I love fat people. I've always loved them in art, size has never discouraged a celebrity crush, a hook-up, a friendship, a smile, an instagram follow. So why did I have a problem with photos of myself that showed my size? Why did I always find myself quietly deleting photos from cabaret performance albums? Mate, I was bloody rolling around on the floor with no shoes on yelling "I'm an Acrobat!" it's not like I was in it to look flattering, right?
I felt like a hypocrite, I loved looking at humans that size, just not myself - what was my problem? Well, I did some thinking and here it is, in long-form. Again, still feel like a bit like a wanker for putting my thoughts on the internet, I'm not 100% sure they actually make sense, and I don't expect people to read them, but if anything this will serve as a good reminder for me if/when I lapse back into shitty thoughts about myself, so here goes:
Firstly, I love fat. Burlesque, pinup, and fine art all played a significant role in teaching me about beautiful, soft, rebellious bodies. I still remember discovering Dirty Martini right at the beginning of my burlesque journey and immediately being drawn to not just her amazing charisma and presence, but her appearance too. Her costumes did not hide her shape, they emphasised it. Around the same time I started following Tess Holliday (or as she was known then, Tess Munster). I studied art pieces by artists like Jenny Saville, and was exposed to so many wonderful bodies through life drawing sessions in and out of uni. Something about drawing bodies shaped differently (or not) to yours really lets you reflect on their beauty. The shape, form, line, texture and contours of humans are wonderful, and it's easy to appreciate them when you spend your time quietly focusing on reproducing them on the page. I marvelled at how artists would recreate soft human textures on flat canvases, or out of cold marble - those folds and curves were magical! Nothing like an art degree to really show you the value of nudity.
So, with all this appreciation for the human form, why was it that when I looked back at photos of me from shows, I'd curse my belly or chin, and delete certain photos from existence? What kind of crazy self-hating hypocrite was I? If I were to put a photo of myself side-by-side with a model like Tess Holliday, I'd easily see the beauty in her, but criticise myself. How could someone who so loudly preached acceptance not turn that on herself - what was the difference between us really? I wanted to be that happy, fashionable, confident plus-sized girl, and sometimes I was, but my feelings fluctuated, and all too often I felt negatively about myself. Granted, plus sized models' photos are often styled, lit and edited perfectly, but I figured I still must really have some shit I needed to figure out.
I bought myself books like this one and this one (this is clearly back when I had money), but never really got anywhere, my thoughts were still messy and jumbled. It took me some years to figure it out... My body was not within my control. It did not reflect how I wanted to feel. FEEL, not look. I was outrageously tired almost all the time - I'd have to stop myself falling asleep during classes at work, or worse, driving between jobs. I was always sick. There was a period there where for every single Lady Velvet Cabaret grad show for maybe 3 years, I was sick, running on cold & flu tablets and caffeine pills. I'd get sick once a month or so, even after having my tonsils removed. It happened so often that I didn't even bother taking sick leave, I just rolled with it. I exercised so hard but instead of getting fitter, I just got bigger and more tired. I had no connection to my body, my cycle (what is?), my period, which never arrived on its own anyway. I was permanently bloated, often depressed, and felt completely disconnected from my body. Other people would say they could restrict their diet and lose 5kg for a wedding, or that they could tell when they were about to get their period, or that they felt sick/tired after eating a particular food - not me. It seemed that my body and I just weren't on speaking terms.. I didn't know what it wanted, I didn't like how it operated, and it's hard to love your body when you don't understand it and can't control it. When I saw my fat, I didn't see beauty like I did in others - I just felt confusion and disappointment - why was it there despite all my hard work, and why did my body never change the way others' did?
