of weight losers would gain the weight back, and possibly add to it. Her weight settled at 185 which is not svelte, but she was happy with it, a particularly easy attitude to maintain for someone intellectually and politically committed to the “Health at Every Size” creed.

On the physical plane, the metamorphosis was very noticeable and not entirely welcome, which the author described as “a harsher reality than I’d imagined.” Her body felt foreign, and it is easy to imagine that a relatively sudden massive weight loss would feel like wearing someone else’s eyeglass prescription, or one’s own shoes on the wrong feet. There was loose skin where firmness used to be. There were hitherto unseen muscles, and hands now on on the sinewy, veiny side, and she was definitely less buxom.

Quit your bellyachin’

The world was suddenly a different place in another way. Herndon speaks of feeling, amongst thin(ner) people, like an undercover agent spying on them. She gained a novel perspective on the psychological issues involved. For instance, when offering their congratulations, people with a more normal height-to-weight ratio had a hard time believing that she had not been motivated by slimness-envy. Their privilege entitled them to take it for granted that, of course, everybody wanted to be like them.

Figuring out clothes and how and where to get them was not fun, but “time-consuming and expensive.” For some people this might be even more difficult to believe than any declarations of indifference to size. But despite gender stereotypes, the love of shopping does not afflict all women. Herndon found that when she voiced some of these drawbacks, friends would scoff and scold, with the implication that “I should just enjoy my lottery winnings and not whine.”

Even the dietician she worked closely with contributed some unwelcome input, suggesting that the author get rid of all the old supersize clothes as a hedge against backsliding, or perhaps in the spirit of repudiation that drives a person to cut up all the photos from a failed relationship. But Herndon says:

I don’t see my fat as an enemy lurking on the other side of a bridge I needed to burn, and I’m not afraid that boxes of clothing will drag me back to a loathsome fat self.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Thin Like Me,” PsychologyToday.com, 05/07/12
Photo credit: Liliana Amundarain (arepa182) via Visualhunt/CC BY

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