The Invisibility of Being Visible: the Otherness of Fat

While in graduate school I wrote an essay titled “The Invisibility of Being Visible: the Otherness of Fat.” The subject—the rise of the fat heroine in contemporary literary texts, such as Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone. I submitted the essay to a national conference and flew to Atlanta to present it. I remember the reaction of one of my colleagues upon hearing me read the essay: “She’s got guts.”

That essay, though, didn’t have an overt personal element to it. I lacked the strength to share my most vulnerable thoughts about my size, about my fat—the very element people first notice ironically renders me invisible. It’s odd I suppose to think of someone who is morbidly obese being invisible, but it was true then and it’s true now.

FRIENDS

I never had many friends in high school or in junior high. I had a few in elementary school, before the obesity started. If I wanted to do something like go to the mall I’d normally end up going alone, and that never ended well. One time I remember the horrors of the catcalls I’d hear while walking around the mall and people yelling at me “call Richard Simmons.” I wanted to slink away in shame, after going to See’s or Mrs Fields naturally. Those people saw me. They didn’t see my fat. And I needed in those moments to assuage my pain, wipe away my tears, and I needed sugary or fatty foods to do that. That’s the only way I could survive.

SCHOOL

As a junior in high school my PE teacher Judy Be***S wanted to help me lose weight, so she had me run laps two days a week instead of playing tennis or other sports with my peers. I felt the stench of humiliation as I walked around the campus instead of having fun. People saw me as separate, as the other. “Why is this girl walking laps when the other kids are in PE?” I could see these thoughts in their expressions.

I learned over time where I could hide instead of walking around the campus. Sometimes the teacher would ask someone to walk with me for company, but that made me feel so much more ostracized. I felt humiliated in those moments. When I think about it now I feel such sadness. I wish she had known better. I wish she could have understood the damage she was causing. In hindsight I can see she thought her actions would be helpful, but, in reality they caused much more harm. She didn’t see me. She saw the fat that had to be gotten rid of.

PROM

I never went to the prom. No one ever asked me. I am certain my weight was the mitigating factor. I could feel everyone’s pity. They knew. Fat girls were ostracized. I was ostracized, unattractive. Only pretty girls, in gorgeous dressed with well-groomed hair and make-up went to prom. Back then most stores didn’t carry pretty clothes for fat people. They only sold muumuus or other hideous clothing items. I would have given almost anything to be able to wear a pretty dress, to feel beautiful for just a moment.

People just saw the fat. That’s what the invisibility of being visible means. People see fat. They don’t see the person. And when they see fat they display pity.

MY FIRST JOB

I remember being sixteen and going for my first job interview as a greeter for a local mall. The day I went in for the interview I drove to the mall with butterflies in my stomach. I’d dressed my best and even put on light make-up. I walked into the mall with a feeling of nervous excitement and then, and then she saw me. I can still see the look of disgust and shock on the interviewer’s face as the morbidly obese teenager approached her. I knew in that moment that I wouldn’t get the job, but she played along, interviewing me and giving me a personality test. She looked even more aghast that I scored higher than anyone had before. She stumbled over her words telling me that.

I walked away from that interview knowing and feeling the inevitable. I drove home that day in a saddened state of despair. How could I explain my pain to anyone? I couldn’t even explain it to myself. I’m sure I ate over it. Food understands me and makes me feel better. She saw my fat. She didn’t see me. She couldn’t even see me when the results of that personality test told her I existed. Sure enough I didn’t get that job.

PEOPLE DON’T SEE FAT PEOPLE. THEY SEE FAT.

I also see myself through the lens of fat, through the lens of the others. At some point I decided I’d wear bright and colorful clothes because they brought me attention, and I craved positive attention. One time I found the most beautiful lime green gauze skirt, and I bought it even though it happened to be a bit see-through. It made me happy, and it brought me attention; although the attention didn’t always happen to be positive. People loved to tell me they could see my underwear through the skirt, but you know what? I didn’t care because I knew they wouldn’t say that to a skinny person. If a thin person wears a see-through item of clothing people are more likely and willing to admire the body beneath the material. The thinness we are supposed to aspire to. The thinness society says gives us value.

Fat doesn’t provide value in the eyes of others. I’m not lying. I’m giving you empirical evidence.

DOCTORS

Doctors only see fat too, most of them anyways. I’ve had doctors say to me the minute they see me “You need to lose weight.” They don’t ask why I’m there. They don’t ask about me. They take one look at me and see the fat. One time, at the age of 12, a doctor wanted to put me on a 500 calorie a day diet. TWELVE YEARS OLD AND A 500 CALORIE A DAY DIET. Even then I knew enough to know that was nuts. The irony of it all—he was morbidly obese. Maybe he wanted to protect me from the fate that befell him but his insanity backfired.

