On July 9, The Daily Mail posted an article online by non-doctor, but “self confessed fattist” Linda Kelsey titled, “Why Are Today’s Young Women So Unashamed To Be Fat?” The obvious attempt at a shocking subtitle read, “Horrified by the rolls of flesh she’s witnessed on show this summer, Linda Kelsey takes no prisoners!” I’m not even going to get into it with that corny ‘takes no prisoners’ line. They’re right. She doesn’t literally arrest anyone, but not because she ‘says it like it is,’ but because she has no authority to do so. The majority of the article is about the overused ‘obesity epidemic,’ but specifically targeting women. Much of what Linda “Fattist” Kelsey argues surrounds her general disgust with overweight women being comfortable in their own skin. She even shares an example of witnessing a group of fat, young girls enjoying themselves on a summer vacation:
“One was wearing shockingly skimpy crochet shorts, as seen on size-zero models in adverts. But in this case, the shorts made it appear the wearer had an extra bottom hanging below the cut-off hemline. Another girl wore white stretch leggings with a pattern of cellulite dimples showing through, accessorized with a super-sized sausage of overhanging belly. Meanwhile, the third sported a cut-away vest top revealing the entire back of her pink bra, complete with chunky rolls of fat above, beneath and around the straps. To top it all, these three were — I kid you not — sharing a bag of crisps.”
SHARING CRISPS, YOU GUYS (which actually makes me question the validity of this story since most big girls like me would totally have their own bag). Kelsey appears to have spent a bizarre amount of time analyzing the bodies of these women who apparently had the complete and total AUDACITY to feel as though they could leave their respective homes in clothes appropriate for hot weather, meet up together and have a good time. Their blissful unawareness of how much their appearances and seemingly “okayness” with them is upsetting Kelsey and really affecting her own day. She is not able to enjoy her sun and vacation with these “fatties” walking around and feeling, presumably, good about themselves.
What Kelsey doesn’t know is how these women ACTUALLY feel, and in more ways than one. She does not know the actual health issues of these women, nor does she actually know whether or not they are happy with their bodies. She is assuming they are happy with they way they look simply because they’re outside. Outside in the summer wearing summer clothes instead of baking themselves in sweats and oversized jackets or staying at home crying in the dark. So what’s Kelsey’s idea of an alternative to these women being outside in the sun in shorts and leggings? Should fat people only wear uncomfortably heavy clothing in public because they should worry that the very sight of their flesh may upset other people? Should they only be allowed to enjoy the outdoors while jogging or some other form of physical activity so that judgmental strangers can be assured they’re working on their “problem?”
This is sick and this author is sick. The term “fattist” is lazy attempt to make “insecure bully who is projecting their own issues upon other human beings because they don’t want to suffer alone” sound intellectual. Kelsey explains in the article her own diet and how she is strict with her intake and only allows herself and her son few treats to maintain a thin figure. Cool. If that makes her happy, good for her. Some people don’t do that though. Some people eat what they want and are completely happy that those choices are evident on the body they live in. This is the root of the problem with fat shamers such as Kelsey. They’re not worried about the health of others, they’re angry that they must worry and we do not. They are people who fear becoming fat, have been fat or feel fat right now and can’t stand that there are fat people in the world that seem carefree. Don’t you know you are disgusting!!?!?!? Aka, why are you happy after allowing yourself pleasures I restrict??? You’re supposed to be unhappy being fat!! That’s why I work so hard to stay thin; because fat should be unhappy!!! WHY CAN’T I HAVE MORE MCDONALDS??? The reason I know this is because I was one of these people for a very long time.
I was fat as a kid and my mother was big too. She was extremely ashamed of her weight, often yo-yo dieting, even going on an extremely strict diet program that eventually caused her kidneys to fail. Her mother had been bulimic when the disease didn’t even have a name. That sense of urgency to fit in and meet the norm fell upon my mother as well, who herself had grown up chubby and teased in school and by her family. The truly sad part about my life growing up in a small farming town as “Elicia Obecia” is that I look back and realize now that I WASN’T EVEN FAT. I mean, I was a little chubby kid. Chubbier than a lot of my friends and fellow classmates (many of whom were thin largely due to lack of food thanks to the poor area we lived in). But I wasn’t huge. I wasn’t obese. The constant teasing, an unsuccessful trip to fat camp, and even more ridicule later caused me to become anorexic at eight years old. EIGHT YEARS OLD. I didn’t even know what anorexia was then. I just knew that a friend of mine taught me the best way to lose weight was to stop eating. She had learned it from her mother and found it was the easiest way to never get fat again. So she helped me through it, eventually teaching me how to eat only saltine crackers, cheese and soda once a day. Then just crackers and soda. Then just soda and water. Then just water.
