On Karen Carpenter
When I was about six or seven, I learned that my favourite singer in the world at the time had passed away at a young age. In age appropriate language, my mum explained anorexia to me: about how Karen Carpenter (vocalist of the 70s brother sister duo The Carpenters) got told that she was too fat by some mean people, and so she decided to stop eating. That went on for so long that she eventually died in her early thirties because she got so thin. That just broke my little heart – probably not for the first time, and definitely not for the last.
In my kid brain, I thought ‘that’s terrible’ and decided to take action. I stayed in many a morning tea times and lunchtimes at school and I made posters. I don’t know why no one thought to tell me that I could just make the one and then photocopy it. I hand wrote maybe ten, fifteen or twenty times: “Some people think that people are fat, and that’s not very nice.” I drew some pictures of some fat stick people and that’s how I expressed my views on the matter. I took them home; my aunty came around, saw them and thought, oh those are awesome! She shoulder-tapped a friend and asked if they would help us distribute these posters around the CBD. Together, we put them up around Cuba Street, Manners Mall and Courtenay Place. At the time, I thought it was pretty cool, and that people needed to know about this. Now I’m like, woah girl, steady on – but power to ya!
On Weight Gain
When I was 18, shortly after moving overseas, I reached my heaviest ever weight. I was made aware that I was being gossiped about by family members, so wrote this blog post – Body Image: Why I’m “Fat” Sometimes. I figured that if I made my struggles public knowledge, I would regain some power over the situation, and I could hopefully relinquish some of the shame I had felt about gaining weight that year. The title is provocative totally on purpose, and I don’t agree with everything I wrote in that post at the time, but I also think the bulk of it still rings true to me.
When I look at those pictures, I realise now that, for 1. I wasn’t even fat in the left picture. I was just carrying 10-15kg more than my frame naturally is used to carrying, and I was just heavier than my body was used to being. I went up about 3 dress sizes, which was enough to make me feel hideous and unattractive. I thought I was disgusting; I hated my body, and I felt very undesirable. Clinically speaking, I was overweight for my stature, but only just.
It’s also worth noting that at my lowest weight in the picture above I was also probably the most depressed that I have ever been in my life. I look back at these photos and think, wow, I look too thin. I remember how unhappy I was, and I remember how losing weight made me feel in control of something. I never did it on purpose: it was symptomatic of my depression and anxiety. I was living with a heaviness and a feeling like there was a physical knot in my stomach; I was so anxious I would forget about eating, and my appetite was virtually zero. This is probably because my fight or flight response had kicked in and my body was preparing itself for what it thought could be a physical threat to me. Our physiology is clever like that, but it can also be kinda primitive and unhelpful, as in the scenario above.
I gained this weight when I was in Bahrain, living a very sedentary lifestyle. I was lonely and I was depressed and I was isolated, and I was eating for a multitude of reasons: because food was there, I wanted to pass the time, and because food tastes good. When I started noticing my weight gain, and I couldn’t fit clothes that I used to be able to fit, I was essentially like oh shit oh shit oh shit. I started exercising at the home gym upstairs; I started going on runs. Meanwhile, I was telling myself ew I’m horrible; I’m disgusting.
I look back and I go:
- Abby you weren’t even fat
- Why are you so judgemental about your own appearance?
To quote my 18 year old self in said provocative blog post, and summarise my message:
So to anyone, especially girls, who struggle/have struggled with their body image – I get ya. It can be stressful and all-consuming, but my advice would be: make sure your head is in the right place first. Is your body-related stress justified? Are you fretting about something you can change – or something that actually even needs to change? From there, figure out simple things you can do to make yourself feel happier and more well. For example:
- going for a walk or jog in the outdoors
- prepping a yummy and healthy meal
- joining a sports team/exercise class
Exercise is proven to lift your mood – due to the release of endorphins – and combined with good nutrition, is really important for a healthy mind and body. Of course, everybody knows this: it’s one thing to know it, and another thing to apply it. It doesn’t have to be hard. Most importantly: cultivate that self-love! Once you have it down, you will never want to let it go.
Fatphobia in the Media
I will be the first to admit that I have done and said some damaging things to people in my life that has exacerbated fatphobia – both theirs and my own, as well as just generally. I am sorry for this. It is not my place to judge, even when my intentions are good-hearted and coming from a place of love.
In society, we are taught by media that fat people are lesser. We are taught that being overweight is undesirable. We are taught to praise ourselves and others when we lose weight – regardless of how we lose it; regardless of whether we are happy and healthy and doing it intentionally or not. Karen Carpenter was praised for starving herself. I know people who are judged for their weight on a daily basis. Heck, I’m part of the problem. I still experience internalised fatphobia sometimes – towards myself and towards others. Some of this learning is implicit. Body image issues are typically more prevalent in girls and women, but that does not mean that boys, men or gender non-conforming people cannot also suffer from it too. It is pretty hard to escape body image insecurities. It’s a very human thing, and it’s exacerbated by media, diet culture, locker room gossip – in So. Many. Places.
On Losing Weight
Most of the time people praise people when they notice they have lost weight – which on the surface, can seem fine. (Often it is!) However, it is important to be aware that sometimes when people lose weight, they are not necessarily going about it in healthy ways – e.g. Karen Carpenter, who lost her life to her eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses. It’s pretty goddamn terrifying.
The Big Picture
Body image is a key part of our well-being and our happiness. From my perspective, if you’re not comfortable/happy with your body, it’s really hard to be content as a person. Unfortunately, so much of ourselves seems to be tied to how you look and how people perceive you. I will be the first to call myself out for things that I have done – sometimes in relationships, sometimes within myself – there are so many fatphobic things that I have done. Some of it is because of society and what is has taught me. Some of it has been modelled off adults in my life or even my peers and my friends. We’ve had all these, in hindsight, not very good conversations like ‘oh I’ve gained so much weight’ and ‘oh I need to be this number’.
Reflecting On My Reflection
I have come a long way in my views towards my own body image since I was twelve, fifteen, eighteen – but I’m not fully there yet. I don’t always love myself in the way that I should or I that I want to, but I heck’n love myself more than I ever have, and that’s the main thing. We’re all on a journey in that respect.
- Don’t judge people for their weight: don’t judge people for how much they carry on their body. It’s not your business; it’s their business.
- People gain and lose weight for a variety of reasons: some of those reasons are healthy; some of those reasons are not, and that’s just the way it is.
- Cut yo’self some slack! You’re a human. I’m a human. We get things wrong and we all have pain and struggles.
Obviously, I’m a straight-sized person. (Pretty much the only kind of straight I am lol)
However, I have been overweight, both as a youngster and as an adult. I was overweight through much of my toddlerhood and childhood. Then I went vegetarian at the age of eight – (not because of this, but because I was extremely uncomfortable when I realised that the meat that was on my plate used to be animals. I went, that’s actually quite horrible.) But that’s a whakaaro for another blog post…
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.– Maya Angelou