I lived a very long time with the belief that my body was my enemy.
I believed it had betrayed me, swallowed me up, and that I – the real me – was deep down somewhere inside.
The “real me” was pretty and petite and frail, with legs like twigs and only one chin.
If you’d asked me when I was a little girl what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have told you thin. I lived and breathed the dreams of slenderness.
The distance between my actual self and the self I wanted to be was massive, an impassable chasm that only seemed to grow with each skipped meal and each hour spent waiting for that special day – the day I wouldn’t be me anymore.
Because I was a girl, self-hatred was part of my cultural inheritance.
I was raised by Mexican immigrants, my mother’s people, brought up in a Pentecostal home. At church, I was the only fat brown girl. They had words for the hate they had for my fat, but not for the hate they had for my brownness.
I was part of the Missionettes, who were something like Girl Scouts for Jesus. The badges I earned were for beauty and cleaning and service. We spent evenings talking about diet Pepsi and the shape of our faces, the color palette that best suit our skin tone and the husbands we would have in the future.
I watched Disney-esque romances about a love that my fat and brown body disqualified me for. Through school and television, I learned who I was. And who I was became my greatest shame.
I was explicitly conditioned to think that being fat was bad, but it wasn’t until much, much later that I realized that I had been taught that being a woman and being brown were very bad, too.
Hate was the only thing that made sense then. It was so natural, it didn’t even have a name.
Hate was synonymous with life, threaded into all the spaces that I couldn’t understand, and into plenty of the ones that I did.
I never had ambitions to live a life without hate. I didn’t even know such a reality was possible.
When I was twenty years old, a group of radical queer feminists saved my life.
And the small acts of rebellion and self-preservation that they inspired – refusing to marry my first serious boyfriend, wearing clothes that were one or two or sometimes five sizes too small for me – had begun to push up against the hatred I had for my fat body.
The self-loathing was exhausting. But self-hate was familiar.
I’d seen it in my mother, in my grandmother, in many of my friends. I couldn’t imagine a life that didn’t place me at odds with myself. Hate had been a well-worn home for so long.
And I didn’t know it then, but I was terrified of who I would be without it.
I remember listening to a friend talk about her weight loss surgery. She told me why she did it. She thought that the weight loss would change her fundamentally, that it would solve all of her problems, make her whole.
A few years later, she discovered that the surgery – and the weight loss – didn’t change everything. Her body had certainly changed dramatically, but her belief that she was ugly and flawed remained.
All that time, that self-loathing – that hate – had been projected onto her fat, and when it was gone, she wasn’t sure what to blame anymore. She had shed weight, but the surgery hadn’t removed the core of her shame. And she’d almost died in the process.
They – the doctors, our families, the public health polemicists – tell us it’s the fat. They promise that our bodies are the problem.
And that belief becomes so thoroughly entrenched that we can’t even imagine who we’d be without the lie.
In many ways, fatphobia is not even about making everyone thin. It’s about preoccupying people with an impossible task of conformity. It’s about convincing us that the problem resides in our bodies – in us – and not out there, in the flawed social norms and prescriptive social mores.
Of one thing, I’m convinced: Fatphobia is not about happiness, not about joy or fulfillment or health.
I was twenty-six years old when the impenetrable wall between my body and myself began to fall.
My memory – previously a closed fist – began to unfurl and reveal the quiet acts of love that resentment had obscured.
Twenty years apart, and when I returned to my body, I’d found it still hoped for me, labored for me, gave me breath.
It believed in my magic when I couldn’t.
My life began when I stopped trying to lose weight and set my mind to losing hate.
I choose hate loss, not weight loss for everyone who has lost and will lose their lives or health to weight loss surgery.
I choose hate loss, not weight loss in the name of protesting a multi-billion dollar dieting industry that peddles shame in exchange for cash.
I choose hate loss, not weight loss to destabilize a racist, sexist, and fatphobic health system that values certain bodies over others.
I choose hate loss, not weight loss because no act of self-love will ever be a wasted effort.
Because I only get one body, and it’s miraculous, and it’s beautiful, and I will fight for it, not against it.
I choose hate loss, not weight loss for the person I used to be, for the skipped meals and the lost years, and for every little fat brown girl who cries and wishes she was someone else.
Virgie Tovar, MA is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism and the editor of the book, Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion. Virgie is one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers in the areas of fat discrimination and body image. She lives in San Francisco. Find her online at www.virgietovar.com.