Inconceivable!

Name playing thingy in the movie The Princess Bride.

Wallace Shawn playing Vizzini in the movie The Princess Bride.  Inconceivable!

During a camping trip I went on late last year (during which I stayed in a cabin and most of my friends camped in tents), I was talking to some friends about how I wished tent camping were more viable for me. I have bad knees due to injuring both of them at different times in my life, which makes getting up and down off the floor difficult and painful. The others suggested I could try and buy a camp bed that would be off the ground, and when I said I didn’t think I’d be able to get one that would hold my weight, one friend said I’d be safe with a double-sized one because they’re usually rated for two smaller people around 80 kilos and “I don’t know how much you weigh, but you don’t weigh 160 kilos.”

I don’t weigh myself any more, but she was kind of right. It’s more like 170 than 160.

I let the error go by without comment. I knew she wasn’t being nasty and I didn’t want to embarrass her by making a big deal about it. But it struck me that the reality of someone weighing what I do was so far outside her worldview that even with my physical body right in front of her, where she could see exactly how fat I am, she couldn’t imagine anybody weighing that much. It’s not like I’m particularly muscular or dense – I know people who weigh more than they look like they do, but I am not one of those people. It’s just that 160 kilos was so far away from my friend’s reality that she dismissed it out of hand as being some unimaginably huge size.

I encounter the same issue with clothing sizes, too. I’ll complain about not being about to find specific clothing items (such as trying to find black concert dress for choir performances) and suddenly a flood of my thinner friends will inundate me with suggestions that, while well-meaning, are completely useless to me because the clothing companies they suggest don’t make my size. It isn’t that they don’t know what I look like, in fact they probably have a better picture in their minds of my appearance than I do, but once again imaginable clothing sizes for them extend a little past their own size and then vanish into the amorphous mists of “really really big”.

On the flip side, I can usually guess what size a woman wears and roughly how much she probably weighs from looking at her (though I usually don’t because what does it matter?). This was possibly a skill acquired through years of “thinspiration” in my dieting and eating disordered years (ugh), but it’s also the upshot of being exposed to far more information about thin people’s – especially thin women’s – bodies and clothing sizes and weights in popular media and everyday life than fat people’s.

Partly that’s because the thin bodies, sizes and weights are held up in advertising and other media as the ideal to which we should all strive, and partly it’s because the stigma against fat pressures a lot of fat women into hiding or lying about their own size or weight. I never would have even thought about publishing my real weight or dress size on the internet five or six years ago. As a result of this embarrassed secrecy about fat weights and sizes (which doesn’t, of course, trick people into not realising you are fat), people who aren’t fat themselves often don’t develop a visual vocabulary of fatness because the information to connect with the visual simply isn’t available. And what follows is an incredulity about the perfectly real bodies of fat people that only compounds and exacerbates the stigma and embarrassment associated with being fat. It is difficult and painful to have a body that’s not only not socially acceptable, but so socially unacceptable that your friends can’t even imagine it being real.

This disconnect is part of why I am writing this blog, why it is called what it is, and why I love seeing blog posts and tumblrs and instagrams and tweets and Facebook posts and everything about other fat people just living their lives and being seen doing it. I want us to be visible and known and understood, not freaky unicorns that people – even the people who know and love us – can’t quite comprehend. I want us to be free of embarrassment about talking about our weight and what size we wear (men and genderqueer people and genderless people as well as women) and demystify the reality of being really fat. I want people to hear 170 kilos and think “ah, that’s someone about the same size as my friend Sarah” and not “170 kilos, NOBODY weighs that much!” You keep using that word “nobody”. I do not think it means what you think it means.

A photo of me, a fat white woman in a black and white polkadot one piece bathing suit, posing with hands on hips in front of a hot pink background.

A photo of me, a fat white woman in a black and white polkadot one piece bathing suit, posing with hands on hips in front of a hot pink background.

To that end, here is a picture of me – in my cute ModCloth bathers, so as to give a good idea of my body size without the obfuscation of normal clothes – along with my clothing size (AU 26-28) and my weight as of this very moment (171.3 kilos, or roughly 378 pounds). Just for information purposes. Because yes, I am very real.

