Growing up, I considered fatphobia to be completely normal. I didn’t know what ‘fatphobia’ was or that it was a term but I remember feeling that I would be better and more loveable if I were to be smaller and take up less space.
Slimness equated health and happiness, while fatness was equal to being unhealthy and unworthy in my mind. I didn’t see fat people as unhealthy or unworthy, however, I viewed myself as being fat because my body had fat so therefore I must be hard to love and undeserving of nice things.
This unfortunately was not uncommon. My primary school friends and I would often go on diets where we wouldn’t allow ourselves to eat sweets. Instead of playing in the yard at lunchtime, we would do laps of the yard to ‘get our steps up’. I feel like getting a pedometer through a school scheme also further negatively fed into this.
Looking back now it isn’t surprising that I ended up developing an eating disorder in my teen years. It wasn’t so much about being skinny but more so what I thought skinny would give me; happiness, confidence, being liked, not having worries. It quickly escalated and I became unwell, requiring hospitalisation. I was so scared to gain weight in fear of becoming fat. I discussed this fear with my healthcare team and they educated me about the internalised stigma and fatphobia I had.
Fat is not a feeling
It helped me to talk about it and learn that how I was thinking and feeling wasn’t true. I learned that I was, and always had been, worthy of love and nourishment and happiness. My team educated me on the importance of fat which really helped me too. They talked to me about how our bodies need fat to stay warm and protect our organs and fight infection.
They also discussed with me how fat isn’t actually a feeling. Fat is something we all have and need, but it isn’t a feeling, the same way we have toenails, but do not feel toenails. That really helped me to challenge my inner fatphobia, especially when I have days where I get that thought of feeling fat. I know that fat isn’t a feeling so what is it that I’m actually feeling? Is it guilt, self-consciousness, or that I’m not enough? And then how can I care for myself in a positive and helpful way – like recognising how much my body does for me rather than just how it looks physically?
Challenging fatphobic thoughts
On days where I maybe don’t feel as confident in myself, I remind myself of how much my body does for me; that I can walk and see and feel. I no longer view exercise as punishment or a way to shrink myself either. It’s how I can move my body in a way that feels good for me. Some days it’s going for a walk other days it’s dancing to my favourite songs in addition to also recognising that some days it’s also just as important to do absolutely nothing at all and that it’s okay to rest.
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