To give credit where due, the seedling for this post came from reading The World the Diet Culture Built (trigger warning for fatphobic and hateful comments quoted from a third source) over at Dances With Fat. To be clear, however, this post here is about recognizing my own thought process while I was reading and commenting, rather than a direct reaction to the post or any comments there.
(And this post itself contains discussions of body image, PTSD, and triggers.)
It has not exactly been an uplifting week to be reading articles and blog posts about fat and acceptance, at least not for me. There have been hateful words from people who don’t understand and don’t care to understand. That mindset is always going to exist, to a greater or lesser extent, and I’m pretty well prepared for it. What trips me up, though, is when I get wrapped up in what I call the “Good Fatty” game.
Essentially, what happens is this: Someone will make an ignorant statement about fat and health like, “You can’t deny that you’d be healthier if you exercised daily and lost 30 pounds,” or whatever — something I know to be factually untrue for me. And my instinctive response is to engage about the accuracy or applicability of the claim — to be the “good fatty” and assert that I do exercise daily and having adopted this habit has led to no small weight gain for me.
On one level, there’s nothing wrong with offering counterexamples or correcting inaccurate information though I’m honestly not sure if I do it because I’m interested in educating (I think sometimes) or because it’s the quickest way to “win” (also true on occasion). But on another level, I wonder if playing this game implicitly accepts a couple of premises that my life would be better off without, namely:
- That physical health is the most important if not the sole determining factor of what constitutes health.
- That my perceived level of health entitles other people to offer unsolicited and unwanted judgments about me and/or groups that include me.
I feel like the point of “Good Fatty” is to convince the statement-maker that it’s possible to be both fat and healthy, which I do think is true. However, I wonder about this in light of the continuing frustration where I don’t really know if I’m healthy. Or rather, I do know that a dichotomy as simplistic as “healthy” or “unhealthy” does not work for me.
On the physical front, in terms of issues I can basically control — diet, exercise, sleep, preventative care appropriate to my self and situation — “healthy” probably applies. That said, chronic pain and bleeding issues have a big impact on how I physically experience life, and I take a buttload of medications to mitigate that experience. (Well, I take about 3-4 medications but some in copious quantities.) I’m warned over and over that this cannot be healthy for me — but is the alternative to conclude that unchecked pain and bleeding are better?
While I understand the potential risks of my various medications, I somehow do not think that abandoning them will miraculously improve my health.
Then there’s mental and emotional health. Not gonna lie — Sometimes, at the end of a particularly trigger-tastic day, all I want is pizza and beer. Could I remain mentally present without them? Most of those days, probably. Is it healthier for me to do so? Is it healthier to stress over the decision each and every time? I don’t think there is a good general answer to that question. And of course there are the times I’ve been asked, “What does it say about your mental health that you sometimes rely on alcohol to avoid dissociating?” (Strangely, no one asks what it says about my mental or physical health that pizza is also part of the equation.)
I detest the implications of that question, not because I’m uncomfortable with my own answer but because there’s no good way to make my choices and my reasons fit under the lens of someone else’s microscope — and I don’t think I should have to try. I’ve asked these questions — and a lot more — of myself when it comes to my various health choices and compromises. Because there are definitely compromises and each time I’m reminded of one, there’s a ghost of every single question waiting there to whisper at me, so I have the pleasure of re-evaluating my choices yet again.
At the end of the day, I’m comfortable in my assertion that for the most part, I make the choices that serve me best (and when I don’t, I do learn from that). I’ve answered the questions and ghost questions for myself; I shouldn’t have to repeat them every time someone else asks.
That’s why I kind of want to resist the temptation to play “Good Fatty.” My relative health or the lack thereof is not an indicator of disrespect or disregard for my self, nor is it a reflection on my decision-making capabilities. And it’s certainly not an invitation to put my body or my choices up for public comment or assholery.