Is anyone feeling one part stoked and the other part apprehensive about the idea of having more in-person interactions in the near future?
Like: Give me my people and places, and give them to me now. But also, I have mostly been seen in good lighting, from the shoulders up and through a Zoom filter for the last year. And the thing is, like everything else since the beginning of the pandemic, my body has changed. As has my wardrobe (ILYSM, joggers).
So, um, how’s this going to work exactly?
There’s a gif going around of an older woman in a pink cardigan sitting near a window with a blue sweatband around her head. She’s pumping a 1-pound dumbbell in one hand and eating a chocolate ice cream bar with the other. The caption says, “Me after thinking Summer was cancelled and now hearing things are reopening.”
That’s essentially me as I eat my feelings while I worry about weight gain.
I am actually annoyed to be so up in arms about it. I am an empowered lady boss feminist who has made another human come forth from my body and then survived The Year of All Years. The size and shape of my body is 1) pretty functional under the circumstances, 2) powerfully influenced by glorious motherhood, 3) really nobody else’s business and thus 4) just fine as it is.
I know those things.
But I don’t feeeeel them.
I feel scared with a side of shame. So, I reached out to my friend Kelsie Jepsen, who has devoted herself to filling a gap in services for people who live in bigger bodies. As someone who was taught to hate her body by age 8 and lived for some time with an eating disorder, Kelsie has had a lot of unlearning to do and pain to process, and she wanted a supportive community with which to do it. Not finding what she needed, she built up the courage and created it herself.
She is now a body acceptance coach who offers EmBODY Love workshops to help people find community while they learn to feel comfortable and joyous in their own body (hint: it’s not dieting). And she told me I am not alone.
“It is a really normal response for our bodies to gain and/or hold on to weight when we experience ongoing trauma and stress like this pandemic,” she said. “But we live in a fatphobic society, and so the combination has been hard for so many people.”
I had to stop her and get the scoop on the word “fat.” It’s not one I’ve seen used in loving or compassionate ways very often, until recently. She described the power of using “fat” as a descriptor sans judgment — like how she has light brown hair and blue eyes — and it reminds me of the reclamation of the word “queer.” If the word is going to continue to be associated with a powerful emotion, let that emotion be pride.
This is when I realized that fat acceptance is bigger than any one person’s relationship to their body, it’s a movement — a radical crusade for justice around body size.
And we need it, because she’s right. Fatphobia, which she defines as the “fear of fatness on ourselves coupled with the hatred of fat bodies,” is, if I may, large and in charge in our society. We’re made to believe that bigger bodies can’t be healthy, that they’re less valuable and less beautiful, that they don’t belong in all spaces, and that they’re the result of laziness or lack of willpower.
No wonder some of us are feeling anxious about bringing our more robust versions of ourselves into the public view again. We’re not always warmly welcomed.
But here’s what Kelsie said can change that:
Release the shame about the shame
If you are having feelings about your feelings, notice that pattern and see if you can navigate around it. The world has given us plenty of reason to fear or be disappointed by our weight, so start by honoring your experience instead of judging it. Once we acknowledge our shame cycle, as Kelsie refers to it, we can rail against it.
Live in gratitude for your body
Kelsie notes that our bodies naturally adjust to our circumstances. “If you’re going to train for a marathon, your body will adjust. If you have a child, your body adjusts. So, I invite people to live in gratitude that our bodies have adjusted to protect us during this pandemic. You survived this, and that is amazing.”
She also encourages us to live in curiosity, because curiosity is the antidote to judgment. What are the stories we tell ourselves about body size? Where did we learn them? Are they accurate? Are they helpful?
By and large, research shows dieting isn’t successful in the long run. Despite that, over 1 in 3 Americans are doing it (that’s how it has become a $72 billion industry). Kelsie notes that 95% of people, when they intentionally lose weight, gain it back within one to five years (often less), and two-thirds of those people gain back more weight than they lost.
“It’s because your body doesn’t know the difference between a diet and a famine,” she says. “So once it starts getting calories again, it holds on tight.”
And actually, the major fluctuations — those beyond what our bodies do normally — can be associated with other negative consequences, like increased inflammation.
Buy clothes that fit your current body
“Giving yourself the gift of having clothes that fit your current body is the healthiest, most loving thing you can do,” she says. “Many of us have stayed home for 14 months; don’t let your clothes be the reason you continue to stay in.”
The other thing she said that has rocked my world is that, “you don’t have to love your body to respect it. Self-love is not a requirement of respecting your body.” (*mind explosion*)
So, invest in clothes that make you feel good, she says. And she pointed to the blog Fat Girl Flow for a list of retailers who sell clothes specifically for larger bodies. With the average American woman being size 16-18, you’d think that would be most retailers, but unfortunately, it’s not. So find the ones who do, and invest your hard-earned dollars into companies that see and celebrate all bodies.
Find media that disrupts the false narrative that fat is bad
From books like “What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat” by Aubrey Gordon and “Health at Every Size” by Lindo Bacon to podcasts and social media accounts, there is a growing body of media aimed at dismantling fatphobia and helping people forge new and healthier relationships with their bodies.
Thinness does not always equate to health and being bigger is not always unhealthy, but that’s what we’re told time and time again — and it’s why fatphobia is so socially accepted. We’re also taught that weight is always something we can control, as if genetics, stress, medicine, and ability played no part. More importantly though, Kelsie says, we need to address our moralization of health. Should we discriminate against those with chronic illnesses or disabilities? Or all bodies worthy regardless of health, weight, size, shape, race, gender or ability?
So, find the places and people who are interrupting fatphobic narratives and let their compassion and pragmatism fill your head and heart.
Pump yourself up like you would your best friend
Kelsie has noticed that sometimes the best advice we can receive is the advice we would give our loved ones.
“Try treating yourself like a friend,” she said (*boioioioiong*). “If a friend came to you with these mean thoughts, how would you respond?” The answer for many of us is immediate and unending compassion. So her thought is that we should extend that kindness and understanding to ourselves, and she has lots of ideas about how exactly to do that.
And otherwise, I wish you peace in taking up all the space you need.
— Marina Gomberg is a communications professional and lives in Salt Lake City with her wife, Elenor Gomberg, and their son, Harvey. You can reach Marina at firstname.lastname@example.org.