The Magic Button


A pale-skinned finger pressing a bright red shiny button with “easy” written on it in white block letters. Image by spackletoe on Flickr.

There are some days when I wish I could just press that hypothetical magic button and be thin.

Yes, it’s true. But before a mass of anti-fat bloggers leap on me with a triumphant “aha!”, the reason isn’t what you might think.

It’s not about admitting that I actually hate being fat. I’ve never not been fat, so I don’t really know if I’d like being thin any better, but I’m perfectly comfortable with my fatness in and of itself. There aren’t many things I want to do that I can’t do because of my size, and most of those things I can’t do not because it’s actually impossible to do it at my size but because the world doesn’t think people my size want to or should do it, like buying certain clothes and using a Wii Fit and going on rollercoasters and stuff (actually, I’m not that interested in going on rollercoasters anyway).

The reason isn’t because I think thin people are objectively and intrinsically more attractive, healthy, intelligent, classy or whatever than fat people (I don’t think they’re objectively and intrinsically less attractive etc. either – variety is both the spice of life and pretty inevitable!). The reason isn’t because I think desirable men find thin women more attractive than fat women. It isn’t because I’m jealous of the attention thin ladies get and I want some of that for myself. I get about as much attention from men as I want, to be honest, and men who think only thin women, or only women they personally find sexy, deserve their attention are not men I would want attention from even if I were thin.

The reason is that being fat in a world that hates fat people is exhausting, and sometimes it feels like it would be easier to just be thin and not have to think about it than it is to stop the world from hating fat people. You may be familiar with being hated or vilified because of some integral part of yourself that is either beyond your control or is very important to your identity (or both). It drains the life out of you. When you have to fight to remind yourself every day that you are not ugly, not disgusting, not worthless, not unloveable, and when the tiniest slip in your rigorous regimen of self-affirmations or a single unexpected slur from a friend can make you feel like a piece of shit for days, the idea of not having to deal with it any more is very seductive.

It’s one of the reasons why people keep dieting even when they’ve tried and failed to become thin a hundred times before. Being thin won’t make you happier or a better person and it won’t magically fix all your problems, but it will save you from being a direct target of fat hatred. The appeal could be that you’ll finally able to feel smug and superior to all those fatties who didn’t make it, or that nobody will make snide comments about how gross you are anymore, or that nobody will claim that your politics are all the product of ugly fat girl jealousy any more. Getting off the roundabout of self-loathing and being loathed is super appealing sometimes, and I don’t blame other fatties for choosing to escape it by trying to lose weight rather than the longer term project of trying to end fat oppression. Diets don’t work in the vast majority of cases, but I also don’t really expect my society to have stopped vilifying fat people in my lifetime either, so both tasks can feel equally futile. At least when you’re dieting you can get good fatty brownie points.

But there’s a problem with that plan. Body shaming is more complex than just “fat people get it and thin people don’t”. There isn’t a magic weight at which systemic fat hatred stops being damaging; when fat hatred is accepted and internalised, the fear of becoming fat can be crushing as well as the self-flagellation of being a fat-hating fat person, and can be just as likely to reduce your life to an endless, miserable surveillance of everything you eat and do. Becoming or being thin doesn’t protect a person from fat hatred and body shaming (have you ever noticed how some of the most vocal and vicious detractors of fat acceptance are people who used to be fat themselves?). It’s nice to think that just being thin would end the pain of fat stigma and shame, and it’s even the reasoning behind a lot of weight loss campaigns, but the truth is it won’t. The only thing that will end the pain of fat stigma and shame is making a world where we don’t stigmatise or shame fat people.

Being fat in a world that hates fat people is hard. But being thin in a world that hates fat people is hard too. So while the magic thin button is an occasionally tempting fantasy, it is just that – a fantasy. The less magical thin button of starving myself down to a size 10 isn’t going to erase the pain of fat stigma, and so it won’t actually solve the underlying problem that is the only reason I am ever unhappy about being fat; I don’t like being hated. The only way I can solve that problem is to continue doing what I am already doing: fighting fat hatred on whatever tiny level I can, being the humourless fat feminist who always ruins everyone’s fun by objecting to their jokes, being visible in my fat body and being relentlessly positive about who I am and what I look like. There are days when all I want to do is press the magic button and make it all go away, but just as there is no magic thin button there’s no magic anti-bigotry button either, so I pick myself up, dust myself off and start again.

So go ahead, detractors, hit me with whatever you’ve got. I’ll keep on fighting you. Because I’m pretty sure if I can survive being fat in a fat-hating world, I can survive pretty much anything.


2 thoughts on “The Magic Button

  1. leanneveitch says:

    Shame on you!

    How dare you question that fat people are second rate citizens?

    You see, it’s not politically correct to hate black people for being black, or jewish people for being jewish, or any other minority for being that minority.

    But FAT people – it’s their own fault! They’re greedy, lazy, slobby, smelly, sweaty – you name it, we can throw it at them. And they’re ugly too. And because, unlike every other minority (with the possible exception of gays, because of course they could really change if they wanted to as well), it’s your own fault, you’re basically a open target for anything society chooses to throw at you.

    I don’t know where it comes from, to be honest. I remember, growing up in the 70s as a kid, that there was the “fat kid” in pretty much every class (my neighbour and good friend was the fat kid), but I don’t remember them getting this sort of loathing directed at them. It’s almost like, as society has become more obese, we’ve become more and more vitriolic at those who are the heaviest among us.

    Maybe its fear. Maybe its just that whole human pecking order thing, and part of our crappier nature trying to do whatever we can to lord it over others in some way – and because fat people have an obvious, visible difference, they’re an easy target.

    But there really is no excuse. Because we’re all of us fighting the battle of the bulge, every day. It’s just that some of us fight it harder than others. Even my “naturally skinny” husband is now finding, having hit 40, that he was starting to grow outwards, and is now watching his calorie intake every day, something he has never had to do before – something I never thought I’d see, as I was always the one who has had to watch everything I eat since I became an adult (being on various weight inducing drugs for epilepsy, including the notorious nasty sodium valproate, for years didn’t exactly help). But everyone finds it challenging.

    And the truth is, we live in an obesogenic environment. Don’t even get me started on how many toxic food prompts there are around us – I could write a book on the subject, and could certainly rant a whole lot! Becoming, and being, fat is the normal response. Why that normalcy is hated and despised so much really just shows how sick our society is, not how sick the people who become overweight as a result of that society are.

    Then there is a whole stack of woman-hate involved in all of this. We women don’t honour our bodies- instead we’re taught to hate our softness, hate our wobbly bits, hate our curves, and instead long for, and work for, the alien male hardness that doesn’t come naturally. What is so fricking bad about curves? Dammit, I think they’re sexy. Society has become so hypermasculine than even normal femininity is despised and ridiculed and put down and loathed. I don’t even want to begin to think about how this all will affect the next generation of girls, and the one after that. Softness is an attribute that is good, not evil. So why is it portrayed in the media as something so wrong?

    Dunno. These are just my thoughts, and I’m probably offending everyone. Don’t get me even started on the term “feminazi” that I saw used against you in a certain discussion earlier, but if that conversation had been live and I’d been there, I’d have bust that guys balls. And I think I’d have had to stand in line. Then he’d know the meaning of “soft”!


  2. You’re bloody right about the exhausting thing. Some days I just want to get off this ride, you know?

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