From Diet Misery to Self-Acceptance

(Note: May be triggering for some readers – diet/weight loss/self-harm).

I have a rather shocking confession to make. Brace yourselves.

I am fat, and happy with my body.

I don’t mean fat in the sense of “wah wah oh I can pinch more than an inch oh woe is me”, while dramatically flinging my hand against my forehead and waiting for all my friends to chime in and bolster my self-esteem by decrying my tirade of hating myself. Fuck that noise.

I mean in the sense that I regularly wear plus-sizes (generally an 18-20, for the curious), have a protruding, bifurcated belly, and for medical purposes, fall somewhere between obese and morbidly obese.

Becoming at ease with my body has not been an easy journey. I’ve been fat for as long I can remember – always stockier than my slender primary-school friends, wearing a size 16 in girl’s clothing, and knowing deep down that I should be ashamed, and finally, when I was twelve years old, subjecting myself to Weight Watchers.

[img_assist|nid=21|title=Circa age fifteen|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=262|height=400]At the time, I weighed 79 kilograms, or about 175lbs. I dieted myself down to 70 kilograms (154lbs), but given that I’m only 5’4” tall, the goal listed on my little purple diet booklet suggested I should be around 67kg maximum. Maybe I would have got there, maybe I wouldn’t have, but I moved interstate, got a job working at McDonald’s, stopped playing netball, focused all my efforts on staying home and studying…

Yeah, I gained the weight back. And a little more, just for spite.

My life became a constant push-and-pull with my body. In high school, I remember fantasising about slicing my stomach off. I used to stand in front of the mirror and tell myself how fucking ugly I was. I actually slapped myself in the face once, after eating a slice of cake.

In grade eleven, I started walking for over an hour every day before school, eating half an apple for breakfast, purging my lunch, and picking at my dinner. I stopped purging because I was worried about ruining my teeth, but the compliments as I got slimmer and slimmer (and tired and pale and irritable and stressed and…) were so satisfying.

The shame I felt when my mother made my formal, or prom outfit, as she measured my waist and pursed her lips and shook her head, was overwhelming. I looked amazing that night. So many people told me how great I looked. All I could think was that I weighed 85 kilograms, having finally given up on the restrictive dieting while I was studying so hard for university entrance.

University is a bit of a blur. I found a boyfriend, something I was convinced would never happen because I was so disgustingly fat. I went on naturopath diet, something horrible, where she wanted me to basically be a vegetarian (no hating on vegos here, but goddammit, I love my meat). My life was a swing of highs and lows, solely centred on whether I lost or gained weight each week.

I went on a medical diet program in my final year. At the beginning, the doctors did an EKG, blood sugars, cholesterol, liver enzymes. They were noticeably surprised that all my levels were normal, and that my blood pressure was perfect. Throughout the six month program, I lost very little weight, although I went to the gym for up two hours every day. I burst into tears at the last appointment. All that had happened was that my blood sugars and liver enzymes had improved, though they were good to start with.

I went on my last diet in January 2008. A local chemist here has a meal-replacement diet; because I was working in an office, I found it very easy to stick to, and lost about 9 kilograms in five weeks. Then I moved to Japan. Of all the places one might expect to find peace with their body, Japan would be pretty low on the list. It’s an image-obsessed culture, where the cult of thin is possibly even more entrenched than it is in the West.

But there was something about it. Maybe it was the fact that my Japanese wasn’t good enough to consume the local media, so all the fat-hatred went straight over my head. Maybe it was the fact that I knew I was going to stand out for a multitude of reasons, my fat being just one of them. Maybe it was the surprising number of compliments I seemed to receive on my clothing. Maybe it was the sweet Japanese man I ended up dating for a significant portion of the time I was there, and who seemed to adore my body. Maybe it was the fact that I was homesick for Western food and didn’t care if I gained weight because I was already massively obese by Japanese standards anyway. Maybe I was just tired of fighting.

