Wednesday, March 12, 2008

"You're losing weight!" — and — "Good Enough" Fat Activism?

Yesterday, one of my co-workers said to me, "I just wanted to let you know — I can really tell that you're losing weight!" And she gestured towards her jawline, and then her general abdomen area. "Here, and here."

And I agree with her; I'm pretty sure that I have lost some weight recently. After spraining the same ankle twice — in November and again at the end of December — my ability to exercise was extremely curtailed. But at the end of January, my ankle had healed enough that I could get back to the gym.

After 3 months of virtually no exercise, apparently the past 10 weeks of exercise (moderate though it is) has moved my body back in the direction of the shape it's in when I regularly work out. Set point? Equilibrium? Whatever you want to call it, there's a shape/size/weight my body settles at when I feed it well and move it frequently. Not being able to exercise for 3 months, quite understandably, skewed my size upwards. And now it's skewing back down.

The reason I've gone back to the gym is NOT to lose weight; it's because my ankle is healed enough to handle working out. I like the endorphin buzz. I like feeling — being — strong. I like watching the kids' basketball games in the gym that the walking track overlooks.

It just happens that, because of the period of inactivity before I went back to the gym, I *am* losing some weight as my body settles where it wants to, based on how much I move it and what I feed it.

So when my co-worker said "I can tell you're losing weight!" my reaction was, "Yeah, I think I am." Because I didn't realize at first that she was couching her statement as praise. So when I affirmed that there was less of me, she said, "Good job! Keep up the good work!"

And for the first time in my life, I didn't react by being self-effacing ("Oh, well, it's hard, but I'm trying!") or self-hating ("Well, if I just lose 50/75/100 more pounds, then I'll be happy!"). What I said, when she told me to keep up the good work, was, "Actually, I'm not *trying* to lose weight; I'm just exercising more than I had been able to do since before Thanksgiving."

Her response to that? "Well, you *are* losing weight, and that's GREAT!"

Honestly, it was almost 5:00, and I had no desire to start a long, drawn-out thing, so what I said back was, "Like I said, I'm not trying to lose weight; I'm just enjoying being able to exercise regularly again. It feels good."

Should I have said more? Maybe. But I'm still so new to fat activism, and I'm still feeling the boundaries of how much education to offer people in different settings. I'd say much more to a friend or some family members, but at work, I don't feel that it's my place to sit someone down for a long discussion with charts and graphs and Web links.

Does that make me a "bad" fat activist? I don't think so. Others might, and that's their prerogative.

I also have to confess that there's still part of me — the part that went to WW, the part that exercised compulsively in college, the part that was always told that I have "such a pretty face; the boys will line up for dates" if only I lost weight — that *did* feel a momentary thrill at my co-worker's recognition. I'm *not* trying to lose weight; that never was the reason I started back at the gym. But over 20 years of wanting to lose weight, trying to lose weight, believing I should lose weight, believing I *can* lose weight if only I "try harder" — it installed a lot of bad beliefs that I'm having a hard time erasing. One of those is the desire for recognition of my "accomplishment."

Does THAT make me a bad fat activist? I've read some fatosphere blogs recently where the sentiment has been expressed that anyone who wants to lose weight can't really be a fat activist. I believe it was expressed something like "I don't want you accepting my fat if you can't accept your own." Well, does that also include people who are pleased that someone noticed their weight loss, even if they hadn't been trying to lose weight? Despite that contradiction, can *they* (and here I mean *me*) not be fat activists? I don't think that attitude takes into account the reality that fat acceptance is a process, and not even a one-way process.

For me, it was a HUGE step forward that the reason I went back to the gym was NOT because I wanted to lose weight, but ONLY because I wanted to move my body. I missed working out, missed the endorphin buzz, missed the feeling of physical exertion.

That's one step. Maybe the next step is not feeling that momentary flush of accomplishment if anyone remarks that I seem to have lost weight. But I obviously haven't hit that step, and what I'm wondering is: where do I have to be in the fat acceptance process before my fat activism is legitimate to others in the fatosphere?

I'm not perfect. I'm deeply flawed. I thrill to *any* acknowledgment of my accomplishments — good grades in school, a promotion at work, having my writing published — so, yes, over 20 years of trying to lose weight instilled in me the desire to have weight loss acknowledged. And even now, when I *am* able to look at it and see that weight loss isn't an "accomplishment" any more than weight gain is a "failure," my old, ingrained reactions still kick in, even if it's only for a moment.

I want to get past that. And I believe that I *am* getting past that. Is it good enough for the fat acceptance movement that I'm on the continuum, even if I'm not as far along as others?

I figure, as utterly ridiculous and damaging as hating myself for my weight is, it's just as ridiculous to consider myself a "bad" fat activist for not being at the same stage of fat acceptance as others. Why trade one form of self-hatred for another? I won't do that.

Where I am is where I am. *I* recognize that it's a much healthier frame of mind than I've ever had, even if it still has contradictions in it. And I intend to keep moving forward, to get past those contradictions.

