Month: December 2012

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Hello! This is only a short post, but I wanted to check in and wish you guys a very, very Merry Christmas. Here’s me and my gorgeous, wonderful, super-intelligent (and a bit of a pop star) sister this morning – we thought we’d dress up […]

The “Low-Fat” Myth and Why You’re Being Marketed To

The “Low-Fat” Myth and Why You’re Being Marketed To

Don’t judge me, but when I’m not writing this blog, or doing a PhD, I work in marketing. I know, I know – I’m pretty sure that means I’ll be a slug or something in the next life, but a girl’s gotta do what a […]

Screw You and Your Platitudes; or, The Fat Paradox

Screw You and Your Platitudes; or, The Fat Paradox

It’s Katie-rant time. On body image. Again. Ready?

Firstly, I’m tiring of the word ‘curvy.’ I completely agree with the author of this article that it’s a word that’s become so overused as to lose all meaning – which is a shame, because it’s a word I like. I don’t think I’d be lying if I called myself curvy, but nor would any of the women in my office – even though all of us have got completely different body shapes. We’re all curvy in different ways – because when we’re talking about curves, we’re not really talking about size. We’re talking about shape.

However, curvy’s come to be both a euphemism and a compliment. It’s become a nothing term, that doesn’t say carry any real meaning other than that it implies you’re human and (usually) female. But it’s better than ‘fat’… Isn’t it?

The trouble is, the word ‘fat’ is so loaded with meaning that it throws people off when we use it. For example, in a conversation with a friend, you make a joke about being fat, and they rush to tell you that you’re not fat. Definitely not fat. Anything but fat. Those words are no doubt said with the best of intentions, but there’s a complex mechanism going on there that doesn’t really help anyone. You’re suddenly in a position where you have to either collude with them, and agree that you’re not fat – thus denying a part of yourself you might have already accepted, and might even (shocker!) like – or you have to argue the point, and make you both feel uncomfortable about the whole affair.

Then, say you’re walking down the street, and someone calls you fat. Chances are, no matter how body confident you are, that’s going to sting a bit – because nobody likes an unprovoked zinger. It might not be the ‘fat’ part that offends you, as much as the injustice of being called out for no apparent reason by a total stranger. But suddenly, you’re on the defensive. That word’s caught you out again.

But the thing is – I’d almost rather see ‘fat’ in my vocabulary than, say, the now-overused curvy, or the endless platitudes that don’t really mean anything but are designed to make you feel better… Usually in order to sell you something. I’m fed up of beauty brands using positive body image messages to sell a product – especially when, as in the case of the Dove “Real Women” campaign, they’re part of a group that also sells skin-lightening creams to women in India. I can’t get behind that, as much as I do think we need to see more women of all sizes looking and being happy – the motive to sell that lies behind it just doesn’t sit right with me.

But as the author of that (interesting, and definitely worth reading) article points out:

By democratizing and then celebrating “curvy,” it makes us feel good about ourselves. It means we’re open-minded. Forward-thinking. Because we’re so brave to praise a body that defies Hollywood standards. It’s a prop that shows off our values… It also gives us a new vocabulary with which to talk about our own bodies. But it’s unwarranted self-congratulation. If curvy can mean anything we want it to — on a scale of size 2 to size 22 — then our reductive thinking on the subject of bodies and beauty standards hasn’t actually changed. The ubiquity of “curvy” is just a gloss of body acceptance, not actual body acceptance.

We either need to stop talking about our bodies – which just isn’t going to happen – or we need to find a new, better vocabulary with which to talk about them. We need to reclaim the words we want to use to describe ourselves as we actually are. And we need to stop snarking on all fronts. Especially that insidious kind of snarking we do without even realise it. “Real women have curves,” for example, is just as much crap as “nothing tastes as good as thin feels” – because both are ways to justify how we are by implying that people who are different are wrong.

I believe in being passionately you, but I don’t believe in being aggressively anti-anyone else. When I started this blog and called it “Fat Girl, PhD,” it was because I considered myself to be a fat girl – even though I’d lost a considerable amount of weight by that point already. But it categorically wasn’t because I felt that to be a bad thing. I didn’t think anything of it. It’s just a word that I use to describe myself. It’s my word, and I like it.

But once the blog started getting more attention, I was amazed at how many people thought that calling myself a fat girl was somehow brave, or unusual. That shouldn’t be the case.

You know I’m a huge advocate of the idea that you should love your body no matter what size or shape you are. But I’m tired of phrases like that being bandied about in a disingenuous way that doesn’t mean anything – just like the word ‘curvy’ seems to be these days. It’s not enough being sold that thought at the same time as being bombarded with a thousand other things that run completely counter to that fact.

And yes, I’m aware that me, writing these words on a fitness blog might lead you to think I’m doing exactly that – but I don’t believe being fitter has made me a better person. The ways I’m happier have nothing to do with fitting into anyone’s idea of how I ought to be or look – instead, I’m just physically healthier, which has a knock-on effect on my emotional wellbeing. Yes, I’m ‘selling’ you a way to get fit, and be healthier – but if you’re reading this and you feel you’re awesome just the way you are, then I applaud you. You ARE awesome just the way you are.

We all need to take personal responsibility for the way we look at, and feel about, ourselves. Acknowledging what someone else might call a flaw as a good thing – something to love about yourself, rather than something that’s constantly dragging you down – and using whatever words you want to describe it… That’s how you create that sense of self-worth that women’s magazines and products are always trying to sell you.

