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Confessions of a Fat Girl
menchi
catvalente
I used to be beautiful.*

When I was in high school I had cheekbones that could cut paper, waist-length red hair, and I was about 110 pounds soaking wet. I dressed like a hippie lunatic by way of a 19th century orphanage--barefoot, with flowers in my hair and long flowing skirts with waistcoats and bustles stuck on my jeans. People used to stare at me. I was in theatre and I played the pretty parts: I could be the princess, the ingenue, Juliet, Anne. 

In my head, I'm still that girl.

But the fact is, I'm not. Because I'm fat. I'm dieting now because I'm sick of being fat, sick of feeling like I want to show people pictures of the person I used to be because she's better, she's so pretty, you could love her, you could believe she was worthy of love. I'm tired of being careful of which pictures of me end up online, tired of being afraid to be videotaped or even meet people because I feel such shame about my body. But I know, of course, that in all likelihood I will fail at this in some fashion, gain anything I lose back or give up somehow--I've lost significant amounts of weight before, I know how it goes. It's a lifelong struggle, especially in this culture. I'll certainly never be that buck-ten girl with those cheekbones again. Still, I have to try, because I can't stand how much psychic real estate is taken up with feeling like shit about how I look, (but I don't really look that way, see, because I'm really that 17 year old gamine, on the inside, if you squint) comparing myself to other bodies, deciding preemptively that I'm beneath normal people's notice.

I've been reading a great blog called Fat Nutritionist, and she posted about beauty, struggling with what that even meant. I was particularly struck by this passage (the whole post is intensely worth reading):

I made the conscious decision, when I started this website, that I would use an attractive picture of myself on the front page. Because being fat in this world is already a black mark against me, I knew I would have to tap some of the status that my false beauty can afford to partially make up for that. I knew my writing would be more likely to be read, and people would be more interested in hearing me out, perhaps even giving me media coverage, if they thought I were beautiful.

This is a terribly true thing. I'm not saying that writers are successful because they are physically attractive, but it's insane not to think it's a factor. There are certain SFF authors people absolutely drool over, and you know, they do pretty well, and their heart-throb status sure doesn't hurt. It won't do the work of a good book for you, but if your attractiveness can be used in publicity it will be, and this goes quadruple for women writers. In our culture, beautiful people have stories worth listening to, and if you're not beautiful you're supposed to fake it as best you can, or at least hide it. I used to be so careful about the photos I used--until Facebook and photo tagging made that an irrelevant effort. It's tough not to know I'm fat these days. On the other hand, I still have a certain amount of "pretty privilege"--I have symmetrical features, long shiny hair, clear skin, a lot of other markers of beauty in our culture. I am firmly in the "she has such a pretty face, too bad she's so fat" camp. I am intensely aware of that in-between space I occupy, how that shit you're born with or you're not affects so much of social interactions, romantic interactions, professional interactions. Beauty is the devil's lubricant--it makes thing move more smoothly but it's laced with cayenne and cyanide, yo. And god, the push back I get when I dress like I have any right to display my body--I cannot even tell you how many times my love of low-cut shirts has been commented on for no reason whatsoever, in condescending and prudish tones on panels, as though at a science fiction convention where people are dressed as tentacle monsters I have seriously transgressed by showing the tops of my breasts.

I mean, I perform with some of the most beautiful women I've ever seen. And I go to conventions where there's these shiny, sparkly girls who dance and laugh and look amazing in everything they wear, and I just feel like a freaking WERE-MANATEE around them. Like a literal monster. I am the odd one out, the ugly sister, the dark girl in the shadows who can tell a mean story but you wouldn't want to fuck her. And yet I know that most of the women I know, even the sparkly shiny ones? Feel the same way.

The trick to all the beauty shit is that you can't win. That's the whole point.

(And god, it goes so deep with me that when dealing with issues of gender performance I can't even consider how I interface my own body, my gender, because in my heart I'm sure only pretty people get to play with gender and queerness and be embraced for it. And that is a terrible thing to think--but there is truth in it, too, in marginalized communities. The beautiful elfin androgyne is almost always revered in a way that the butch lumberjack-sized girl is not.)