That's good enough for me. It HAS to be.


Anonymous said...

I don't know *who* has the time or energy to turn every random comment into a new battlefield for fat acceptance. I certainly don't.

Frankly, I think you did perfectly: you assertively defended your own position without attacking your coworker. And you might just have planted a new idea in her head. ("Really? Some people exercise because it feels good? Some fat people are not interested in weight loss?") That in itself is like a tiny revolution.

Anonymous said...

Am I a bad fat activist?

Short answer: Yes.

attrice said...

My feelings about the purity police of any movement are that if they have all that time to go around worrying over the minutia of other activists thoughts, then they must be missing a hell of a lot of opportunities to get actual work done.

That and they're probably just cowardly (anonymous) assholes who turn all their negative energy towards their allies because their inability to acknowledge any shades of gray in life makes them completely unable to effect change in the real world.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I have been struggling with some of the same things lately. Plus I am having a hard time with (what feels like to me) jumping all over someone because they honestly meant something nice. I end up feeling like an ass and they try to back peddle and end up feeling like an ass. That doesn't help anyone.

BStu said...

No Fat Activists puts up a fight with everyone. When my weight fluctuates down and people want to push praise on me, I don't berate them for valuing weight loss. I just assert that I don't. Its all you can do, but its a radical step in its own way if understood as genuine and not modesty.

That fact that you acknowledge these issues and recognize the need to move past valuation of weight loss is what is important. That's the key. Some have moments of doubt and let the doubt consume them. What I always say is that you should accept that you will have moments of doubt, but you should never accept the doubt. That is exactly what you did.

Meowser said...

Is it good enough for the fat acceptance movement that I'm on the continuum, even if I'm not as far along as others?

It's good enough for me. For whatever that's worth.

Look, I'm NOT about "card revoking" or any such nonsense. Size/fat acceptance needs all the help it can get, and no one has the power to "revoke" anyone's "card."

Famous people (including people who are only "famous" in SA circles) who have been vocally pro-fat in the past are held to a different standard than the rest of us, whether they like it or not. Their words and publicly announced actions influence anywhere from thousands to millions of people at a time. That gives them more public responsibility. It does not mean they have to feel perfectly yay-fat all the time -- who does? -- but what they say is going to get special attention the rest of us will not get.

Karen said...

The fact that you feel that deep desire for ANY praise means that what likely triggered your initial flush was the praising tone, and it took you a moment to process mentally what was actually said. After years of conditioning it would be the same disconnect that momentarily happened to a mostly mentally recovered anorexic who heard condemnation with the phrase "you've gained weight." Certainly, if sounds like a negative, but once actually processed with what you know, you realize it means, to you, the entire opposite of the tone.

You are making progress. You did what you could to leave her with a couple of new ideas. You recognized your own cognitive dissonance almost immediately. You acted to change someone's ideas about fat people.

I'd say, Short Answer: No.

Colin said...

Shorter answer: No.

Shinobi said...

It is so hard to let go of cultural valuations of weight loss. I still want to lose weight, I really do, I can't help it. But I'm not dieting, and I'm trying hard not to want to lose weight. Maybe that means I don't win Fattie of the year or whatever, but I'm trying and I think that's what matters.

(People who are actively dieting and seeking approval for that are not trying.)

Also, can I just tell you how much I HATE HATE HATE HATE the "you have such a pretty face" comment?

Hate. And I hate even more that people really think they are complimenting you.

Rachel said...

I think your answer was spot-on. We all can think of a million and one clever things we would say in that instance, but its very difficult to think of them on the spot. You did better than I would, most likely.

And I wouldn't worry about whether or not you are a "good" or "bad" fat activist. No one is a true fat Glinda, here. We're all on the same path; some of us are further along than others.

Emily said...

Stop beating yourself up -- you can be a fat activist and still lose weight, and even be happy about it if you want to be! Thank you for this post.

AnnieMcPhee said...

I have similar things happen at work all the time - except not in regards to myself. I pass along as much information as I can and as is appropriate, and I make it clear what my position is...but endlessly debating this stuff at work? Meh - unless someone were trying to push me, I can't see it.

On the other hand, I just had one of those moments myself, so don't feel too bad. See, one of the signs of a couple of my old illnesses was distention in the upper abdomen (on top of all the, you know, fat) so sometimes when I'm feeling it I ask my daughter if my abdomen looks as distended as it has at times or whatever - generally she says "No, believe me that's just how you see it. I remember it and it was much bigger when you were sick." (We're talking about distention here, not fat.) But of late I've been eating a bit more I think, even though I'm also moving a lot more, and I'm not sure if I might actually have gained a few pounds. I don't check my weight. Anyway my daughter asked me if I was sick and I said "No, actually I'm not" (because she was checking my tummy as she's used to doing) and then she seemed surprised and said, "Are you gaining *weight*?" (She's a FA gal even if she's rail-thin; it was just a surprised comment because she's used to me saying "Yeah I'm sick right now.") Anyway, I felt the same momentary dismay - like OMG I'm getting fatter?? Wtf? Wasn't it enough I had to learn to accept all the fat I already have (and it's no mere 50 pounds, either) now I'm gonna gain more? Do I start cutting down? Am I overeating or binging or something?

