Tuesday, April 5, 2016

What is Being Fat Like?

You know. This is a blog post I've thought about making for so long. For years and years there's a part of myself that I've been hiding from my blog, disguising myself by only showing pictures of my face or very, very carefully posed photographs. But after living in Korea, and after many tear-filled conversations with my boyfriend, it's time to give up the ghost regarding my secret.

I... am plus sized. But you know I loathe the word. I hate that term. It's like, you're not just a person, but a little extra, too! Not petite and waifish... but PLUS sized. So I'm not going to use that term anymore. And I won't say big boned, either. I won't say chubby, I won't say large. Let's just use the term fat and overweight. And before any of this starts, let me say, I don't think I'm ugly. I like my face, and I think I'm pretty. I just hate my body. I mean, I used to hate my body. Now I'm trying to love it. Anyway.

When I taught in Seoul, the first day of me shadowing the teacher I would be replacing, he asked,  does anyone have any questions for Julia Teacher?"

A hand shot up!

Why are you so fat?"

My face burned. I felt ashamed, disgusted, and homesick. I wanted to run away. Why did I make this choice?

The next class, a different teacher I shadowed, a hand shot up!

Do you eat a lot of cheeseburgers?"
Your belly is too big!"
Cows are big and you are big so are you a cow?"
Monkeys are fat you look like a monkey because you're fat"
Is your favorite food cheeseburgers?"
Why is this so soft? My mom doesn't have this."

The comments poured in over the weeks, into the months. Some days I cried. Some days I would just get angry or say, that isn't kind!" I loathed meeting new students. When we had camps" to bring in more students, I dreaded meeting them and meeting that one smart aleck (ALWAYS a boy, not sure why that is) who would make some snide comment about how I looked.

After a while though, I just accepted it. Yes, this is my body. Yes there is a surplus of fat. What else? I started asking my students this question.

Yes I am fat. So? Does that mean I'm not kind? Does that mean I'm not smart? There are so many more important things than how someone looks. Are they a good friend? Do they help their mom?"

When a major Korean holiday came along, all the teachers got to dress up in traditional clothes. I was so excited! I had dreamed of this! But our boss was too cheap to rent Hanbok that would fit Americans. He borrowed them from this thin wife and even thinner aunt. I wanted to wear it so badly. Everyone else was, and it was really my dream to wear one. The string didn't tie across well, the back is exposed. They try clipping it to make it fit, I'm humiliated, I don't even want to see my students. They all look so beautiful that day. Eventually they have me keep the skirt on, held together with alligator clips, and take my shirt for that day and tuck it in. The saddest attempt at Hanbok. All the other teachers looked so beautiful, but I didn't even want my picture taken that day. I hated myself.
Korea is a very image based society. You can see that through all the advertisements that line the streets. You know that because Seoul is a plastic surgery destination, meaning people travel from around the world for cosmetic surgery there. People really care how they look. They put time and attention into skincare, cosmetics, hair care, and creating the right outfit  concept." I liked it, too! I wanted to look pretty, too. Even when I tried, even when my boyfriend assured me, you look cute today!" I didn't believe it. I was so awkward in pictures. You could tell I didn't like my body.
Don't take my picture! I'm not cute."

It was hard living somewhere and sticking out like a sore thumb. Not only was I overweight, but I had shockingly white skin and bright red hair, blue eyes-- none of the trademarks of a traditional Korean form.

When I would walk on the streets people stared. And when I walked with my (Korean) boyfriend, they stared EVEN MORE. And I've been trained to hate myself. Since I was six and in P.E. my friends and I were comparing what parts of our bodies we hated and I said, I like my legs up to... here," a little above the knee. And every year it went down more and more until I didn't like any part of my leg anymore. And every girl has a story like this.

So when I saw foreign eyes staring at me in curiosity, annoyance, admiration, or disinterest, I wanted to crumble. And when I walked next to my boyfriend, I would imagine their thoughts. How is she dating someone like that?" Why on Earth does he like her?" "He could do so much better." These voices assaulted me every day and I constantly had to fight to feel a speck of pride for myself. My hair looks nice today" or my eye isn't acting up today, that's nice."
(Sometimes Koreans are very serious in pictures and I started doing that, too. We love each other, I promise).