Not that I wouldn’t make an amazing unicorn.

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27 thoughts on “Inconceivable!

  1. rhyannon says:

    Yes! Yes to all of that!

    I also agree that you would make and awesome unicorn and I fricken LOVE your bathers.

  2. I had a similar experience with one of my bosses at work, when she brought out a flimsy plastic stool to help me reach some AV equipment. I casually asked what the weight rating was, and she dismissively said “oh it says 100kg” … cue huge bizarre moment when she didn’t get why I was side-eyeing her, and she went bright red when I had to tell her that it was more than 20kg out. It really took me a few days to come to terms with just how embarrassed she was (I later found out she panicked and thought I was going to quit on the spot), and that made me sadder and more awkward than actually telling her did.

    “a visual vocabulary of fatness because the information to connect with the visual simply isn’t available” This is a great point. Might be your fashion background too that helps you estimate size? Because my body consciousness manifests itself in me rarely looking at my own body, especially next to other people’s bodies (including avoiding photos and mirrors), I really have no scale of how big I am compared to other people or what clothing size other people wear.

    Just so you know, you would be the best unicorn. ❤

  3. Another brilliant post my lovely friend. I don’t know what I weigh (haven’t been weighed in about 2 years!) but I could guess that I’m between 140 and 150kg. I have experienced the exact same thing, where people pick some figure and say “You couldn’t possibly be that heavy!” and yet I am more than that weight. The same goes for clothing sizes. And like you, I can usually pick other people’s weight (only if asked!) or size with relative ease.

    A bit of a funny one for you – a couple of weeks ago I helped a colleague and she said “Ahh you’re worth your weight in gold!” I laughed and said “And that’s a LOT of gold!” Well you should have heard her splutter!! She was pedalling furiously trying to make sure she hadn’t offended me. I was in absolute stitches.

    • Sarah says:

      Hahaha! Damn, I’d love to have my weight in gold!!

      • Ollie NcLean says:

        Not many people would have a vocabulary of human weights in troy ounces. Did you know that you would weigh about 5,507 troy ounces? At current gold prices, that’s about 8.9 million US$ worth.

  4. Monstakitti says:

    Love your writing. It’s great to get som ‘snap’ moments from it. Thanks!

  5. NattieNell says:

    Oh I totally hear you! When I was pregnant and looking for maternity bras I could only find some ugly white ones and I was complaining on facebook. Some well-meaning people started suggesting websites and brands that were nicer. I had to reply to them all that the brands they were suggesting were too small for me, to which someone replied “but they make really huge sizes are you sure?” ugh. they went to a 20G. I nearly replied “well I’m extra large really huge then!”

    • Sarah says:

      Ohhh, yes. That “oh, it’ll totally fit you, it’s huuuuuuuge!” is SO charming, right? I had that experience with buying a tshirt from a club I was in once. I wasn’t sure I wanted to buy one because I didn’t think it would fit me (short print runs of unisex tshirts done by small groups rarely do fit me), and one of the people selling them told me “oh, of course it will, the 3XL is HUUUUUGE!” It DID fit in the end, but it wasn’t overlarge on me, it was a nice comfy fit. I guess I am size HUUUUUUGE then?

  6. Danika says:

    Yes! Yes! Awesome. I’d love to have a better “visual vocabulary of fatness”. When I’ve come across to links to shops that stock some plus-sized fashion, I often hesitate before linking them. I haven’t been above a size 16; I don’t know what size 22 looks like (for example). I don’t know what sizes I should be looking to in order to make sure the shop is as inclusive as possible. Lesley and Marianne are two of my favourite writers on xoJane, and I’ve seen things linked to when people say “it’s a shame it only goes up to size [whatever]. I’m two or three sizes above that”.
    I have a friend who asked me to sew her a dress for her birthday, which I was happy to do. She would be around your size, I would say at a very loose guess. I checked to make sure I could get a pattern in her size (which I sort-of can: the pattern company has an additional download to cater for plus sizes, so I think some adjustment of the pattern will be necessary), since patterns can also suffer from the same “but only SKINNY PEOPLE WEAR CLOTHES!” blindness that shops suffer from. But I have no way of estimating my friend’s size so that I can do some prep work before we catch up to buy fabric. I vaguely know what sizes 6-16 look like. I’ve been (most of) those sizes (I haven’t been size 6, but my sister is/was. That’s a story for another time). I can’t distinguish between 22 and 26 just by looking at someone.
    Demystification of size! And not just so that I can surprise a friend with a dress for her birthday without hoping that her husband can work out her size for me.
    BTW, a little off topic, but I love those bathers. I’ve been eyeing off Modcloth’s bathers myself. How did you find the fit? Did you need to buy a couple of pairs to make sure that the fit was right? I’ve bought dresses from the internet, but bathers I’m a little nervous of buying without being able to try them on first.