It all ran through my mind and I felt awful for a moment...and then I said, "Fuck it. Forget about it." Besides, it does feel like distention and I'm gonna ask the doctor next time I see him to do some bloodwork to be sure - I've been lax with my calcium and such and a bit heavy on the bottle. So...whatever. Either way, I'm not going to worry about it.

AnnieMcPhee said...

Can I just say something - I really don't hate the pretty face comment - since I carry too much fat around the perimeter of my face, I seldom hear it. I'd be pretty happy to hear someone say I had a pretty face - I'd merely say "Thank you very much."

The thing people don't realize about faces is this - people who look pretty with chubby faces are usually fat people who were always chubby. If they get skinny, either they lose what made their faces pretty in the first place, or they keep the chubby face and still look like they did. I have one of those faces that looked pretty when I was emaciated, and not-so-pretty now when fat. But I'm ok with that - not everyone is pretty-faced. At least I have nice skin lol. Or so I'm told.

Becky said...

To me personally, the distinction is whether a person is trying to accept their fat. It's a process. And it can be a long process, because 20 or 30 or 50 years of societal conditioning are not going to just be erased overnight. God knows I still have a long way to go on that process myself. But there's a big difference between: "I'm not trying to lose weight but part of me still wants to" and "I'm trying to lose weight because I think my fat is unhealthy and ugly and gross - but yours is fine. And you should have rights and stuff."

As for your coworker, I think you did what you could. I've found that going into a big argument rarely changes minds anyway.

TropicalChrome said...

I thought your answer was wonderful - you didn't berate the person for the spirit of the compliment, but you were able to reframe it to be about health and feeling better. It's a gentle way to raise consciousness while not making someone else feel bad about themselves.

N said...

I think what you said was the right thing. It told her what you wanted to say without going overboard. And to the anonymous person who said:

Am I a bad fat activist... Yes

Is what you're saying really helping? Furthermore, what you're saying goes against the spirit of the FA movement AND is just plain nasty.

AnnieMcPhee said...

Meh, I'm assuming fat-hating troll there, N. No fat activist would have said that.

Ms. Heathen said...

It was probably the perfect response you could have given in light of the limited time available and the out of the blue nature of her comment. If she persists in praising your weight loss in the future you can have a short conversation with her on why you don't value weight loss and that how you feel about yourself isn't linked to your weight.

As for being a "bad activist", you have to recognize that systems of oppression are larger than the individuals trapped by them, and we all make the decisions we need to make to survive. Individual actions do not have the weight that collective actions do, and it's more important that you make examined choices and pick your battles. Of course you are going to feel a certain way when the entire system of oppression values certain things, here the system values thinness and praises it.

Do you feel better now that you've started exercising? Focus on that, and not how good of an activist you are on any given day. Conscious choices and examined beliefs go a long way towards changing systems of oppression.

Lillian said...

I started reading blogs in the Fatosphere after I got disgusted by too many people stopped their healthy habits because it wasn't causing them to lose weight. I didn't like the idea that one should only eat a healthy diet or exercise if it leads to weight loss.

My honey is large and he knows that it isn't likely that he could lose weight, but he wants to eat as healthy as possible and be as strong and flexible as possible.

I truly subscribe to being fat and healthy. That said. I'm losing weight. Not because I think I'm unattractive and I would be more attractive at a low weight. I'm losing weight because I'm trying to regain the habits and hopefully the health I had when I was younger.

I rarely ate junk food or dessert type items. I painlessly cut those items from once a day to somewhere between once to other other week. I lost my taste for sweets by doing this. I looked at the candy at the Dollar Store and felt no desire to buy any: it looked unappealing to me. I'm working out regularly. I did strength training for six years before I moved and after a seven year break, I'm finally doing it again and it feels great.

I see nothing wrong with trying to make your body work the best that it can. If you happen to lose a few pounds in the process, so be it. I don't know if I can be a fat activist since I'm still 'dieting', but I agree with more of what is said in the Fatosphere.

erin said...

Can I just say that I *hate* it when random people make comments about my weight? I find it to be incredibly rude. I would never discuss someone's size with them, unless they brought it up first and only if it were around a 'health' topic as opposed to 'do you think I look fat?' I just don't have a polite way of telling people that their comment is unwelcome to me.

Anonymous said...

Don't worry: even had she not said, "You lost weight!", what her insistence and tone was communicating was, "You look hot!" And it's very hard to respond to that message negatively, even if she's telling you ZOMG no moar fatz! YOU know why you're at the gym, and YOU know that, skinnier or not, if that makes you happy? Of COURSE you look gorgeous. :)