January 8, 2013

Fat is Not an Emotion.

So why do so many of us have days when we “feel fat” regardless of our actual weight and shape?

On days when I feel fat—” Anna Guest Jelley, founder of body-positive company Curvy Yoga, stops herself. “Fat is not an emotion,” she corrects, and moves on with her talk on modifying a yoga practice for curvy bodies.

Fat is not an emotion. That phrase has stayed with me since she said it. Literally, it’s true: fat is a vital substance in our bodies that stores energy, keeps us warm, and nourishes our organs when they get stressed out.

One of my teachers, Tomas Hicks, calls it the Superficial Fascial Layer, and he describes it as a testing zone between you and the outside world. It’s the first place you get a sense of whether or not you feel safe in a certain place. Your fat layer is the physical location of your intuition. Fat is many things, but it’s not an emotion.

So why is it that every woman I’ve ever known, and most of the men I’ve talked to about it, have days where they “feel fat” regardless of their actual weight and shape? And why do I feel it so often these days?

Photo: Helga Weber

I consider myself a pretty aware person. I avoid trashy magazines and try not to watch too much TV. I know that advertisements for diet and beauty products would love for me to feel fat all the time so that I give them all my money. I understand that people’s bodies, especially women’s, fluctuate depending on all kinds of different cycles, and I never weigh myself anymore.

I’ve always believed that if you feel good, it doesn’t matter whether or not you look good.

We have a bad case of cultural body dysmorphia, and get confused about what we think we look like, what we actually look like, and what we think we should look like. I’ve always felt that as long as you feel good, it doesn’t matter if you look good, because who really cares other than you?

The thing is, I don’t feel good. This year I had some injuries that stopped me from running and cycling and caused me to greatly modify my yoga practice. I dealt with the jarring reality of sexual predators being revealed in communities where I thought I was safe, and faced some very questionable business practices at one of my workplaces. This year I found myself feeling unsafe, silenced, and powerless in ways I couldn’t fully understand, so I reacted in the most reasonable way possible: sitting around feeling fat.

I’ve always been slim. The skinny genes in my family are so extreme in my brother’s case that, family legend goes, he would have a grilled cheese sandwich and a litre of chocolate milk before bed every night, and wake up thinner in the morning. My slimness is a little less hilarious: it started in high school with a long bout of anorexia. At five-foot-eight and 102 pounds, I was always surprised when people told me how good I looked and how they wished they had my body. I would look down and pinch the soft mounds of skin around my waist, wishing I could be just a little bit smaller. I think I mostly just wanted to disappear.

Gaining back the weight was very hard, and many days it felt like drowning in my own skin. The more space I took up, the more visible I became, the more susceptible I was to violation. My anorexia was never really about trying to attain some goal of beauty and thinness, it was all about taking control in a world where I felt I had none. Fat is not an emotion.

Feeling fat, I’ve concluded, means feeling out of control of your body. That’s an emotion.

I’m 29 years old now, and I still avoid the scale. I actually don’t know for sure if I’ve gained weight, but moments this year had me beached like a blue whale out of water. We get messages every day that our bodies are a) not good enough and b) not truly our own. Speaking up against injustice is often discouraged, even in the yoga community, where non-violence too frequently gets translated as “shut up and keep the peace.”

Shut up and breathe.

When we struggle to keep our unruly mouths shut, perhaps we turn to the one thing we do have control over: what we put in them. We scapegoat the fat in our bodies because it will shift and change at our will to some degree, but were we to truly succeed at eradicating our fat, we would die. So we are stuck in a cycle of trying to master something that we can never really get a handle on.

I wish I had a solution for this. I know that our world is evolving quickly, and the easy sharing of information through platforms like this one are helping to create more awareness in our world, and thus we are, hopefully anyway, less and less cogs in our own machine.

Perhaps all I can do at this point is recognize that the next time I find myself feeling fat, what I am actually feeling is powerless. Then I can ask myself: what can I do right now to feel like my voice is being heard? What can I do to feel safer, stronger, and more empowered? Whether it’s yoga, Kung Fu, or a strongly worded letter, I will get better at finding ways to stop scapegoating my fat and find my strength instead. 

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Ed: Lynn Hasselberger

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