Fat Folk


I wrote a farewell yoga class for my beloved trainer this week. Final payment for my final session with her. If you’ve forgotten; instead of paying her with money I teach her private yoga classes. Our blessed agreement has come to the end of its season. With the new year she set some new goals. Those goals require her to move away from freelancing and take positions as a staff trainer for hire in local gyms. I already belong to a gym with no paid fitness trainers. This was one of the reasons I joined. It’s not exactly a break-up. We shall remain friends and in truth, I have never turned down a request for yoga-related help for free. If she needs me, I’ll be here. I have no fitness goals so all I foresee requiring of her in the future is friendship.

No fitness goals. It’s a trigger, even after all these years. I remember the first time I was in a gym. I was a teenager. My father’s girlfriend-of-the-moment (GOTM) was signing up for a membership at the gym. I was brought along for some other purpose before or after this errand; I can’t remember which one.  The saleswoman told GOTM about a special sale at the gym that month. With her paid membership a friend could join for free. GOTM offered the free membership to me. I accepted. Girls as poor as me never turned down anything of value for free. The saleswoman began with a tour and then took us into an office for the paperwork.

I was interviewed as to my current exercise habits and my diet. These questions were easy enough answer. I lived on a steady diet of ground beef and boxed starches and I played high school sports. I was asked about my height and weight. I didn’t know my weight but when the church ladies gave me old clothes the sizes 6 and 7 always fit me. I didn’t know my height either. The saleswoman weighed us, took our measurements, and then checked our numbers against a chart. The whole process was rather fascinating to me. It felt like a scientific evaluation and I was perpetually starved for positive attention, which is what I thought this was.

Then I was asked about my goals. I didn’t have any goals. The saleswoman offered to help me set some goals. She started off by asking me which areas of my body I’d like to improve and how much weight I’d like to lose. I didn’t know how to answer these questions. She pressed me, stating that I surely most have some problems with my body. I didn’t want to disappoint her but I truthfully didn’t know I was supposed to be harboring some problems with my body.  She tried again, stating that every woman  has problem areas and every woman wants to lose weight somewhere. Apparently this was common knowledge. I felt inept. Stupid. I sat trying to invent a good answer for her. Everyone was uncomfortable.

GOTM decided to step in and relieve the pressure. She told the saleswoman I wanted to reduce my hips and my thighs and my stomach. I’d never said so. GOTM smiled and nodded at me as if to say, Don’t you? I looked down at my thighs in sudden shame. In lieu of a better answer I went along with it. The saleswoman found this answer to be satisfactory and then followed the formula to craft a training program for me. Then we got a guided workout session on the various machines designed to help me solve my problem body parts. The workout was fun but afterward I went home and studied my hips, thighs, and stomach in the mirror with new criticism. I never went back to the gym because GOTM and Dad broke up. He upgraded to a new GOTM who weighed less, of course.

Looking back on it now I’ve got the obvious rises of ire and indignation but what strikes me as most significant is the ready answer GOTM provided for me. She knew what my problems were supposed to be even if I didn’t yet have them. She knew instinctively what I was supposed to despise about myself. A young girl hadn’t yet identified any unacceptable body parts for herself but the older woman knew what these were supposed to be. She knew the correct answer to give on my behalf, regardless of how my body actually appeared. Or how I felt about it. Or how I failed to feel about it. It takes my breath away now. Such assurance in her answer for me; I guess I had to age this much to appreciate how incredible it was.

Do moms do this with daughters? This was GOTM’s surrogate role in the moment, to guide the teen daughter in the ways of adult women. Was this her conditioned responsibility? From this point forward you may never be alive and not want to lose weight. From this point forward you may never be awake, lucid, and conscious and not have a problem with your body, its shape, its mass, and its appearance. You must think about this every day of your life for the rest of your life now. Constant, perpetual dissatisfaction, this is what must be transferred to the ignorant young lady with no mother of her own. For the years I did have a mother she was preoccupied with losing weight too. She was fat and unhappy every moment I knew her. She left before I hit puberty so she never got around to training me in the ways of women. Lucky there were other women around to fill in.

I grew up. When I lived in Arizona I worked as nanny for a few years. I took the girls to the park. Moms who were friends with the girls’ mother invited me to sit with them while the kids played together. One little girl was fatter than the others but her mom was obviously not present or not part of the group. The other moms clucked that this little girl’s mom had better do something about it. She’d better not let her grow up that way. All the moms nodded and responded with sounds of agreement. This was already well-known to them, that it’s a mom’s responsibility not to let a girl grow up fat or grow up to be fat. A fat child was the negligence of a mother to train her properly. As I said, lucky these women were there to reinforce lest I had daughters of my own and failed to indoctrinate them.