So what do you do? What do I do? Feel like shit forever, I guess is the answer. Some people can maintain societally acceptable levels of thinness while eating whatever they want. Some people can stop drinking Coke and lose 20 pounds. I'm not one of them. Neither am I in the Fat Acceptance movement, though. Because I can't freaking accept myself. I hate dieting because it just means I'm thinking even more about what a disgusting pig I am, and how I let myself get this far, about how long it will take before I can look at myself in the mirror without shame. More real estate. I want to write that triumphant blog entry where I talk about how I lost the weight and things are awesome now but the fact is I've been dealing with this shit for ten years and I've never written that post. (The last time I found my body acceptable I wasn't blogging yet.) I'm dead in the middle of it; I haven't come out stronger and wiser and most importantly thinner. But I look at my friends who are on the other side, who've lost weight, and I think they are better people than me. I have an ex who lost a lot of weight after we broke up and even though she is one of my least favorite people on earth, I still think: she's better than me because she's thinner than me.

In our culture, fat is a failure condition. I feel that intensely. Like no matter what I've done it doesn't out-weigh the weigh-in.

And I want to not think that shit. I want to kick it and be better than that shit. I know these thoughts are awful and unworthy. I want to just live in my body and feel strong and be happy. I don't want to think of life as some kind of constant beauty pageant where I am always Miss Failure 20whatever. But I'm not there yet. I can't do it yet. I hate myself too much. Maybe I'll get there. I hope so. I do know that having once been beautiful I am constantly haunted by this idea of what I'm supposed to look like that will just never happen again. (I mean, I was anemic and malnourished but I was so pretty! And god, I will never forgive my ex-in-laws for coming down on me like a sack of hammers and making me feel like garbage and parking me in front of Herbalife scammers for years for getting fat, when "getting fat" meant I weighed 140 pounds. What I wouldn't give to be as "fat" now as I was then!) I'm 31. I'm not an ingenue anymore and don't want to be. But in my head that girl is the only part of me that's any good.

I have to say that reading Fat Nutritionist is hopeful for me. I like how she thinks and talks, though in my heart I think I have to do crazy things to my body to even make it lose 10 pounds, I can't just decide I can intuit what I eat. But I figure if I don't talk about this ugly crap then I just stay the fat girl hiding behind a picture of a skinny girl, and I don't want that. It's a mask that wears, well, thin.

*Please, when you comment, don't feel the need to tell me that I'm still beautiful. That's not the point of this post and I feel like it's kind of an obligatory call and response in the grrl blogosphere: I'm not pretty/yes you are! Beauty is a terrible, tenuous, volatile, intoxicating, poisonous thing, and it is currency, and it is traded online like stock. I'm not holding out my hand for spare change, or making a public offering. I feel like my whole self image can be summed up by saying: I used to be beautiful.*

It's the asterisk that's the entire rest of my life from 18 onward, and how fucked up is that?

You are the only one who can realize that you are beautiful. At just under 5', I weighed 103 - now I'm fighting to drop 12 pounds to get under 200. I go through cycles where I feel luminous and strong, then want to go live under a bridge with the other trolls - and those states have more to do with what's going on above my neck rather than below it.

*hugs*

I am there with you.

Thank you for the link I will be reading throughly.

I often think that the concept of Beauty was made up by some malicious sod who wanted to make everyone who wasn't them feel like shit.

I can't be proud of being fat, mostly because it's quite literally going to kill me. What I can be proud of, however, is the fact that I want (and am going) to do something about it. You want to do something about it too, and I'm proud of you for that. You've got an amazing voice and you're using it, and I'm proud of you for that too. Thank you for saying what I've been wanting to say for a while.

I picked up Habitation of the Blessed last night, and flipped through it on the way home, and saw your author picture in the back. I showed my partner and said, "Damn, she looks smokin' badass!" And I was going to send that in a tweet your way today, thinking maybe a random heartfelt compliment from a stranger/fan might be well-received, but now that I've read this post, the statement probably sounds reactionary and useless.