After so long trying to do the 'normal' fitness and health thing, I didn't feel any better. Doctors told me I must be doing something wrong, or probably assumed I was lying in my food diary. By this time of course I was naturally resistant to doing much to manage my PCOS (especially because I'd just been told to stay on the pill, eat more olive oil, and lose weight.. uhhh thanks). But once I started to research it and change aspects of my lifestyle, I discovered a connection to my body I'd never had before. I understood changes in blood sugar and insulin levels and could rectify the situation before I fell asleep in Little Timmy's piano lesson. I understood better my hormones, bloating, and how to exercise properly (hint: it's not high intensity interval training, despite the best efforts of my personal trainer to destroy me). I started to track nutrients, NOT calories - I have no idea how many calories I consume a day, but I can tell you how many grams of protein and carbs I try and stick to for each meal, and which foods I should eat when I feel myself crashing. I'm not depressed all the time, and I can tell when it's just PMS making me cry over a Woolworths ad. I feel good. I'm constantly shoving avocado in my face. Yes, I lost a bit of weight, but I know now that's not what I'm after. I want to be well, I want to be happy, I want to have the energy to be creative and enjoy my life, and I am being 1000% honest here: I'm totally chill with being fat too. Forever. I'm fine with it - nay, stoked. Do you know you can get a leopard print jumpsuit in up to a 5XL? What a time to be alive! Someone has to be the fabulous confident fat chick, and it may as well be me. It just takes energy, and wellbeing (mental & physical), which I have now
So what did I learn..
- All bodies can be out of control. Some people lose weight uncontrollably due to chronic illness - it's not a cause for celebration, and they certainly may have their own issues they're struggling to come to terms with. Maybe don't congratulate them on their weight loss. In fact maybe don't congratulate anyone on weight loss, unless you know without a doubt that's what they want?
- Maybe congratulate them on something else? On all the delicious healthy cooking you see on their instagram feed.. on how clear their skin looks now.. on how their instagram stories always brighten your day.. on how they're getting so much done, and you hope they're happy and still giving themselves time to relax.
- Not loving your size? Follow others who are your size. See bodies like yours every day in your instagram feed, in your university lectures, in your sketchbook. Think nice thoughts about them, appreciate them. Think those nice thoughts about yourself too, if you can. I know it's not easy. Why don't you start by following Crooked Images? Seeing bodies just like yours shot in beautiful natural lighting with no Photoshop is definitely a good start. You may even decide one day that you're ready to get that treatment yourself!
- Feel like shit all the god damn time, no matter your size? You don't have to. YOU DON'T HAVE TO. If you have a doctor who asks you the equivalent of "have you tried putting down/picking up the fork?", find another doctor. Get to a specialist if you can afford it - a naturopath, a dietician, get blood tests, hormone tests, whatever. It's not normal to be exhausted all the time, but doctors must see it all the time - it's probably so easy for them to to say "diet and exercise", but when you get home and you're too exhausted to sit up or make toast, then "diet and exercise" is not exactly helpful advice.
- Get on the internet, it's freeeeeee. Find people like you, follow accounts that motivate you, give advice, or educate you. Did you know that the vast majority of serotonin in the body lives in your god damn gut? If your body is unhappy it literally affects your brain. If you can spend a bit more effort taking care of your body, the other benefits will eventually come. By "taking care of your body" I don't mean "trying to lose weight", by the way. They're not necessarily the same thing.
- You don't have to overhaul your entire way of thinking, or your lifestyle, in one day. If you expect yourself to fix everything tomorrow, then you are setting yourself up for failure (sometimes deliberately, because it's 'too hard' or it's a job for your Future Self). Do just one small thing. Post one nice comment on a photo of someone else's body today, and know that you took a step in the right direction. Buy clothes that fit you and if they don't, get rid of them because they're not doing their job - put just one ill-fitting item up on Buy Nothing or chuck it in the Op Shop bin, and you've already taken one step in the right direction. Fuck your "one day" pile of clothing that's too small - there's only one day that matters, and that's today.
- Want some ideas for One Small Thing to do that will make you feel like you're on the path to making things better? Here are some ideas.. - Do your dishes before you go to bed tonight - Make your bed after you get up tomorrow morning - Do a face mask before you go to bed. This one's just over 2 bucks - Throw some old shitty food out of your fridge - If you're too overwhelmed to make a day/time for that appointment you've been putting off - send an email about it asking for availability instead, at least you've taken one productive step towards getting it done - Tidy your bathroom first and then celebrate with a bath, and yeah, instagram the shit out of it if you want to ...Essentially: Have a list of 50 things to take care of? Just do one today. Celebrate. Repeat. Just do one of them - don't do all the things on the list above, unless you really can and want to.
So, Future Sylvia - I hope you remember all of this. If you ever forget, here it is... you better take your own advice now because you just went and put it on the damn internet.