Tuesday I received a text message from my sister saying, “You have to listen to this episode of This American Life!” I downloaded it right away, put in my earbuds, and started listening. So much of the episode struck a cord. Between Roxane Gay and Elna Baker, my brain was churning!
Now, before I dive into what I consider to be a sensitive topic, please remember that these opinions are my own. I am far from an expert, but I do bring my experience as an obese woman to the table. I hope to hear your thoughts as well, whether here in the comments, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.
One topic the podcast touched upon is whether or not overweight people choose to be fat…that there is an assumption by society that those who are overweight are weak and choose to be obese. While I agree that all humans choose what to consume each day and how much to consume, from my perspective, it’s hard to imagine someone choosing to be fat. I have spent most of life, all of my adult life, trying to be anything but fat. My situation has defined me and I’ve spent a lot of time, energy, and money to change it. At certain points in my life, dieting and weight loss permeated all areas of my life. My weight was paralyzing, so its hard for me to fathom someone choosing to be chained by obesity.
I have dieted, become an athlete, and pushed myself well out of my comfort zone. I’ve lost weight, I’ve gained weight, and I’ve repeated that cycle for many, many years. I’ve dieted, I’ve not dieted, and I’ve worked with my fair share of experts to get to the bottom of what I believe to be the deeply ingrained habits, whether biological habits or psychological habits, that have stopped me from losing enough weight to reach what doctors consider to be a healthy weight for my age and height. For as long as I can remember, I have been told that the number on my scale defines me as obese…that my weight is not acceptable and that to be defined as healthy, I would first need to lose enough weight to reach an ideal BMI.
Over 15 years ago, I found sports that accepted me for all that I was. I was an extremely strong yet obese woman. I was not in shape, but I was determined and dedicated. Between being a competitive powerlifter and an NCAA Division I discus and hammer thrower, I redefined fit. I entered a world where a 250-pound woman was strong and beautiful. The number on her scale did not define her as obese. It defined her as a champion, a pioneer in our sport, and a woman to look up to. For the first time in my life, I grew comfortable in my skin, although I was never 100 percent comfortable. I focused on my sports and I allowed athletics to define me, not the label doctors had given me.
After my collegiate career ended, I had to face my new identity. No longer was I a collegiate athlete and almost instantly, the number on the scale was redefined. By that point, I was morbidly obese. My self-esteem dropped and I realized that it was time to face my other identity as an obese woman. For 10 years, I have battled my weight and for anyone to think that I am choosing to be fat is just ludicrous, but here I stand, 32 years old and obese.
As Elna Baker’s portion of the podcast made me recognize, I won’t deny that I am scared to lose weight. I’ve never weighed less than 206 pounds. What will life be like if I weigh 180, 170, 160? Will I be treated differently? Will I be able to maintain the loss? Will I lose aspects of my happiness? What will replace food? The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, and that’s what scares me.
I love that there is more of a movement towards accepting yourself for who you are. I am fat. I have had to learn to accept myself for who I am while balancing out who I want to be. I have had to redefine my goals and to be realistic about what I could weigh, what I want to weigh, and the price I would have to pay to achieve those goals. Could I weigh 160? I’m sure I could, but I may be happiest at 190. Heck, I may be happiest at 220. My body always seems to get back there.
To say that I am choosing to be fat is hard for me to process. What I am choosing is to eat more than I need each day. What I am choosing is to not follow a diet plan to the point that it allows for consistent weight loss. What I am choosing is the intensity of my workouts. What I am choosing is to continue to work towards success. What I am choosing is to love myself and to work on lightening the burden to not be fat placed on me at such a young age. What I am not choosing is to be fat. I am not choosing to be obese. Obesity is the result of my actions and it is a heavy, literally, price to pay for not being able to control how much I eat over time.
I wish we had a healthier society, not just by lowering our obesity rates, but also by treating all humans with equal respect. It was hard listening to aspects of the podcast and to be reminded of how I was treated as an obese child…to be reminded of how I am looked at and perceived as an obese adult. For anyone to assume that because I am obese I am sitting on my rear each night, eating bags of potato chips and avoiding any form of fitness, is delusional. Not that anyone has told me they think this of me, but I think our society assumes that obese people are lazy. Blogging has shown me just how many people are trying to figure it out. Just how many people want to change their habits. Just how many people do not want to be labeled as obese.
We all wish we had the answer, but we just have to keep moving forward and to determine the steps we must take in order to be healthy and happy. No matter what the scale says.