    • Sarah says:

      Ah, patterns are a special kind of hell! Plus sizes in retail fashion are usually more generous than straight sizes – I mean a 16 in a plus label is usually more like an 18 in a straight label – but patterns do not seem to follow that trend in my experience. I have been burned by that before. I’ve only tried to make one dress from a commercial pattern in the size I am currently and it was a bit of a disaster as the size 28 pattern was a bit small for me and quite awkwardly shaped. I wish you luck, though 🙂 If the company offers information about how to adjust the patterns for plus sizes, then you might have more luck than I did with this dress, which was obviously drafted on a size 12 and then just scaled up.

      I understand about the sizing anxiety thing when it comes to sharing links, and I appreciate the desire to not disappoint people with links for things they can’t use. There are an unfortunate number of plus size labels that I get really excited about only to find they cut out at size 24. Depending on cut sometimes I can wear an item marked 24, but it’s more of a gamble with those stores (like City Chic, for instance). I do a lot of plus size fashion sharing on Pinterest, and when I’m linking to something that only goes up to a 2XL or a 24 or 22 or whathaveyou, I just make sure to note than when I’m linking. Then viewers who know they won’t fit that size can leave it be. And then I send the company a letter and ask them why they don’t make sizes up to at least 32, when Evans and eShakti and others seem to be perfectly capable of doing so without going bankrupt 😉

      Re: the bathers – I don’t know if it’s really clear from the photo, but I am wearing a bra underneath the bathers, and I have to wear a bra to swim in them too because the bust support is rubbish (and kind of…in the wrong place on my body?). I also changed the halter neck into straps because it dug into my neck uncomfortably. But apart from the bust support being useless, which I think it would be in any size, the fit is excellent. The back covers my butt properly and the leg holes don’t did in or anything. It’s not breathlessly tight or anything, just the comfortable snug fit you expect from a pair of bathers. I’ve never bought anything else from Modcloth, but I just ordered the largest size in their plus range (figuring bathers are pretty forgiving, being lycra and tight anyway) and they were fine. I probably wouldn’t recommend them because of the bust support issue, and because the little plastic bone in the side of the top is coming out on one side after only three or four wears, but it’s still pretty cute 🙂

      • shehasathree says:

        “I don’t know if it’s really clear from the photo, but I am wearing a bra underneath the bathers).”

        Ooh, I didn’t know this was possible. Excellent piece of information to have. (Sucks that the bust support in the bathers doesn’t work for you, though.)

        • Sarah says:

          It is! You can either wear a bra-style bikini top or just an old bra that you don’t mind getting chlorinated. The chemicals in swimming pools damage fabric that isn’t designed to be chlorine resistant like bathers are, so I wouldn’t wear a bra you *like*, but an old one is fine.

        • I wear a bra under my swimmers for support too – I cannot find underwired swimmers in my size anywhere (26E). Once my bras get a bit old and daggy I relegate them to under togs. I have a black one for under my black and turquoise polka-dot togs.

  7. So much yes to all of this!

  8. ephant says:

    I think the common vocabulary we have, given to us by the media etc, puts “horribly disgustingly fat” at such a small size/weight that it’s difficult for some people to mentally articulate large sizes.

    I’m a thin person and although I’m getting a few more wobbly bits than I used to have back in my 20s, according to a BMI chart I’d be “overweight” at only 5 kg more than my current 60kg (which is mostly a guess because I don’t own scales). Someone of my height hits “obese” at 77 kg.

