Rev. Catharine Is Currently
On Medical Leave

A Story of Weight Stigma

A Story of Weight Stigma

(The below was originally a Facebook post from 26 September 2019)
So, I learned from Be Nourished’s blog that it is Weight Stigma Awareness Week, begun in 2011 and currently supported by the National Eating Disorder Association.

As it is the week for it, I suppose it makes sense for me to share some of my experiences as a “superfat” woman. Many of you have seen photos of me like the one above, so you know what I look like and the kind of body in which I live and move.
I encourage you to first read the Facebook post I just put up that is from the blog. It will give you the studies and figures that support a lot of my experience and beliefs.

My current size is, I believe, the direct result of yo-yo dieting, or what is called “weight cycling,” combined with side effects I had from Risperdal, a mood stabilizer and anti-psychotic I took in 2005-6. I tried over and over and over again to get smaller, but every time I did, I gained all the weight back and more, making things harder on my body than they had been.

While I was not a particularly large child, I was always a bit bigger than my cohort and I was always taller. I remember looking in the mirror–reverse body dysmorphia–and thinking, “I don’t see it. I just don’t see it. I’m not that big. Why are my schoolmates and cousins so awful to me?!” I look at photos and a seeing a long-legged, slightly-bigger-than-average girl.

But I was mercilessly taunted in school. Kids spat “hockers” (SO GROSS) on me, threw gum and half-eaten candy so it stuck in my hair, pushed me around, and called me names. Once, in college, someone standing behind me looked at me and turned to his companion and said, “Beached whales like that don’t deserve to live.”

In fact, “whale” was a common epithet for me. My cousins used it. Classmates used it. People on the street have used it. As a result of that (and of my lifelong passionate love of all cetaceans), I have reclaimed whale as an animal for which I have a particular affinity. I am getting a tattoo of a breaching humpback — the singing whale, so perfect — on my leg, just as soon as I can put together the $$.

My father wrote on the refrigerator in black marker, “Respice Finem” — “mind your end” — because he had Type 1 diabetes and was dieting half his life, at least. Only depression and the end of his life ever seemed to make him really lean, in my memory. But he put “Repice finem’ on the fridge as a pun in Latin — be mindful of the end of your life, and be mindful of the size of your ass. And he made sure I knew about it.

I knew my father hated the fat on his body, and I knew I had to hate mine.

Today, I am harassed on the street. Children point and stare. Hell, adults, stare.

I am always the biggest person in the room. Well, at least over 90% of the time.

Well-meaning friends and family talk to me as though I don’t know that I’m fat. As though I don’t know the health risks (purported and real) of having as much weight on my body as I do. What they don’t understand is that their concern is rooted in weight bias. I live in this body. I know that my back and knees are taking a huge hit from my size. It is hard for me to walk around and traveling by airplane is hell and I cannot do it without the help and support of my wife.

People have questioned my right/privilege to be or reason for being a spiritual leader and teacher. If I cannot “control” my own body, the idea goes, how dare I think to help other people on their spiritual journeys?! And yet, that is what I do every day.

Weight stigma, bias, prejudice, whatever, is something I struggle with every day. Every. Single. Day. It is related to ableism, one of those insidious beliefs that somehow different bodies are better or worse than others.

Weight stigma is in the water we drink, the air we breathe, all over the cultures in which we live. Fuck, look at advertisements in the month of January. I’d say nearly half of them–though I don’t watch a whole lot of commercial tv, I’ve seen enough–are about weight loss. They are specifically targeted toward women (and other femmes, really), though no one one escapes their messages.

So I, the Singing Whale (is it a magical name for me? hmmmm…. good question), ask you today to examine your own weight bias and how it comes out in your life. In your beliefs about yourself, your kids, other people — where is it affecting you and those you love?

PS — I did Weight Watchers as a kid, now “WW” — and I think their current campaign focusing on children as young as eight years old is criminal. truly harmful.

One Response

  1. Amen to that, Catharine. Yo-yo dieting and syndrome screw my metabolism horribly. I had two closets. People in the phone would ask me “are you fat or skinny now?” so they could picture me if they had not seen me in a couple of months. I would lose/gain 20 pounds in a month.

    When I stopped waiting to be thin in order to live, when I stopped focusing on weight and curbing my food, I stopped overeating/dieting and dealt with the underlying emotional wounds, and I began to be a happy person, do my creativity and share my gifts.

    And yes, there is a lot of beliefs and attitudes out there that are about fatphobia and weight stigma and it’s all a consensus trance. Truth is that being thin is not healthier. Heck, I know lots of skinny people who can’t even bend. We’ve equated healthy with thin. Truth is that being exuberant, curvy, chubby, fat or whatever you want to call it is not equivalent to incompetence, lazyness or bad health.

    And you go to a store and cannot find bras in beautiful colors, the dresses for one’s size are black tents as if you have to be in mourning for yourself and they have racks and racks of sizes 0-7. What the hell is a size 0? Meaning what, that you do not exist, that you do not take up space?

    This while a new study published in the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology, and Education reveals that the average size of American women is now 16 to 18.

    Seat on a bench and watch women go by. Many of them will have large busts.. So why is the industry not making beautiful bras for us?

    This is luckily changing. But it has taken decades of us speaking up and still the lies and myths persist to fit a $72 billion diet and weight loss industry.

    Thanks for speaking the truth and calling this out.

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