I was sitting in this white, sun-drenched room with a skylight talking to my friend, Juliana. This room is our office. It’s in an old brick building, somewhere in the outer reaches of the Financial District. I’ve taken my shoes off because I hate working with my shoes on. This is the portion of the meeting where we talk about our lives. This is how we initiate all of our meetings.
I’m telling her about what it’s like when you finally realize you’re never going to be a thin person. I’m crying — not because I wish I were thin exactly, but because it’s heart breaking to know that there’s a very good chance your society will never accept you, that the feeling of alien-ness that you feel will never go away, that you will always live with the suspicion that someone is playing a joke on you, that you will either have to harden up or be a living wound, that you will always presume that when someone is laughing outloud somewhere it’s at you. To surrender to that knowledge. To let it sink in.
You Might Also Like: I’m Fat, My Husband Isn’t. We Still Have Sex. A Lot.
Juliana is a thin person and a queer person who has told me some version of this exact story. We talk often about the pain and the freedom of being on the periphery. We talk about what it means to give up on your culture — the family that rejected you — without blaming yourself for the rejection.
The pain of rejection is eased when we blame ourselves for what’s happened. It’s some mysterious human alchemical fact. If we can convince ourselves that the solution lies in our hands then we can take comfort in finally getting it right someday. This reminds me of reading all those self-help books about toxic mothers and alcoholic families that I read so that maybe someday I can be whole. I remember reading about how kids will take on the blame for their own abuse because their brains literally cannot handle the possibility that their parents — the keepers of their world, the ones meant to keep them safe — are bad. They would sooner accept that they are irredeemable than that their entire world is unstable.
That’s what it means to be a fat person in this culture — to witness day in and day out that something is very wrong and to accept the blame for that wrongness. Our dream to be thin is our dream for the pain to stop. We accept the unconscionable, dehumanizing, maddening, unnatural task of weight-loss in an effort to display that we understand that our culture’s – our family’s - wrong-doing is our fault.
When we come to the point of liberation where we realize we will never be a thin person our heart breaks. It is unimaginably freeing to refuse to keep taking the blame, but it is significantly more painful to let go of the dream that someday we will be embraced by the people and the culture that harmed us. It’s painful to recognize that redemption lies in our hands, not someone else’s, because then we have to face the fear of being alone and face the fear that (despite all that we’ve been taught) we may in fact be powerful beyond imagination.
I don’t mean to be dramatic or violent by using the metaphor of murder, but killing the thin fantasy is about burying the fear or our own power, the fear that we are alone. We’re not alone. It’s our culture that has taught us that we can only earn love and community and family through compliance. It is compliance that breeds isolation, in fact. When we kill the thin fantasy we look at our abuser in the face and say “I will not accept blame for your cruelty anymore.” When we kill the thin fantasy we can begin to see ourselves and see the culture as we exist.
It took me a long time to bury the dream of being thin. It was easier once I was able to admit to myself that thinness symbolized acceptance and that working toward acceptance was perilously similar to Stockholm Syndrome. For some people it doesn’t take much to let go, and for others it’s a slow series of awakenings. However it happens, it’s ok.
If you’re in the middle of this journey remind yourself of this: it is a powerful thing to be fat, and more powerful still to be free.