“What do you do?” I am at a party, and this kind stranger smiles, offering me a drink. I tell him about my day job when a friend cuts in.
“She’s being modest,” she says. “She’s a writer.”
He lifts his glass in a silent toast. “Right on. What do you write about?”
I tell him I write about the social realities of moving through the world as a fat person. He wrinkles his nose at the word, but mercifully lets it pass, and asks for examples instead. I tell him about the overwhelming disparities faced by fat people: bias in health care, discrimination in hiring, not to mention sexual assault and harassment. I tell him it’s an issue worth confronting, worth uprooting.
He shrugs. “Some of it has got to be motivating, though, right?”
“Motivating?” I echo back to him. I brace myself for what comes next, too tense to let myself reel at the implication that the solution to pervasive discrimination somehow lies with the person left to fend it off. As if my body were to blame for such widespread societal ills.
“Yeah. To make a lifestyle change.”
“You mean weight loss?”
“Yeah! Just takes a little elbow grease. A little tenacity and you’ll be there in no time.”
I tell him that not everyone can lose weight?—?nor does everyone want to. Besides, I tell him, who wants to be the kind of person who treats people differently based on how they look?
He shrugs again. “I guess, but that’s just the way the world works.”
“Things can change,” I offer. “Just because that’s how it works now doesn’t mean it has to work that way.”
A third shrug. “But you know what to do, right? I mean, if it’s so bad, just lose weight.”
A familiar exhaustion washes through my veins and marrow. Even small talk at a party is invaded by this dramatic oversimplification of 20 years of my life?—?dieting, appetite suppressants, anything to become thin. Instead, all those weight-loss attempts had altered the functioning of my body, my metabolism slowed dramatically, and ironically, all those diets left me just as fat as ever, and sometimes fatter. And I’m not alone: Studies have repeatedly shown that the majority of weight-loss diets fail, and paradoxically are even associated with weight gain.
Here, with this inquisitive stranger, I run up against the exhausting and faulty logic that seems to follow me everywhere. It comes not just from strangers at parties but from commenters online, strangers on the street, health care providers, coworkers—even friends and family. As a fat person, just lose weight is everywhere I turn. Just lose weight, as if the 10 pounds they shed for their New Year’s resolution abided by the same laws as the 220-pound weight loss mandated for me by the body mass index (BMI). As if it was that simple to become the rare (one in 608, according to analysis) very fat woman who gets thin and stays that way. And as if treating me like a human being, an equal worthy of respect, was so unthinkably burdensome that, instead, I should spend the better part of a decade praying at the altar of a thinness that had never come and that, statistically, might never come.