LOVE & FOOD

I never really wanted food. I really only wanted love. I wanted to see and be seen. If you’re reading this I don’t want your pity. But I’d like you to understand what happens to someone when the only thing the world sees is the outer shell.

THE INVISIBILITY OF BEING VISIBLE

For so much of my life I was invisible by virtue of my visibility. Even now sometimes I feel that way. I realized after a meditation the other day that I no longer wanted to be defined by my weight, not by me and not by anybody else. I don’t want to live my life thinking every choice has to be about weight loss. Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t plan on delving into oreos or buckets of buttercream frosting.

I want my life to be about more than food. The Invisibility of Being Visible is about me finding a way to become visible to myself. It doesn’t matter what or how other people see me. It matters how I see myself. And that my friends is a daily battle. Hard fought one second at a time.

I will become visible thought self-love. Visible to myself. Last night I cooked a meal; I played with food in a fun way. It was a healthy meal. But I didn’t count the calories. I ate until the point before where I was full. Then I went and meditated. Another form of self-love. A place where for a few precious moments I can stop the monkey mind and see myself through the lens of non-judgment. The only lens that matters. The lens that reflects true visibility.

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Sage Advice from Sequoias

 

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A Reactionary Tale

“Real Communication Happens in Silence”

~Osho

I am reactionary by nature, and that does not serve my physical or mental or spiritual health. I react because I base too much of my sense of self on others’ perceptions of me. So I internalize the reaction.

I’m a meditator at heart and when I listen to the silence the reaction disappears. That doesn’t change the reality—but it alters my perception. Circumstances are neutral—our reaction gives them a label.

Years ago, I don’t remember how long, I decided to joint a gym. I wanted some type of change. I wanted a miracle pill to help me lose weight—to make me SKINNY overnight. Isn’t that every girl’s dream? My weight tipped the scales at its highest point, at that time, so it took a great deal of courage for me to even think about walking into a fitness place.

When I close my eyes, and think about that day, I can still feel the fear inside me. How will people treat me? Will they want/insist on putting me on a scale? I never liked scales (I still don’t), for they instantly told me I had no worth. They told that to others too. Scales can talk you know? And when they speak I feel only shame, and others feel the right to judge me. I can see it in their eyes, and in their intense curiosity to see exactly how much I weigh. It’s no coincidence then that I didn’t have the courage to go into a gym alone. With the help of a friend I mustered up the strength to walk through the doors of 24 hour fitness in Simi Valley.

The first person at the desk greeted everyone with a big smile and then directed us to a salesperson, Chad. I remember his name and appearance clearly. 6ft. tall with dark hair and eyes. A thin muscular build. He wore a light blue sweat suit.

Chad explained the membership fees; once I agreed to that, he began another soft sell—personal training. While I don’t remember the exact cost I do remember not having the available disposable income, so no was the only viable answer.

Chad didn’t like that. He didn’t like hearing no. Suddenly he switched from friendly mode to intense hard sales mode. His body language went from laid back and relaxed to stiff and upright. He leaned forward on his desk with a slightly menacing stance.

“You have to do something you know.” He bellowed forcefully in an attempt to shame me.

“Why do you think I’m here asshole.” I replied in my head. I didn’t have the courage or sense of self to respond as I wished I could have. Hearing his words though, caused me to shut down. I could literally feel my whole body going numb. I wanted to wither and way and hide in a corner so no one would ever find me. I could feel a sense of shock over take me. In those moments I craved a whole bag of double stuff oreos—they would take away the pain and shame. I couldn’t believe this guy, this salesperson, resorted to bullying tactics.

I suspect he’d never been told no by a fat person before. Most fat people have a hard time saying no. We are conditioned people pleasers, and people like Chad can sense that and know how to pounce on weakness. To this day I am not sure how I walked out of that gym standing.

After leaving the gym that day, I told the story to others, to anyone in my intimate sphere, which wasn’t a problem in and of itself, but I told it with a gale force of extreme emotion. I allowed it to affect my behavior, my internalized nervous system. Describing the shame, I could feel my blood pressure rise, my cheeks turning red. The anger flooded through me with nowhere to go but inside. Breaking a thousand dishes probably wouldn’t have diminished my angst. I can still feel the twinges of anger when I think about Chad because he deserved to suffer the consequences for his poor treatment of me.

I took Chad’s attitude personally, breaking the #1 rule of The Four Agreements—“don’t take anything personally”. I took his jerkish behavior as a reflection of my own self-worth or lack thereof. It’s bad enough that society treats fat people as marginalized citizens, but I make it worse when I treat myself like a marginalized citizen. And when I react that’s what I’m doing. I’m basing my sense of self on others’ perceptions.

