‘It’s not your fault you’re fucked up. It’s your fault if you stay fucked up.’
That’s a bold statement, isn’t it? As if deciding to be not fucked up is as easy a decision to make as choosing a sandwich in Tesco.
(Actually, that’s a really bad analogy. I am notoriously terrible at picking what sandwich I want for lunch).
It comes from the brilliant ‘You Are A Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living An Awesome Life’ by Jen Sincero. Although it gets a little churchy in places, on the whole it’s a glorious celebration of seeing your own wondrousness, which isn’t as easy as it sounds, because the majority of people on this earth have been taught from an early age to revel in their own flaws. We spend years cultivating them to the point where they stop us doing much of anything at all. Which is a bit shit, no? Clever types call these Limiting Beliefs – being so convinced that you’re unable to do something that you never even try it in the first place, or start to do it but then run away crying at the first obstacle. The Badass book basically calls you out on doing this and gives you little hints and tips to start unclenching and to stop putting so much pressure on yourself to be perfect
Which is lovely.
But those perceived flaws… man alive they’re difficult demons to shift. Over the last couple of weeks an old favourite has been closer to mind than I’m necessarily comfortable with: [TRIGGER WARNING/SPOILER ALERT] my weight and how I look.
Firstly, because I have to be back in touch with my sister after years of hostile silence. A chore of a woman, she has rarely made me feel anything less than ‘resembling a wild boar’ and once sent me a diet book for my birthday. I left the house to meet her feeling vaguely well put together (see my ‘clothes are my armour post’ over on Exposing 40) but then afterwards spent 3 days trying to suppress all the bad feelings she’d raised about my appearance (‘What exactly are you trying to do with your hair?’) which led to awkward situations like crying in the supermarket over the bananas.
People can be cruel.
The second reason is because I needed to see my doctor. I’ve seen him three times since moving to the area in 2011, and each time he’s laid into me about my weight– to the point that I’ve put off seeing him this time as I don’t know that there’s been a significant enough amount of weight loss (if any) since my last visit and I just cannot be arsed with another lecture. I would perhaps be willing to listen to him if I took him vaguely seriously – he can’t say the word vagina (preferring the presumably textbook term ‘down there’) and once saw fit to point out that my breasts are different sizes, like I’d never bloody noticed – but mostly I leave his office feeling angry and ashamed, and like I can’t be trusted with my own body.
Which ties in neatly with this post from The Other Livvy, talking about weight issues from a doctor’s perspective. It’s an eloquent, bold and provocative piece, raising some useful points that are great jumping off points for wider discussion.
First of all, vocabulary. The words ‘fat’ and ‘obese’ are, I think, hugely inflammatory. Fat is one of the first insults learned in the playground and to this day it’s a word that will shut me up faster than giving me a cream bun. It’s a cheap, nasty shot designed to cause maximum embarrassment and shame. When you’re younger, You’re Fat = I don’t like you, but as an adult what I hear is ‘You’re lazy, undisciplined and a bit of a failure’. Obese is just as bad: it makes me feel like a warthog. Docs, I’m not saying you have to dress it up euphemistically (no need to roll that turd in glitter), but think about how you phrase things. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words have been used to hurt me for a long long time and can actually do a lot of damage. Take a beat and think beyond the box you have to tick to meet your targets and think about the person in front of you. What you’re saying might not be what they’re hearing, so discuss, don’t lecture. Listen to them.
To be honest, that point goes for anyone who’s ever felt the need to give someone a talking to about their size. Unless they broach it with you first… just don’t. You’re being rude, and you come across as a bit of a bollocks.
Next: Body Positivity is not (IMO) the same as Fat Positivity. As a member of a couple of Fat Positive groups on Facebook I have to say… come on people! I saw a post the other day which was a woman complaining that umbrella manufacturers were discriminating against Fatties because her arse got wet in the rain. FOR FUCKS SAKE. To me, being Body Positive is learning to drown out the voices that tell you you’re worthless cos you have curves, and being Fat Positive is wanting shops to sell pretty clothes in bigger sizes to dress those curves in.
What Fat Positivity shouldn’t be is yelling at the top of your lungs that being a Size 26 can actually be really healthy and in any case those BMI scales are really inaccurate so go and suck it. Livvy makes some good points about the risk of illness due to weight that we should all sit up and take notice of. My dad has wildly out of control type 2 diabetes and has been hospitalized 3 times in the last 6 months. I’m not saying that that such extreme complications could’ve been avoided forever, but I’m pretty sure they’d be less severe now if only he hadn’t been such a dick about it all after his diagnosis 20 years ago and just put the cocking biscuits down. We owe it to ourselves to look after ourselves, surely. Have a slice of cake, sure, maybe just don’t have the whole damn cake. Or if you do, at least go for a walk afterwards.
Which leads me to my last point: exercise. Yes doc, I know it would help me lose weight if I got off my arse occasionally but do you know what? Some days it’s all I can do to actually get out of bed and not hide under the duvet. I’ve got money issues up the wazoo and can’t afford the gym. A wobbly size 20 and going for a run on the streets of central London, are you kidding me? SOMETIMES WE JUST CAN’T DO IT. But again this is attributed to laziness, or making excuses. Last year I told my doctor I was a bit stressed, shortly after half my face had fallen off due to a skin infection (no really, I looked like an extra from The Walking Dead. If it had been a couple of months later I’d have been sorted for Halloween). At the time, I was in the middle of a faintly traumatic break up, my dad was undergoing tests to find out exactly what those suspicious lumps on his pancreas and liver were, my neighbour was threatening to have us evicted over something stupid, I was terrified about how Brexit was going to impact my business, I was skint, and my borough council had decided it would be fun to keep trying to take us to court for unpaid Council Tax (because my flatmate had been paying it into the wrong account). So, you know, not a lot going on. I didn’t get to tell my doctor that any of this was happening because he rolled his eyes at the S word and then started banging on about how I should join a gym. And sadly it’s neither the first time that’s happened nor the first healthcare professional it’s happened with – an instant dismissal that you’re being a wimp. No one normal could possibly be stressed and eat as much cheese as you clearly do, Lardarse.
I know, I know, #NotAllDoctors. Communication is clearly key, on both sides. But it’s not always as simple as ‘Your doctor upset you? Make a complaint’, or ‘Your patient is overweight, tell them to go on a diet but do it nicely’. It’s such a loaded subject that there are no clear solutions and there will always be upset. But perhaps we could all be a bit kinder to each other: to the doctors who started their day looking at someone’s foot fungus and will have to talk about poo with at least 3 people that morning, and to the patients who maybe aren’t as clueless as Doctor Cantsayvagina might think.
As for me and my weight… well. I’ll never be a waif. But my Big Book Of Badassery tells me that I’m already pretty awesome, and anyone who says differently is a bellend (I’m paraphrasing).