Do you know what its like wanting to cloak your body in your surroundings, have it disappear from all view, melt into the ground and have no one look at you because you're already disgusted enough with yourself?
I cried to my boyfriend, who didn't really understand. He had been chubby as a kid, but he started martial arts and lost his baby fat. He knew what being fat was like but he always had confidence. People would say to him, you're fat!" and he would punch them. But their words didn't really bother him or get under his skin like they did to me.

One of my last nights in Korea I was crying (I cry a lot, I guess), I hated myself, I hated my body, all my clothes show that, they hide it, I look down at the ground, I put my body behind other people's in pictures, I avoid laughing too much because I have a double chin. My boyfriend was upset, I hate hearing you talk about yourself like this," he says. He never says, you're beautiful even though your fat." He says, I like your body. I think you're beautiful. I wish you loved yourself."
I promised him when I came back to America that I would work on this. I would push myself to have confidence. I want to do it for him, but I really want to do it for myself. I'm tired of being unfriendly to my body. It's truly exhausting.

I have PCOS. It's really hard to lose weight. But you know what? I could work harder. And I want to. But you know what else? I'm a healthy girl. I may not look healthy because I have excess fat, but I am! I am active and I want to be more active. I don't eat that well... but I want to eat better! I wish people wouldn't compare thinness to health.

I go through instagram, tumblr, blog after blog, and I know skinny is the ideal in western and Asian cultures. I'm not sure about Africa, the Middle East, South America, Australia/ New Zealand or the Polynesian Islands. I don't know the body ideals in those parts of the world. I haven't lived there and I haven't studied those cultures. But all these blogs, all these girls aspiring to be thin... do you think most of them do it because they want to be healthy? I would venture to say your average teenage girl wants to be thin to be attractive, sexual, pleasing in the eye of her suitor.

I want to be healthy. I want to hike and not be out of breath, I want to feel good after a meal and not greasy inside. I want to lose weight so tying my shoe isn't as uncomfortable, and jogging hurts a little less (cause of the stomach jiggle, you know what I'm saying?).

You know what else I want? Overweight people to feel happy about themselves. For fat to be the same as thin in the sense that it isn't a conversational issue (unless that person is putting themselves at risk for death due to an eating disorder). I don't think wanting overweight people to be happy is promoting obesity or unhealthy lifestyles, just like wanting better prisons doesn't make a person support their crime. It's human decency, isn't it?

I'm tired of going to Urban Outfitters, Madewell, Free People, Wildfox and seeing things like

XS, S, M, L

and then going into the men's section of the SAME clothing stores (Urban Outfitters, etc) and seeing

S, M, L, XL, XXL, XXXL

It's a double standard, it's disgusting, and it limits our choices. There aren't enough fun, high quality clothes for oversized gals. We are left with the polyester scraps, the unflattering draping, or the horrendous boot cut jean (no offense to my cowgirls out there). What about activewear? How despicable is it that I go into Nike hoping to find some running shorts only to see they don't go past an XL, and even then, the cut is very small?  I have to resort to searching for activewear online and it's none of the fun stuff, either. It's not the cool cuts like Taylor Swift is wearing in her new commercial. So what, we are supposed to lose weight and get healthy with our oversized gas station t-shirts? Working out and being attractive at the same time is only for the svelte I suppose.

So, I guess. This is me declaring. You may see more pictures of my fat body on here. Or on my instagram or tumblr. You may see me being more vocal about positive affirmations, loving yourself, eating healthy, or my progress (or lack of) with exercise. I might use the hashtag "effyourbodystandards" and other charged things like this.

I hope someone can relate to this. I hope girls who are overweight and in just a white t-shirt and jeans can be viewed as sexy and fashion forward as their thin counterparts. And I hope if you think of anyone this could help, or who would like to discuss a topic in here, that you will relay them back to me. I hope you like that I'm going to post more pictures of myself, and try to be fashionable and happy even though everywhere I turn there are people encouraging me that it's not possible. I hope someday, my dream of having an oversized staff somewhere like Vogue will be possible, and that high quality clothes from places like Dior and Howard Wang and Joes Jeans will be possible. And that going to the doctor's office won't yield a response like, losing weight would help (literally insert anything here)." Let's knock down some wells. But seriously? Can we start being kinder to each other? Let the fat girl dance.
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