I am quite sure, by the way, that I ate over the words of the 24 hour fitness salesperson. I may not have eaten a bag of oreos, but I’m sure I ate some high-fat, high-sugar, highly processed food. Eating brings me comfort, makes me feel better, providing me with a false sense of love. It still does, but I’m learning to seek that love within, and that’s where meditation comes in. Meditation and silence.

I meditate to find answers, and while I don’t always find the answers I do find peace. From that place of peace I find a non-reactive place of response, the ideal to which I seek.

When I come from that calm space I am more likely to seek comfort in healthy behaviors or foods. Just because I want to eat may not mean I am actually hungry.

How often am I hungry? And what am I hungry for? These are questions I need to ask myself before I eat or before I prepare food. My body sends me signals when it’s hungry, and I need to work at tuning into those internal communications.

At the time of the 24 Hour Fitness story I meditated off and on but not on a regular basis. In the ensuing years I’ve learned the value of taking a moment or even a day to process an event before reacting. I’m training myself to see life as a movie with me as an actor who can choose how I will perform. I am becoming the creator of my life and not allowing others to determine my future or my now.

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Food and Feelings

I find myself spending too much time on the internet surfing for something outside myself. Approval. Love. The list goes on. I’ve spent far too much of my life looking for approval outside of myself. I still do. I fear the disapproval of others. I’m working on living for my own approval.

Last week I found myself upset with someone I have a great deal of respect for. I could describe the circumstance, but they really don’t matter. The feelings do. When I first realized I felt angry, disrespected I questioned myself, questioned my feelings, but I had the foresight to know I needed to wait 24 hours to respond.

My weight is a symptom of being a people pleaser. I need to know the people in my life love me or are happy with me and if they aren’t I do not function well. I know this about myself.

But over the years I’ve grown stronger, much stronger, so this time I knew I’d have to say something. I had to speak my peace. I had to allow myself to be human. I do not often do that. I hold myself to a higher standard, an impossible standard.

I felt disrespected. I felt demeaned. Expressing those words in a non-combatitive way would take a miracle, but I felt determined. I also felt fear. FEAR. FEAR. How would this person respond? What would they think of me? How would I handle it if I disappointed them? SO many unknowns. So many variables.

I also didn’t want to do this by email. I needed to say it in person. As the time approached I felt a certain calm. I spoke my peace. Right or wrong. I said how I felt. Disrespected. Demeaned. Powerful words. Difficult words spoken to someone I have the greatest respect and love for.

But speak them I did. An apology I received.

The aftermath? I don’t really know. It’s an unusual feeling for me. I want to know more than everything that things are okay. Okay for me. Okay for the other. But I don’t get to know that. To speak my truth I had to let go of how the other person would react.

I’ve questioned myself a bit: Was I over-reacting? Were my feelings legit? I NEED to know that everything is okay, but I do not get to know that. I’m not meant to know that. I need to be the best I can be. The best human I can be. Flawed. Full of love.

I also need to spend more time away from social media, so that I can become even more comfortable with myself. More comfortable with my own sense of humanity.

There’s more to these ramblings, but I’ll save them for another time. For now, I leave you with a picture of this adorable Starbucks ornament. I bought it for myself because no matter what I DID NOT OVEREAT or binge over this situation. That’s a victory I’ll take.

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My Love Affair with Food

 

With Thanksgiving coming up I’ve been thinking a lot about food and my relationship with it. As a kid Thanksgiving holidays meant sitting around the table and eating until everyone felt stuffed and then going back for more as soon as there was space! Here are some revealing ramblings about food and other things……..

I fill my days with projects, with things to do, things to do outside myself. I spend time doing things so I feel accepted and loved by others. I can go to the moon and back for others, but when it comes to me not so much.

I love food, or do I? It’s a complex concept—Maybe too complex for me to grasp in this moment.

I love sweet food and coffee drinks and carbs and big French fries, steak fries to be exact; although, I’m not quite sure why they call them steak fries. I love a good salad too. One loaded with fresh grated beets, jicama, white northern beans, sprouts, olives, arugula and a whole host of other fresh ingredients. I could write a lengthy list of excuses as to why I don’t eat more salads, but they’d be just that—excuses. And the world has had enough of those.

I feel threatened (maybe that’s not the right word) by beautiful people, beautiful, skinny, successful people—the fat I still carry protects me from something, from realizing my true potential.

I’ve allowed technology to become too much of a distraction and am working on cutting down in that regard. Becoming glued to technology (social media, smart phones, etc.) is just not a good thing. It’s not just being glued to it though; it’s the expectation of what it will provide.