    Guessing from my mother’s size and shape, I could be “obese” and fit into size 12 or 14 dresses. Not even large enough to hit the top range of “straight” sizes. As in, even if I were classified by the medical profession as “obese”, I would still be a pretty small person.

    I’m not trying to say that we should put more categories on charts to talk about how scarily fat people are – I think what I mean is that the very low bar for “THIS IS TERRIBLY FAT OMG” distorts the perceptions of thin people like me as to how large fat people are.

    And if you’re being told over and over again that 77kg (or 70 or 88 or 97 or whatever) is problematically fat (and when my mother hits the 70kg that pushes her over into the “obese” range she sure starts getting told by doctors that she MUST lose weight or else HEALTH and DEATH – OBVIOUSLY this doesn’t compare with what people who are 170 kg or 270 kg would get told by the same doctor, but my mother is not those people and all she knows is that she’s been told that she’s SO FAT SHE MIGHT DIE), then how can you even conceptualise the idea that someone you know, someone you like, someone you love could be twice or three times that size?

    I think I do a little better with this than some other thin people because I’m lucky enough to have fat friends and contacts who talk frankly about their weight and their size which gives me more data points for my mental calibration.

    Fuck diet culture, seriously.

    • Sarah says:

      Yes, I think you’re right. When the threshold for OMG DEADLY FAT is set so low it is not surprising that people would have difficulty accepting people they care about are well over that threshold, but also they probably have difficulty accepting ANYONE is well over that threshold unless the person fits their own idea of extreme fatness, whatever that may be. If just being xx kilos makes you “obese”, which everyone seems to think is code for “lose weight or you’ll drop dead in ten years” then there’s no need to imagine any size beyond that because everyone fat is just…somewhere over there in the danger zone.

      Fuck diet culture indeed!!

  9. Mister Chas says:

    One of my struggles at the moment is dealing with my vital statistics as data – just information, not adding a judgement or some other moral component.

    For example, I work on my fitness, and use funky online tools to track my progress. I play brain games online too, and have my stats there to stroke my ego (note, none of these people are paying me so I’m not gonna plug their sites). This is all funky and keeps me engaged *is nerd*, not to mention that I have data handy to club myself over the head with when I get overwrought about being lazy or dumb (note – this works at least some of the time).

    The brick wall that I hit is wondering if all my lifting heavy things and plodding around is having on my overall size and/or weight and dealing with the mental burden of a change in either direction. I know this is illogical. I do. But still. Sigh.

    But enough about me. Go you for embracing your realness (with forays into unicorn-hood if you so desire) and looking fierce for the camera!

    • Sarah says:

      I definitely understand why these numbers can be a struggle, and they were a struggle for me until very recently. Just because you can call something “illogical” on a prey cerebral level doesn’t mean it isn’t real and troubling and sometimes overwhelming. I want everyone to be free to talk openly about these things and feel comfortable with their own and other people’s numbers, but I know we’re not (as a society) “there yet”, and I firmly believe in being gentle with oneself when one can! 🙂

  10. James says:

    Great read and I totally agree. Even my closest friends often have no idea. A friend bought me a scenic helicopter flight over the city but when I read the T&Cs it said maximum weight 100 kg and if I wanted to go I had to pay for a second seat. I re-gifted it, sadly.

  11. Jkitty92 says:

    5 foot 7, 170(ish)kg size 24-28 fatty reporting for duty here. 😛

    I know so well of the idea that people think anything above 150 is like monster fat. I often get people I know trying to downplay exactly how fat I am. But I’m like no I really am fat. No shame about it. Only sucky thing is clothes but I’m getting a sewing machine soon so that will be fun.

