Photo courtesy of Isabel Ríos

I Am Fat – And I’m Tired of Being Apologetic About It

Fatphobia is a persistent, less discussed and insidious form of prejudice. But I realized that the solution was not to love my body – that is an unrealistic standard I will always fail to achieve – but to welcome my body as it is with no moral value.

Dec 13, 2020

After almost six months of cruel, abrupt separation and two weeks of excruciating quarantine, my friends and I finally gathered for a meal in celebration of being together again, pandemic still raging in the backdrop.
As it usually goes, we spoke extensively, jumping erratically from thought to thought, interrupting each other with a grand new theory about human behavior, menial gossip and profound reflections about the jarring uncertainty of this world. Nowhere do I feel more at home than caught within these conversations, drinking chai, indifferent to the hours slipping by.
Only the words that were said carelessly somewhere amid our farewells could strip away the warmth I felt that evening.
“Anyway, I have become so fat during the quarantine, look at my stomach.”
I stopped in my tracks. My friend looks around, it seems, waiting for the solace in the confirmation that they are not — god forbid — fat.
“Same, thank god the gym is open here. I gained too much weight these months at home.”
“Come on, you both look great though, not fat at all.”
In the same way that we reassure each other in moments of debilitating self-doubt that we are, in fact, intelligent and capable, clever and deserving, we have normalized extending the same reassurance that our bodies are not as large as we think. We have come to learn to quell those fears. I so desperately wanted to probe, like I usually do: why was gaining weight a tragedy? More importantly, I wondered, how did they then view me? The thing about living in bodies like mine is that you are convinced you constantly take up too much space, physically and otherwise. In fear of pity or disagreement, I remained silent.
But the moments I spent nursing my cup, unable to speak in a space where I would otherwise struggle to remain quiet, reaffirmed not only the pain, but also the resounding urgency to articulate what I was barely coming to terms with: I am fat. And I'm tired of being apologetic about it.
Fatphobia permeates the world around us. Our healthcare systems, spaces of leisure, fashion trends and even institutions of higher education are built with inherent hostility towards anything that deviates from the norm: white and thin. We are taught from the onset about who is worthy of love and deserving of self-compassion. No coming of age film or cheesy novel prepared me to face the harshness that would surround me and no conversation during childhood ever affirmed that my body, as it is, could be the recipient of love. Hardly did I ever see a character on screen or flipping through pages that was both fat and also centered as a complete, complex human being outside the supposed tragedy of their size, and in turn, I grew up reducing myself in those very same terms.
In the face of a world that insists on treating one of the most salient aspects of myself as a joke and an insult, an abject moral failure and the result of poor individual choices — and now to make matters worse — the worst possible outcome of processing the trauma and grief of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, I tried to convince myself that fat could be beautiful. I sourced validation from the men who “still” chose to be with me. I patched up the myriad of pains I carried with me with the hope that if only I loved my body enough, I would be absolved from dealing with a world that refused to. I embraced body positivity as the antidote for the fatphobia that surrounded me.
In recent years, the body positivity movement has urged people to love their bodies unconditionally regardless of what they look like, and has tried to redefine beauty standards to be more “inclusive” of those who deviate from the norm. I soon found discomfort in the plea to love our bodies despite how they may look, implying there is a less desirable way to look. But it was only through extensive reading, slow growth and painstakingly acquired self-compassion that I realized placing a disproportionate expectation on our bodies to be beautiful and desirable is the problem — and the prescription to love my body for that beauty is an unrealistic standard that I would always fail to achieve.
I don’t love my body, and I don’t think I ever will. My solution, however imperfect, has been to resign from this seemingly impossible task. Instead, I have found, a more charitable and reasonable approach is to welcome my body as it is, with no moral value attached to its metrics, and cherish it for the way in which it allows me to move through this world; flawed, clumsy and unfitting.
Body neutrality is almost intentional apathy, and paradoxically, it is also disciplined self-compassion. It is an approach grounded in the firm and more attainable belief that there is no moral value attached to our measurements, but all the sanctity found in what our bodies across the spectrum of ability allow us to do. It has been a series of realizations that I have loved and continue to love in this body. I have climbed mountains, strolled the streets of more cities than I can count, embraced others with warmth and experienced life in all its complexity. And for that, I thank it. I nurture and care for it. And I let it be.
The bitter truth is that fatphobia is found in the most progressive places — it is the most socially acceptable form of prejudice, and it hides tacitly behind well-intended remarks, algorithms, workout routines and in who we choose to share ourselves with in intimacy. It is persistent, less discussed and more insidious. It sits in the aisles of the clothing stores we shop at, in the daily question of does this make me look fat? And in the silent judgements we pass on others’ food portions and workout habits. It is often dressed with good intentions, but it causes profound, everlasting harm.
There are no silver linings to the sheer cruelty that comes with existing in a world for which your body does not fit. But there is solace in the journey of reclaiming the term, and liberating ourselves from the shackles of desirability and the expectation of loving our bodies for their “unconventional” beauty. I am learning to articulate this, and perhaps, this is what I will share at our next celebratory meal.
Laura Assanmal is Editor-in-Chief. Email her at
gazelle logo