Dealing with chronic stress is something I decided needed to be my top priority this year. I have anxiety and I know it is caused by not handling stress and processing my emotions effectively. And I have a lot of emotions. I get physical pains that I know are the results of stress on my body. It is always changing. Some things stay the same, but I also have a rotation of other weird issues that come and go. I know my mom has similar issues and I see how this affects her daily life and I don’t want that to be me in 30 years.
One thing that is important for me to recognize is the role fat bias has had on me. It is a form of chronic stress that I have been dealing with since I was a child. Then, it was being bullied about my size and made to feel different and not accepted. I was constantly trying to change myself and be thin so people would like me and I’d have a chance of having a boyfriend at some point in my life. Since of course I was taught that was not an option at my size, but don’t worry, I had such a pretty face. I was one of the most athletic children growing up, but I was never recognized for any of my physical achievements. I wasn’t really recognized for my educational achievements either, mostly I was just ignored unless it was to discuss my size.
When my mom would take me to the doctor, they constantly wanted to test my thyroid, and any other tests to try and figure out why I was my size. I didn’t really understand it all then, but I knew they were telling me my body was wrong and they were trying to find a way to fix it.
Although my parents were mostly too busy to deal with me and my issues, dieting would come up on occasion and my mom was constantly trying to lose weight herself. My grandma was the worse, constantly criticizing what and how I ate when she was visiting. Sometimes it would become a Cinderella story. One time while visiting her, I was forced to do a gross chore of cleaning chicken waste off of boxes she had me dumpster dive from a local fast food restaurant. I have no idea what she used those waxed cardboard boxes for, but I didn’t want anything to do with them. Having no choice, I was at the side of the house hosing them off and being disgusted, while my cute little (thin) sister was playing not far away in the swimming pool with no responsibilities at all.
Besides personal experiences, there is also the constant barrage of media messaging I received that I was not good enough, no one would ever be attracted to me if I was fat, I must be unhealthy, I will remain all alone, I am unsuccessful, I am unaccepted, I must use all my energy to try and lose weight, I must spend all my time exercising, I am not allowed to enjoy a cupcake, if I ate a cookie I must not be trying enough, I must be eating wrong, there is [insert fad diet] that you must try, you are not worthy. Isn’t that exhausting? Doesn’t that sound stressful?!
As an adult I am so fortunate to be able to find body and fat acceptance. But the reality is that does not change some of my conditioning. No matter what I am doing with my body, I worry it is not enough and that will cause me to die, since I grew up being told fat is a death sentence. This creates a domino effect where I worry about my health, get stressed out, think I am dying, my anxiety gets worse, my stress increases, and my body pain increases, then I try to do more exercises or new exercises, and then I get hurt, and can’t do as much, so then I worry more since I am less active and more in pain. Yikes! And if I go to a doctor, they usually concentrate on my weight and not my actual health issues. I will have to hear about my BMI, or that I refused to get my weight taken. I may hear lectures from doctors concerned about my size when they have not asked me a single question. The doctor knows nothing about me, besides my size, yet think they know my whole story (eat poorly and am not active). One doctor tried recommending to me to eat more vegetables and try walking 15 minutes a day. At the time I was biking over 15 miles a day and already ate a very vegetable abundant vegan diet. She never asked me anything about my lifestyle before making her recommendations. Luckily I currently have a good doctor who addresses my actual health concerns and takes good care of me. This was vital for me to address my chronic stress.
I also worry that I am not worthy. I second guess friendships and relationships. The only ones I rely on 100% is those with non-human animals. I know their love is real and reliable. They were the only ones I could rely on growing up. I have experienced communities where I did not fit in nor was I valued because of my size. Feeling like an outsider in a community I should otherwise thrive in is so infuriating. My partner is great and supportive, but I still allow some doubt to slip in on occasion no matter how much I am shown otherwise.
There are other ways fat bias affects my everyday life and creates stress. Going places where I do not fit into the chair, having to squeeze by someone who does not provide enough space, watching a friendly cashier chat up the people before you in line but suddenly get quiet when they talk with you, online friends who assume you don’t know anything about exercise and explain things like you are a dummy, watching a friend’s friend fat shame others and then ended up at an event and having to share the same space without punching them. I will also bring up doctors again since fat bias is literally killing people. These extra stressors for fat people are very real. I recently watched Brene Brown’s vulnerability ted talk after someone suggested it, and even that contained the disrespectful “headless fatties” imagery and stereotypes that fat people is just the result of food addiction. I can’t catch a break since fat bias is everywhere!
Research supports the claim that people who are stigmatized and marginalized by society experience increased mental and physical health affects. There is a strong argument that a lot of the health issues fat people face is due to these fat bias stressors themselves. Everyone is so quick to blame fat for every and all health issues. What fat people actually need for health is acceptance, quality care, being listened to, and taking weight out of the equation. Personally, if I could walk through life without these constant reminders of how society does not accept me and stereotype me, I would be a much better off. I know anyone who says they are mean to me out of concern for my health is completely full of bullshit. It should be simple to show respect for every person and advocate for health at every size. Anything less than this is simply bigotry.