We take these bodies of ours for granted, so much of the time. They move us around, with or without assistance from aids, they house our minds and hearts, they protect us. And yet every day we treat them with utter disdain, even hatred, as they refuse to conform to the exceedingly narrow standards society has written for us.

I discovered size acceptance, the radical notion of accepting, even loving yourself at any size. I pored over Shapely Prose, The Rotund, and many more, absolutely astonished that people my size and bigger could be genuinely happy with themselves. After so long railing against it, calling it names and even physically abusing it, I wanted not to hate my body.

It’s not easy, and don’t let anyone try and tell you it is.

[img_assist|nid=22|title=Outift of the day, July 3rd 2009|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=300|height=400]I love to dress well, and I relish the compliments I receive on the clothes I wear, remembering how I used to hide in bust-compressing sports bras, baggy men’s shirts and capri pants. I wear makeup, or don’t wear it, as the fit takes me. I look to other fat people – Beth Ditto of The Gossip, Lesley Kinzel of Fatshionista, and more, for inspiration and help when the overwhelming message of fat hatred overtakes me.

I returned from Japan in April of this year, knowing that I would be thrown back in the media hysteria of obesity, the constant barrage of ‘fat is bad’ messages and the knowledge that every day will be always be a fight. Not a fight to force my body into the thin ideal, but the fight against such a pervasive message of fat hatred.

I no longer diet. I don’t purge or restrict my eating. I eat with joy and delight for the taste of food, sharing it with the people I care about, and nurturing my body. I don’t exercise for two hours every day, but move when I have the time, the inclination, and the ability to do so.

I wrote this not just as an introduction, but as a cathartic exercise to lay down in print how the misery and hopelessness of body hatred doesn’t have to be a part of my life, or of yours. Fat, thin, or anywhere in between, treat your body with respect. It’s a cliché, but it’s true – this body is the only one you’ve got, so you might as well give it the love it deserves.

I’m proud to be a founding member of the Brisbane Axis of Fat, where we acknowledge how inherently subversive it is to chill with your fat body, and are fucking upfront about it.

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  • Kath

    Another awesome blog post. You are all inspirational. I think I will do a version of this myself on my own blog.

  • Becs

    Zoe, when I read things like this – I am so proud of you.

    I do believe that, skinny, fat, or inbetween – if you have been born with a body in reasonable working order, then you should accept and take care of it.

  • Zoe

    :D ! Thank you, and you should totes do your own version – it's amazingly fulfilling process.

  • Zoe

    Yay, I'm so glad you read it – I know you'd understand a lot of the eating disorder stuff too. <3

  • Kath

    I've gone one step further and created my own fat acceptance blog!

  • Frances

    “We take these bodies of ours for granted, so much of the time. They move us around, with or without assistance from aids, they house our minds and hearts, they protect us. And yet every day we treat them with utter disdain, even hatred, as they refuse to conform to the exceedingly narrow standards society has written for us.”

    This! This is golden.

  • Niche Topics

    There's too much pressure to be thin….that's crazy!! I think there's NOTHING WRONG being heavy; being thin is not beautiful.

  • definatalie

    I have to respectfully disagree here – no one wins when we set up one body type against another. We're all beautiful. Some people are naturally fat, some people are naturally thin, some people are naturally in between – there should be no shame!

  • Becs

    Oh, trust me, I do. I can also tell everyone and anyone who will listen how bad it can be for your body to starve yourself.
    Even now, being a little overweight these days thanks to a combination of injury and medication for my arthritis, I'm so very scared to diet. What happens if I start, and can't stop again?
    I suppose having a body that does not work as it should at least means that I am a lot less appearance-based in my judgement of whether a person is worth while or not. These days I'm a great believer in exercise as something to stay fit and healthy. That, or I just really like bashing people up ;)

    Besides, I went out on Saturday and had a ridiculous number of people tell me that my curvy , AU14 body is hot ;) It's all about confidence, really.

  • Becs


    For some people, they are beautiful thin, others are stunning with quite a bit of meat on their bones.
    At any rate, the most amazing thing about a person is not what they look like – and if it is? Then that's a realy worry :S

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