Look how culture has changed though. It’s okay to be fat now. We don’t consider it a failure anymore. It’s a right. It’s a choice. More importantly, it’s an acceptable choice now. We don’t even call it fat anymore. We call it curvy. Or thick. Or any one of the body-positive terms that have replaced the body-negatives. The pendulum has swung far. Now we are supposed to teach our daughters to love their bodies and love them double-hard if their bodies are fat. If they want to get fat or be fat we are supposed to let them do it in peace and accept it. We coach them to celebrate their bodies now and to expose it with confidence. Fat is in. We aren’t supposed to hate anything about our bodies now. All bodies are beautiful now. All weights are included now. Fat is allowed. Fat is accommodated. Fat is embraced. Fat is lovable and loved.

I should say, as long as we don’t call it fat, of course. Fat is a three-lettered four letter word. It’s a bad word now. It’s a fat-shaming word. It’s bad to fat-shame now. Being fat used to be shameful. Being ashamed of being fat is shameful now. Shame is shameful now. Fat is now beautiful.

I wonder what my former trainer will ask now when she takes a teenage gym recruit into the little office to do the paperwork. How is fitness sold now that we’ve taken fat out of the equation as a motivator? I wish I’d thought to ask. Do fitness trainers who work in commission sales incorporate body-positive strategies into the pitch now? I remember the years I was teaching public yoga classes. I LOST MY SHIT when the new year rolled around and I saw a fellow yoga teacher using weight loss language to market her classes to the masses. I flew into a scratching, spitting, cursing rage. Would a mother lose her shit these days if a gym seller asked her teen daughter about weight loss and problem areas as done years ago? Would a salesperson be fired for that now? Vilified on the internet? I wonder. Maybe I’ll give her some time to settle into her new job and then ask.

I need a cultural historian. Are there any cultural historians in the house? Is this the first time fat has gotten a heyday, or does it have a cycle? Like a 100-year flood, is fat making its inevitable comeback? Is this the peak of a fat cycle or is this a phenomenon? Is it a revolution? Will it stick? Is it part of the empowerment movement? Is it a natural side effect of the resistance movement? Will it recede when the various movements stall or lose momentum?

It hasn’t escaped my notice that the dire medical warnings about the dangers of obesity are not working. We don’t consider ourselves obese because the standard has changed. We’ve redefined obesity because we’ve reset the average. The average is fat now. When we speak of the obese we aren’t speaking of the average fat, so the average fat aren’t worried and aren’t listening. Fat And Healthy is a thing now.

As for healthy, we’ve redefined this term too. I love myself, ergo I am healthy. Healthy can now mean anything. If you’re not dead yet you’re healthy. Diseased And Healthy is a thing. Disordered And Healthy is a thing. Disabled And Healthy is a thing. Medicated And Healthy is a big thing. I truly don’t know how we could ever agree on a common definition of healthy anymore. It can mean anything we want. It means everything we want.

All the cool kids have a condition these days. Celebrities endorse them now. We’ve got support for living with anything you can imagine these days. All the best people have several illnesses going at once. It’s weird not to have a condition of some kind now. It’s extremely weird not to talk about them when we circle up to chat and share.  Hell, even I blog openly about my heart, skin, and spilled my guts about all my emotional problems before it was cool. It’s cool now. This is what we do now.

There’s also money in it now. If you want to make a bundle of money these days, market your malady. The malady-laden with give you their money. It’s amazing. I’ve watched it happened. That same weight loss yoga teacher I mentioned before has now “come out” on her blog with her conditions. She rolled out a series of condition confessions in perfectly timed succession. To date she’s up to six disorders revealed. Perfectly healthy and thriving she is, with six different debilitating disorders. People now pay her money to talk about her struggles, which makes her a consultant. She wrote a book and went on tour. She doesn’t even have to teach yoga anymore. She’s closing all her yoga locations and her yoga school. There is more money in illness than wellness. This is a business model now. She nailed it.

So here I sit, a wellness enthusiast, watching this change unfold and develop, wondering if it’s a phase, wondering if my voice is dissonant in the chorus, wondering if it matters, wondering how to help people heal when people don’t want to be healed anymore. Unwellness grants us much more access than wellness these days. I’m solo. I’m obsolete again, wanting to help people be well in a world doing just fine without it as long as there is a community of kindred sufferers to tell us it’s perfectly normal to be miserable, sick, terrified, and broken all the time. This is the new healthy.

Like I told my trainer when she left, when they need me I’ll be here. I’ll still be here with the unpopular, uncool, off-trend, non-lucrative message of getting well and being well. I truly have no fucks left to give over fat or thin. I’m tired of it all. I’ve grown loathsome of looking at both kinds of bodies in bikinis because I’ve grown weary that it matters so much. Each body settles at or near its natural wellness weight when we are earnestly practicing wellness in body, mind, and spirit. There is no model. Neither shame nor support matters more than baseline wellness in the fat fight, and from what I have observed neither side is helping the other. So I’ll be here when y’all get tired of it too, still doing the work.

— Mercy

One Comment Add yours

  1. mishedup says:

    I’d like to read THAT book (yours).
    But then I don’t care about any of it.
    But it would be revolutionary to just write about wellness. NO MATTER WHAT
    There’s gotta be a market.
    It doesn’t have to be a racket


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