Goddammit.

No, I appreciate it, thank you. I can take looking badass. I often feel badass. :)

I relate so much to this. I lost 150+ plus pounds AND I'M STILL FAT. Wtf does THAT even say about me? The thing is, you have reinforced for you all the time as a woman of size (I'm not sure if I even like that term)is that you're the lowest being on the totem pole, only fat WOC being lower still. Even fat men don't want you, generally. I wish I had something helpful to say, really, other than just listening, understanding, and commiserating.

If I managed to do the amazing thing you have done and lose 150+ pounds? I also would still be fat also.

Bleh.

And yet I know that most of the women I know? Feel the same way.

Oh yes. Oh this. Two of my best friends are overweight and it's a huge struggle to be supportive when they talk about weight because what do I know? I'm skinny? So I constantly struggle with whether to bring my eating disorder up as if it's a badge. As if I have to explain my body dysmorphia so I have the right to empathize in the first place. So I can bring up my own struggles with rebelling or redefining how I deal with femininity and queerness.

In no way to discount your asterisk, but I would like to point out: I first saw you in person in other Portland with a bosom boosting corset on and the thinking/tired!Cat face which at first glance looks like a scowl. And it drew me like a moth to a flame. SO: whether or not that says anything about your beauty or how I operate - there it is.

I'm rereading and don't feel like I actually said what I meant to, which was:

Beauty is a game where are all the rules are rigged to make the players lose. And I hate that.

But I love that you open yourself to how you are processing it. I want to support you in whatever way I can to help you get where you want, whether that is book success, health, weight loss, or whatever other goals you put out there.

This.

All of it.

Yes. I used to be beautiful.

One day, I will believe that I still am. Until then, as always, your bravery leaves me humbled. Thank you.

After ten years of blogging, I don't know how else to process shit than by putting it online. I don't know if that's a good thing, really.

Gosh, Cat, the first time I saw you, I was struck by how gorgeous you were. I was totally blown away by you in your orange gown at Nebulas last year.

I am completely in agreement with you about how messed up the culture is. I also used to be 110 pounds soaking wet, and you know what? I thought was fat back then. No kidding. I used to stand in front of the mirror and scowl at my imaginary belly pooch, and imagine what I would look like if I could weigh 105. Seriously. And I wasn't "the pretty girl." I did not in any way have the self-confidence to pull it off, and I had a malocclusion which probably bothered me 10X more than anyone else and wasn't corrected until my mid-twenties. I've had a lot of thoughts about beauty, body image, dieting, etc., since then, and I'm about where you are. I'm pulling 150+ these days, and diets don't work for me. I can't lose weight by giving up some kind of gluttonous vice food (I don't have any). The truth is I gained weight eating healthy and exercising, and I don't know if it is ever going to come off. I am not a person you look at and think "Wow, she's overweight!" but I am clinically overweight, and it galls me, and I feel helpless to do anything about it.

I'm currently trying to use the program of Diane Schwarzbein (The Schwarzbein Principle), which is not about limiting calories, but healing your metabolism and letting your weight adjust downward naturally on a very reasonable, mainstream, balanced diet. According to her, people in my situation tend to gain weight before they lose it when following her program. Well, that's where I am. We'll see if it works, and if I can write that "Here's how I lost the weight" post. I don't know. I do know that it's almost physically painful to resist the pressure of the popular culture to diet diet diet, even though I know it has failed repeatedly for me in the past and possibly made me fatter. I can't dive wholeheartedly into the fat acceptance movement either because I know bottom line the extra weight is a health risk, but I'm also not convinced skinny is always better, and I am trying very hard to separate my concept of health from my concept of beauty.

I mean, BMI is crap and clinical measurements are not really a good way to judge yourself--but if you feel bad at your weight I'm glad you're making movements towards feeling better? I'm a lot heavier than you, but honestly I'm not sure it's easier to lose 30 pounds than 100.