  12. andreae says:

    Excellent piece – I came to your site via Fat Heffalump on Facebook. I had an enlightening chat with someone recently about preconceptions about fat bodies. A very interesting thing happened that I thought I would share: it seems that this gentleman (an intelligent and supportive person, but coming from a place of privilege) was truly unable to identify someone as “fat” if that person was someone he admired. For example, I would name a certain school administrator we’ve had trouble with. Yes, definitely fat, he would say (and, yes, she is). Then I named a highly respected member of the community who is about the same size as the hated administrator. No, he would say, I wouldn’t see her as fat. When asked to describe her, he would use words like “formidable” and “impressive” and even “attractive,” but not fat, even though she is.

    Is it possible that it’s so deeply entrenched in us that fat is negative that we can’t reconcile the idea of a fat person being awesome? Is it possible that we shrink people in our minds because we can’t see them as admirable *and* fat at the same time? This could account for friends’ and co-workers’ inabilities to imagine a person being over a certain weight limit, or unable to fit into a size 16 dress. Our cultures tell us that fat people can’t be capable/beautiful/motivated/active/whatever, so perhaps in order to reconcile this cognitive dissonance, maybe people have to unconsciously “slim” the fat people they love.

    I’m not sure what the point is here, and I don’t have a solution, except to be loudly fat *and* amazing at every possible opportunity. At any rate, I thought readers might find it as interesting as I did.

    • Sarah says:

      Hi, welcome, and thank you! 🙂

      I definitely agree that people’s preconceptions about fatness – and taking stigmatising stereotypes about fatness for granted – are part of this issue, yes. I did some research on fat positive experiences, particularly with the word “fat” itself, in my Honours year at uni and one thing that everyone was in agreement on was that nobody else liked calling them fat, and they had all had people look them in the face and say “oh, but you’re not fat!” even though it was patently untrue. People associate “fat” with all kinds of negative traits and don’t like associating “fat” with people they like, even though all fat means is…well, fat!

      I can remember when I was in high school, one of those email survey letter things was going around (in the days before we had Facebook and Livejournal to do surveys on, haha) and the people you sent it to had to fill out a bunch of questions about you and sent them back. One of them was “body type”. I was a fat teenager, no doubt about it, but every single person bar one responded saying I was “average”. The exception was a friend of a friend I didn’t know very well who said “a bit chubby, like me!” And I was ABSOLUTELY CRUSHED, not because she was wrong, but because she’d broken the unspoken rule that nobody should ever admit they have noticed a friend of theirs is fat.

      Looking back on it, it was completely ridiculous. Everyone who replied to that survey knew damn well I was fat, but they thought they were “being nice” by pretending they didn’t. I think being loudly fat and amazing – or perhaps more importantly, surrounding myself with loudly fat and amazing other people – has helped me come a long way since that ridiculous teen survey. But you’re so right, it’s difficult to head in the direction of a fluent, complex visual vocabulary of size and weight and fatness without first being okay with fat in and of itself. So I guess we’d better keep being awesome 😉

  13. shehasathree says:

    somewhat off-topically:

    I bet a lot of people wouldn’t believe how much I weigh, either. (Not that I know exactly, I haven’t had it measured for about 18 months, although I keep having anxiety dreams about being weighed and declared medically Too Heavy :s). I think I give the illusion of being smaller than I am?

  14. Sakura says:

    that swim suit is really really cute! ❤ I have a really hard time finding one pieces I actually like and that fit or if I do find one that is okay it costs a lot of money…

  15. LA says:

    This reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend a couple years ago. He had read some article that mentioned something about healthcare in some other country for people who were 320lbs, and responded with incredulity that there were many people that weighed that much. My response: “Um, I’m about 5 pounds below that.” He was floored, and clearly didn’t have a good mental pic of what various weights can look like on different people. He actually thanked me for the reality check.

    What gets me is back when I was in the low 200s, my mom thought I was SOOOO fat because, well, I was a size 16-18, and that’s just horrible, right? Not the most helpful outlook for a mom to have for a daughter. At least I and my awesome husband proved her wrong on the whole “no one wants to date fat girls” argument. I’m fat. It’s just what I am, and what I have been for awhile. I’m finally in a place (and I only reached it recently) where I’m content with myself, and instead of wishing to be thinner and wishing to fit into clothes that don’t suit me, I’ve found out how to properly dress myself in clothes and styles that make me look awesome, no matter what size says.

    Love that bathing suit!

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