Quiet spaces. I definitely need to feel the quiet spaces more. So much more. I resist them but why? What am I afraid of? What will those quiet spaces reveal to me?

omelet

Thin asparagus, red bell peppers and onions!

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Confessions of a Failed Declutterer

Okay. I haven’t really failed. I just haven’t kept up with a few things like putting jewelry away. I love costume jewelry and just might have a few pieces that I allow to pile up on my dresser. 

Tonight I decided I needed to act and be the change I want to see, so I took twenty minutes or so and put everything on the dresser away. 

I concentrated on the one area and now I can look at as I prepare for bed and feel good. I can’t promise I’ll keep it up forever, but for today it works. 

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Not All MATS are Created Equal

When I first started practicing Bikram yoga in 2013 I used a gaiam mat that I’d been using for my hatha yoga classes. I’d place a regular beach towel on top. I think I did that for several months before realizing I needed to invest in my practice with a better mat. After some research I settled on a manduka mat, which cost $78. Manduka mats are more dense than their less expensive counterparts, making them less slippery.

The Manduka Pro-lite mat I bought now costs $80: https://www.manduka.com/prolite-mat.html I bought a dark red color because the reviews revealed that the lighter colors could easily be stained.

I knew I’d made a solid investment the first time I stepped on the mat and felt so much more support, but I hadn’t thought about it for awhile until one day, a few weeks ago, I forgot my manduka mat and had my old cheap mat in my car, so I decided to use it. Immediately I felt the difference. My old mat felt soft and squishy and provided almost no support.

I remember going through the whole class thinking I’d never forget my manduka mat again. And I haven’t so far! The mat still supports me after three years of use; I have, however, seen other mats that have been advertised as beneficial for hot yoga and do intend on trying them.

What’s your favorite yoga mat?

manduka-prolite

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The Politics of Body/Fat Shaming

I left my apartment this morning dressed for yoga in bike shorts and a substantial sports bra. I also wore a thin beige vest for the sole purpose of covering up my midriff. I didn’t want anyone to see it. This morning I found myself asking why my potentially bare mid-section mattered when, for a split second, the edges of the vest parted ways as a gardener approached. Thinking he might see the barest splash of visible abdominal skin I hurriedly placed my yoga bag in front of my torso.

All of that reactionary movement to cover the barest piece of bare skin. In contrast, I see “thin” women walking in my neighborhood all the time in exercise outfits that show a portion of midriff, so what makes me react to mine? You see, I know the answer. I’m not shy. I’m not a prude. I’m not showing too much skin in my yoga outfits. I’ve been conditioned to feel, to believe that this fat, this obese body needs to be and ought to be covered up.

Where did I learn this? Does that matter? Yes. I learned it and am still learning it every time I go to the mall as see stores that offer clothes in a size zero or double zero or extra extra small. At some point it seems clothing manufacturers will be designing women into non-existence.

When I go looking for clothes, I look for the plus size section or the women’s section, and it’s almost always in a smaller section of the store. Dillard’s in Scottsdale’s Fashion Plaza has one of the largest and more fashionable plus size sections that I’ve seen. Most stores and the designers send a clear message with their product placement: plus size women don’t deserve to be front and center, yet we are in the majority, just not the seemingly accepted attractive majority.

Most models, actresses, television personalities have small frames. The majority of beauty contests covet thinness. Everywhere anyone goes, tininess prevails. A skinny woman can be on the beach and be admired, but a larger one will often the victim of verbal abuse and be called “a whale”. I’ve seen this and been a victim of it more than I care to admit.

I still clearly remember my first job interview at the age of 16. I see in my mind’s eye the woman’s face as I approached her. I could see the dread as she saw my size. She didn’t see me. She saw fat. She judged me based on that. I could tell by her body language. She didn’t convey her fat prejudice with words, but her eyes told the story. They told it well.

Sometimes I’m amazed that I thrive as a social creature. Fat prejudice and Fat shaming are so predominantly accepted and glorified by so many that I find I have a distinct amount of respect for people with larger bodies who work so conscientiously to defy social “norms”.

I’d like to think in some small way that I’m working toward that too. This body that houses this soul has just as much right to inhabit this earth as any other body. I don’t always believe that though and this morning’s reaction taught me that. This brain has bought into the subliminal and not so subliminal messages that the only attractive bodies are the thin ones and that the only way larger bodies can be attractive is if they are in the process of being molded into thinner bodies.

That frame of mind does not lend itself to healthy living though because it removes me from the present and keeps me in the past or the future. And that’s no way to live. It’s time to stop body shaming myself. It’s time to stop thinking the world will end if someone sees a slice of my midriff while I’m on my way to yoga class. Because the world won’t end, and it’s entirely possible a whole new piece of my world will open up.

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Triangle!

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