But I figure if I don't talk about this ugly crap then I just stay the fat girl hiding behind a picture of a skinny girl, and I don't want that.

We are internet-strangers, I am just a reader of your blog, with all the one-sided intimacy that supplies (I know you but you don't know me...) but I wanted to say, I absolutely, fundamentally believe that you are so much more than a skinny girl waiting to get out from behind years of fatness. Recrafting self-image, especially in this culture, is hard, and painful, and an uphill battle. You write about beauty in your books in a way that I cannot help but think of; what is beautiful is also terrible, and sometimes it is ugly, too. I cannot think of you as a person who falls into some 'regular' sense of beauty measured by weight and height and BMI; these days, beauty is a terrible thing tangled up in soul, and inextricable from it, and in a way, it's the only part that matters.

But I hope as you struggle to redefine you as someone you want to see yourself as, you will come to see a bit of what this reader sees, loveliness in the self where a stranger has seen it; Cat, whose reading-a-book voice got in the reader's head and now narrates anything it will find; Cat, whose writing moves like music; Cat, who reminded the reader that some beautiful things are terrible and difficult to bear, and beautiful because they are more than they seem, and lovely because they are a universe that is greater and more complex than the sum of its parts. You, I think, are far greater than the sum of your parts, which is the only way I can ever think of you, the writer who gives birth to universes, and every mother is beyond lovely when she is pregnant with a world yet to be born.

^ I would like to second this reply.

Next step: Stop treating thin women like shit.

I'm sorry, when did I treat thin women like shit? Most of my friends are thin, and nowhere in this post do I say they are bad for being such.

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I so hear you on this it's unbelievable. And yet I know so many people who don't fit the "buck-ten" thing who remain unbelievably attractive just by virtue of being smoking hot people regardless. Confident, happy, funny, proud and capable. They put thinner people in the shade.

But I've made relationship choices in the past based on beauty rather than seeing the person for who they actually were, and it always ended badly. It seems to me you've got the really important stuff sorted.

I'm perilously close to hitting 300 lbs. My lowest adult weight? I had people coming up to me and asking if I'd been sick. Apparently, I look like crap at 175. I'm pretty much un-hot, and I'm ok with it, because my goals don't involve the public eye. I've always preferred being backstage where what I can do is more important than what I look like.

That said, I've found so much strength in your monsters. When I grow up (it'll happen eventually, right? - I'm only 36, after all), I'd love to be a monster in one of your books, because they're the ones with the interesting stories. Who've done the important things in the background, while everyone else is paying attention to the person in the spotlight.

I can think of worse fates, at any rate.

I love my monsters, too. ;)

I have always known that I was Not A Pretty Girl - I was told so when I was 5, and it stayed with me - and it has deformed my life in ways I can't even begin to articulate. But some of it, certainly, is what you've said here, in gorgeous words.

When I was at Worldcon in Melbourne, I was so big that I SPLIT MY PANTS. There are few things more mortifying than having bought 'fat pants' and then breaking them.

So I got home, and I got to work and between then and Christmas, lost 8.5 kilos and the sense of achievement is wonderful. Now, I'm down to the weight I was twelve months ago, before I changed employment, stopped being as active and put on ten kilos in six months.

Except now - I'm finding it hard to have the motivation to keep going. I'm still fat, but it's a fat that I've lived with for a long time and I'm comfortable with. I've got a husband who adores me (and is quite happy for me to be heavier cause, you know, that makes the boobs bigger...) I'm fitter and stronger.

BUT as you said, as a woman writer, there are judgments. My first trilogy is out in Australia at the moment and hopefully will be out in the States and elsewhere. And people will look and they will judge and I wonder just what an impact my looks (or lack thereof) will have on my career.

And it pisses me off that I have to think about that. That every day, I have to question everything I put in my mouth. Every day I don't exercise, I have to barrage myself for it. But while looks are a commodity, and I'm selling myself as much as my words, it's what I have to do to achieve what I want to achieve.

Sucks, sucks, sucks.

This is a really amazing piece of writing; thank you for putting it out there.

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