In my writing for another blog (I’ll post the link when it goes up), I found something distressing. It was difficult for me to find images of fat people who had heads. It was even more difficult to find fat people in, say bikinis, who had heads or who were showing their faces. And finding images of fathletes, well, that was really hard. I mean, why on Earth do you need to take a photo of a bicyclist with no head? Oh, because s/he’s fat!
There is, of course, the famous and fabulous Ragen Chastain. Here she is below, in great yoga glory.
I am very grateful to Ragen and to Adipositivity for creating and sharing this photo of Ragen. (Who, by the way, is training for an Ironman competition.) And I want more people!
I want people I know! I want people I know who are fat and physically active…
So I put out the call.
I put out the call, and I received beautiful pictures. Beautiful, powerful, pictures of fat people doing yoga, swimming, running, biking, and hiking. Thank you so much, everyone. Here I include several photos generously given by their subjects.
Many people are offended by fat bodies. Bare legs under skirts. Bare arms in sleeveless shirts. Close-fitting leggings. Goddess forbid swim suits.
Under the offense is disgust and fear. “Being fat is disgusting,” someone told me to my fat face, “I’m sorry, but it is.”
And those feelings are about what we/they might become. Fat. Anything but fat. Does this dress make me look fat? The fear of a fat planet? Or maybe, to put it another way, an obesity epidemic.
Fat also stands in for gluttony in conservative Christian circles. Stands in for over-consumption and consumerism in liberal circles. Stands in for ill health almost everywhere.
I was a moderately fat child and adolescent. I was first fat-shamed about age 3 or 4. I went on my first diet when I was about 6. I invented diets in my teens and became bulimic.
Other children shot spitballs at me. Teens asked when my baby was due (I wasn’t pregnant). They spat on me and rubbed their mucus into my hair. They pushed me around, back and forth among them. They called me a beached whale.
I learned early that something was profoundly wrong with me. Not just with my body, but with me.
I learned I wasn’t allowed to and absolutely must be physically active. That it was shameful for me to be seen in public with a red face, huffing and puffing. For god’s sake, I could have a heart attack! At the same time, I was told repeatedly that I should be “eating right and exercising.” What the hell?
And so I wasn’t physically active. PE was a hellish thing, something to be feared and loathed, almost as much as I was learning to loathe myself. The stares in the locker room…
And the thing is, friends, the thing is that I wasn’t that big. Size 16? Size 18? At 5’10”.
We teach our children well. We teach them to hate themselves. We teach them to eat in secret. We teach them to despise their bodies and to internalize the disgust they feel around them. We teach them that they can never be fit or active.
Well, as the photos on this page show – Ragen, Meg, Angela, Kalyn – there are all kinds of fat people in all kinds of shapes and sizes doing all kinds of stuff. These athletes have learned that they can not only be fat and active, but fat and fit. Fitness is not only for the small-bodied.
We too, the fat ones, can have health.
And health is more than just cardio-pulmonary endurance or bone strength.
Health is about having a fulfilling life. It is mental/psychological health. It is relational health. It is about right livelihood, satisfying work, and a sense of generativity. All these, as well as physical health, are available to people, big- and small-bodied.
So how about we start treating one another with worth and dignity? How about we learn that fatness is a legitimate way of moving in the world, and not something (and someones!) to be eradicated?
Hoooooooow about we NOT give “I’m worried about you” talks over Thanksgiving? Or even, how about we not stare at the food our fat friends and relatives choose to eat? Beyond the beyond, how about not talking about dieting, weight, or how fat we are all supposed to say we feel?
How about we love each other?
Thank you for sharing your beautifully honest, raw reflections, Catharine.
My heart aches at the pain we humans can create for each other…oftentimes coming from our own pain and fears.
yes, coming from our own pain and fears, and supported by multi-billion-dollar weight-loss (weight GAIN) and medical industries. So painful. I wonder what the suicide statistics are, now that I think about it. Hmmmm…. thank you so much for your comment. I truly appreciate it. Blessings on your way. ~~Catharine~~
This is brilliant and beautiful, as are you and all these athletes. Thanks so much for sharing!
Dear Catherine, how courageous and brave, thank you so much for sharing, how hard and unfair to be reduced on the weight of your body, not to be seen as the person you are. Thanks for reminding me of what unconditional love actually means. Be proud of yourself, and athletes, keep going! What a great role model for many others.
Thanks, Jutta — I so appreciate your encouragement.
YOU GO LADIES!!! My whole life has been a struggle with accepting the me that I am. At age 69, I’ve finally learned to embrace “ME”. I wish there had been someone like you and these brave, amazing women to look to as examples. Thank you so much.
Thank you so much, Mari. Coming to have compassion and love for ourselves is a lifelong process, no matter where we are. At least, that’s how I experience it. Congrtaulations for coming to embrace yourself NOW!
Wow, your words, and those powerful images, are such a gift. Thank you!
This is so wonderful Catharine. It’s gutsy, brave, passionate and compassionate. I love the photos too. Thank you.