I learned ways to hide that I wasn’t eating. I would chew food, pretend to cough and spit the chewed food into a napkin. I would arrange the food on my plate to look like I had eaten some of it. Sometimes I would take several large bites, then excuse myself to go to the bathroom and spit the food into the toilet. Eventually I lost 20 pounds. My family was very happy for me, but I was sick, tired and my stomach ALWAYS HURT. It was commonplace for me to visit the nurse’s office most mornings for a cup of Alka Seltzer. So much so that my parents eventually bought me my own supply to keep in the nurse’s cupboard. Because of my constant stomach pains, I began often fearing I would vomit in class, which caused me to take several bathroom breaks throughout the day and left me feeling constantly anxious. My mom thought the anxiety and the fact my grades were slipping might be because I was unhappy at my school where I was often teased, so she transferred me to a different school where she was the principal and could watch over me more carefully. At my old school, it was easy for me to skip school lunch. Since we always ate in our classrooms, I would generally spend this time drawing, reading, chewing food and spitting it into my lunch bag which I eventually threw away. Since I mostly kept to myself, no one seemed to notice. At my new school, the kids were given school lunches and ate in a cafeteria together. This scared the hell out of me. I was sure I would be found out. The first time I sat with my class at lunch, I tried to give my lunch away to different students, one thing at a time. This worked the first day, but the second day one of the lunch monitors caught this and asked me why I wasn’t eating my food. I burst into tears and was sent to the principal’s office (my mom’s office). From then on I was allowed to eat lunch alone in her office which meant it often ended up in the trash. Ultimately I was found out by the school counselor who my mom forced me to see to discuss my vomiting anxiety after a particularly bad freak out in the gym. All the kids were making their own ice cream by rolling coffee cans with rock salt, crushed ice and ingredients back and forth to each other when the physical exertion of the rolling and the crippling, cold sweat anxiety of the onslaught of questions that would come my way when I refused to eat the ice cream caused me to pass out.
Throughout high school I carried the fat stigma with me. Then during my junior year I managed to lose a considerable amount of weight thanks to a car accident that left me with a broken right ankle and some bad reactions to pain killers and medication that left me eating soup and drinking water. I maintained the weight loss and lost more out of high school once my relationship with my first serious boyfriend I met at 17 became more and more abusive. The verbal, became physical once out of our parent’s supervision. He often chided me for my weight and cheated on me with thinner, whiter, women, reminding me of how much more attractive they were than me in between slaps to the face for unwanted comments which led to regular pushing matches and fist fights we had back and forth. I remained thin for most of my 20s between several failed relationships with different men and women, and a marriage and divorce. It was during this time that I learned I could maintain my weight through claiming a vegan diet which kept me eating very little and in small portions, sometimes aiding that weight loss with veggie broth cleanses and chocolate laxatives. It was during this time I began to resent heavy people. How disgusting they were and how dare they feel happy at their fat size, I thought! And I KNOW because I used to be fat! It’s not that hard to lose weight. I did it! Get off your ass and give a shit! I made some of the cruelest comments of my life during this time. I remember literally hating overweight people and feeling zero shame about openly admitting it.
Then I moved to Seattle, went through more chaos until eventually settling down with someone whom I truly loved. I began to perform stand up comedy and my weight ballooned. This was a mixture of bad dieting decisions, drinking too much and feeling a bit depressed. I had never learned how to control my weight in a healthy way and I wasn’t sure how to jump right back into eating normally since I never understood what that meant. I crash dieted at least once during this time, eating only kale, spinach and beans followed by obsessively working out. I worked out to video tapes when I woke up, when I got home from work and before I went to bed. It never felt like enough. I quickly lost 40 pounds in 3 months, but it never satisfied me. I was thinner, but I wasn’t happy. I felt tired and unhappy and was constantly feeling like I wasn’t doing enough.
I SHOULD LOSE MORE WEIGHT, I constantly thought. I need to add more to my work outs. I need to eat less calories. I need to do more. Eventually this became too stressful and I gave up. My weight quickly ballooned over the years from 140 to 220. I am now the fattest I have ever been and it has been hard to love myself for an entirely new set of reasons. I remember a time when fat-positive zines and magazine articles about loving your body made me laugh. Why would they settle? Why do they want to promote unhealthy and unattractive bodies? Now here I am. That thing I feared the most. Covered in stretch marks from a sudden weight gain and fearful of what my friends think. I have days where I struggle to leave my apartment. I struggle to feel like it’s worth doing anything. Then summer comes and I am screaming inside. I can’t wear these jeans. It’s too hot to wear these jeans, but if I wear shorts outside people will be disgusted. They will see my stretch marks. They will think I’m ugly. And then I remind myself that beauty is not what defines me. It is MY LIFE. Do I want to stay this size? No, I don’t. I’m not happy at this size, but right now I AM THIS SIZE. That won’t go away tomorrow or next month or the month after that even as I try to teach myself how to eat and exercise in a healthy, non-obsessive way that will not hurt my mental wellbeing. I’m working on it, CONSTANTLY, but right now, I just want to feel like it’s okay being me. I quiet the doubts, put on the shorts and head out. And then this woman Linda Kelsey writes this bullshit article and decides she should tell me everything I already know. Everything I feared people would think. Every thing that makes it a CONSTANT STRUGGLE to just be okay, let alone happy with existing in your own body.
The true issue here is not these women Kelsey referenced in her article she supposedly witnessed on vacation and chose to shame publicly for doing nothing else other than walking, talking, and eating some chips. Kelsey should be ashamed. For all she knows, those women (like myself) are struggling and working out, counting calories and being just as miserable as her (after all, they did SHARE the crisps). Maybe she caught them on a rare day off where they decided not to be consumed by the ever-present worry about the perception of their size. Maybe they were laughing and enjoying themselves as a small respite in a world that tells them they are ugly, disgusting, and don’t deserve to wear shorts. Maybe they were feeling this very same fear as they walked and talked and secretly hated themselves. Or maybe NONE OF THAT. Maybe they are just human beings on vacation who are happy to be alive. Either way, none of these scenarios affect Kelsey’s life. Her vacation is not spoiled because some fat girls ate some chips in summer clothes. Among all the random obesity statistics and judgmental opinions about the unattractiveness of fat bodies espoused by Kelsey, she left out some incredibly important facts that I remind myself of every day: We, as women, whatever our size, do not have to dress to please others. We are not wearing shorts in public to make people want to fuck us. We are wearing shorts because it’s summer and IT’S FUCKING HOT OUTSIDE.