It’s about truth, rather than platitudes. It’s about real words, rather than bullsh*t. Curvy, fat, thin, skinny, whatever – it’s all good. Your capacity to be amazing is only limited by your ability to let yourself be just that. Your ability to believe you can.

So believe it. Screw the platitudes. Cut the crap. Be amazing.

Who’s with me?


A Shocking Discovery About Cake and Booze

A Shocking Discovery About Cake and Booze

I kind of hate myself for the timing of this post, because, let’s face it – if there’s a time of year you’re likely to drink more alcohol, it’s the festive season. I’m a particular victim of this, because it was my birthday yesterday – […]

Adventures in Knee Surgery; or, Why It’s Never Hopeless

Adventures in Knee Surgery; or, Why It’s Never Hopeless

As you probably know, yesterday was a big day for me, because I was getting a whole hunk of nasty metal removed from my knee. I needed it, back in the days when I was 290lbs – that stuff was the structure that was holding […]

When Fitness Starts to Be… Fun?

When Fitness Starts to Be… Fun?

It’s so funny how times change. A couple of years ago, I’d never, ever have thought I’d be where I am right now. A lot of things are different, in a whole range of crazy ways. I like different foods, for one thing; unless I’m a hormonal demon horsebeast, I could take or leave chocolate – but put a butternut squash in front of me and I am in there like the proverbial swimwear.

I’m also considerably more confident. I may have lost 130lbs, but I’ve gained balls of steel – which helps a lot, given this blog has given me the chance to talk to some amazing, exciting people. That’s not just to do with my weight, though – I’ve been lucky enough to work in a great place, and I have some truly awesome friends and family who’ve always been behind me. I’m a lucky girl.

But one of the things that hadn’t changed was the way I felt about “fitness.” Namely, pretty much everything outside of the programme. Walking, yes. Weights, yes. Everything else, not so much – with the sole exception of yoga, which I love, but my ability is far, far below my passion for it. Especially until I’ve got my knee fixed.

I’d look at people doing Legs, Bums and Tums, or British Military Fitness, or just going for a run, and I’d think… Well, I can’t write what I’d think here without putting “NSFW” in the title, if you get my drift. Suffice to say, I was less than impressed. It just seemed incomprehensible to me that people would enjoy that sort of thing. They’d be all, you know, sweaty and stuff. No ta.

But then, there was that time I climbed the Malvern Hills for the first time in over five years. I fully expected to get to the top panting, and sweating, and wanting to die, but it just didn’t happen. Getting back down, it transpired, was a lot harder than climbing up  – and I had such an amazing buzz afterwards that I was grinning for days.

And then, there was my first Pilates class. Sweet lord in heaven, my abs. My ABS. I’m not a girl that even has abs, or anything remotely resembling core strength. Most of the time, when I bend down, I fall down. Smooth and strong are not words we use to describe anything about me, unless we’re referring to the way I like my coffee. I’m not saying I don’t ever work them or anything – just that they’re still hidden behind what I’m going to optimistically call my “Renaissance” woman softness around the middle. I’m cool with that.

But in Pilates? My God. The pain.

But it was also kind of exciting. Each time the instructor would demonstrate the exercise, I’d think “Oh HELL no,” and pull a face much like this:

But then, I’d remember that I wasn’t there just to kill time before dinner, and I’d give it a shot. And every single time I’d be able to do it.

Well, not every single time. That’s a lie. I firmly believe some of those positions are downright unnatural, and I still can’t figure out my left and right without making an “L” with my thumb and forefinger. But you get the idea. More often than I expected, I was more flexible, stronger and fitter than I expected to be.

Not only that, but stretching myself (pardon the pun) beyond what I thought myself capable of was… Fun.

And herein lies my problem. I think I may have accidentally sold out. I’m sorry you guys, but I have become one of those people that really rather enjoys that whole ‘fitness’ thing.

Like I said the other day, I think it’s possible to find yourself feeling like your body isn’t something that’s really a part of you, when you’re not able to really enjoy it. And if you’re morbidly obese and disabled – like I was – it can feel like your body’s working against you at every turn. Exercise doesn’t seem fun, because it’s so uncomfortable that the pain or awkwardness outweighs how good it can actually feel.

And if you’ve always been ‘fat’ – again, like yours truly – most of your experiences of exercise will be full of that pain and awkwardness, so it’s impossible to comprehend the awesomeness of a great stretch, or feeling your heart rate go up. Personally, I’d always find those things mildly terrifying, because a stretch would likely mean an injury, and a raised heart rate would mean a stress I wasn’t sure my body could actually take. Grim, perhaps – but pretty unavoidable.

Now, I do think there’s a bit of annoying reverse psychology going on in my brain at the moment. I’m having knee surgery on Wednesday, and I’ve managed to pull a muscle in my back carrying my PhD notes around town for most of the weekend, so for the foreseeable, there will be very little exercise on my part. Which sucks.

But honestly – this whole ‘fitness’ thing, as it turns out, is actually pretty fun, and not just in the gym. From chasing around after the kids (or playing with the dog, in my case); to being able to run for the bus, or dash back up the stairs when you realise you need your sunglasses in December (yay!) – when all these things are no big deal, that’s when fitness becomes really, really satisfying. And when you’re seeing these sorts of benefits, suddenly getting even fitter becomes a priority, because it’s helping you to make the most of every second.

So yes – I’ve sold out. I’ve become one of ‘those fitness types.’ But I’m willing to wager that if you stick with it, eventually, you will too – not because you want to be the fastest runner, or the bendiest Pilates-type (although if you do, that’s fine – duh) but because you’re making the most of what you’ve got: one amazing body that doesn’t hold you back, and one awesome life as a result.