When I first learned about body positivity/fat liberation, I didn’t know anyone else in real life who had ever heard of such a thing. The community of people who were learning about it at the same time as I was were all online. The choice to end the war on my body was a completely foreign idea in my real-life world; not only did it not exist as a choice to exercise, it did not even exist as a hypothetical concept.
So when I decided to make that choice, it felt thrilling, terrifying, amazing and, on some days, really fucking lonely.
In the earliest days of developing a peaceful relationship with food and my body, I kept the wonder and the magic and the terror of choosing to not hate my body to myself. I was simply too much like a newborn baby giraffe, wobbly and unsure on this new footing, needing to focus on my own progress without worrying about what anyone else thought. After a few months, though, as my confidence grew, I would sometimes allow myself send out test shots, little flares I’d send up to see if anyone else around me had also found their way to the New Found Land of Body Acceptance.
Every single time, hands down, I would discover I was still alone.
One of the first times I did this was when a co-worker announced that her doctor was putting her on a diet because she had hit a “milestone weight” (???). As the co-worker relayed the details of the conversation with the doctor and the plan for her diet, I recognized the shame she seemed obligated to perform. For women, when your body doesn’t meet the current moment’s beauty standard, there is this culturally mandated dance that needs to periodically happen in front of others that signals, I have awareness of this horror show that is my body, I am sorry I’m so awful. Let me diminish myself to make up for it.
Because I was working on taking up space, I wanted to let her know she didn’t need to put on that performance in front of me. Because I knew that diets don’t work, I wanted her to know that not dieting was an option. Because I was appalled that her doctor would prescribe something that is so profoundly ineffective and, in fact, undermining of her health, I wanted to suggest she had alternatives.
I listened to her self-flagellation for a few moments, then asked, “Have you heard of Health at Every Size?”
“No,” she said, and I blundered ahead, trying my hand at speaking this new language in front of others for the very first time.
My heart was pounding the way it pounds when you attend a protest or a vigil, the way it surges in your chest when you are doing something really important that you care about.
“It’s the idea that you can pursue health while remaining neutral about weight,” I said. “It’s both a book and a movement. It’s a way of doing things like exercising, which is actually proven to be good for your health, while avoiding things like dieting, which are actually bad for your health.”
She gave me a look of incomprehension mixed with total lack of interest. It was the face of a person on domestic land who is met with foreign words, a land where the language of body liberation just doesn’t translate.
She went right back to her narrative (and I went back to mine).
With all apologies to Adrienne Rich, I dream of a common language that we share beyond body hating and food fears.
I dream of shooting up flares and finding that everyone I love has made their way to the land of Body Acceptance where no one says “I’m so bad” in relation to something they ate. In this land, I would go out for dinner and my companion would no longer say, “I’d really like to order the carbonara, but I stress-ate so many cookies this afternoon, so I’ll just have a salad instead.” I dream we could all be fluent in self-acceptance, relegating the language of “overweight” and “ate too much” to an archaic dictionary.
In the meantime, I remain bilingual, speaking the language of self-love while living in the land of diet bullshittery and bodily manipulation, shooting up more flares and waiting for more companions to join me on my shores.