Tuesday, 18 February 2020

An Open Letter To The Stranger Who Changed My World...

To The Beautiful, Bold, Unapologetic Fat Person At The Anti-Diet Festival,

First of all let me make this really clear - I KNOW that a post like this will undoubtedly come off as condescending, no matter how hard I try not to let it.

As a small-fat person who has spent the last 2 years posting online about fatphobia and body image,  sharing photos of my fat body as part of that - I know only too well how those well-intentioned "You're SOOOO brave!" comments actually feel to receive.

Although I know they are never intended that way - they are so incredibly patronising. Whilst my reaction online is always a polite "thanks"...my actual out-loud response is usually "BUT WHY THOUGH?!"

Because why should it be considered "brave" to just exist in my own skin and share a photo of what that looks like. That's just the most basic of rights, surely?

But the sad fact is - it IS deemed brave to share photos exposing my fatness online, because the world is so completely against fat people. And the very act of existing in a fat body is viewed as fair game for all manner of unkind comments.

And so I'm aware that what I have to say to you here will no doubt come across in exactly the same way...and I'm sorry for that. But I feel the need to get this off my chest and say it. (And I'm also reasonably safe in the knowledge that the intended recipient of this letter will probably never read it, because I don't know who you are).

I noticed you early on in the day during the Anti-Diet Riot festival.

I made accidental eye contact with you when I was glancing around the room, people watching - a favourite hobby of mine, especially in a room so full of an eclectic range of beautiful people wearing unusual outfits and fabulous bright colours.

Your fierce beauty struck me right away. With a plethora of jewels adorning your face, your bold and bright make up, and your striking outfit - you were a vision I found it hard to look away from.

But ever conscious of my awkwardness and lack of ability to start conversations with strangers, I averted my gaze elsewhere and carried on with my day.

It was much later, when I wandered in to the main hall to find a seat for the keynote speech that I saw you again.

I took a seat next you, saving a space for my friend who then came and sat in between us.

But throughout the session, as riveting and engaging as it was, I found myself completely in awe of you.

You were a large character in every sense of the word - you were tall, and big bodied, and you had a very strong presence.

The first thing that struck me about you was how firmly you held space for yourself.

As a fat woman, I often find myself trying my very best to shrink my body down in public places - to take up as little space as possible so as not to be an inconvenience to anybody.

Even on that day - at a fat-positive event, somewhere I should have felt comfortable at last - I still felt conscious of my body being too large for certain spaces. I felt that I needed to bunch my shoulders up, squeeze my legs tighter together, and take up less physical space on benches incase others needed somewhere to sit and I was simply taking too much space for myself.

But there you were - sitting in a power stance. Legs spread apart, elbows out beside you as you leaned forward - making yourself comfortable.

You held your space with power.  You made no attempt to shrink yourself down. You had every right to take up the space you needed and you did exactly that with not a hint of apology.

Something that you're so very entitled to do, something that every human being should have the right to do - yet something I find so very difficult.

During the talk, you voiced your contributions and asked your questions loudly and with confidence - while I sat meekly allowing the answers to pop into my head and never daring to voice them, just as I had always done throughout my school years and in every other situation in my life so far. Always so aware that to speak up would mean to have eyes on me - and always too self-conscious to allow that to happen.

And then - right in the middle of the session, a waiter came in and delivered a tray to you.

Nobody else in the room was eating. But there you were. Eating a delicious-smelling burger and a plate full of fries, swigging your beer from the bottle, enjoying your food and taking in the talk.

Something that seems so simple. Not even worth mentioning. Something that is so mundane that it probably shouldn't even have been noticeable.

But that simple act was one of the biggest lessons of the entire day for me.

You see...the one thing I struggle with most about existing as a fat person is the fear of judgement from others.

And never does that affect me as much as when I'm eating in public.

I have endured many, many occasions where I've had panic attacks either during or after eating at a restaurant because of the intense fear of whether people are looking at me, judging my food choices, and criticizing me.

The evening before the festival, I'd gone out for dinner with my friend and her brother - someone I'd never met before.

And I can't begin to explain to you the panic I felt at having to order a meal in front of him - I panicked over what I should order and whether he'd judge it if it wasn't healthy enough. I agonised over whether I should order a smaller portion so as not to appear greedy, even though I knew it would leave me hungry.

And every bite I took was accompanied by shame and embarrassment.

I can't remember the last time I ate in public without feeling those things. I can't remember the last time I ordered exactly what I wanted from a menu without considering what strangers would think of my choice.

I can't explain what you did for me that day, just by simply being there and demonstrating exactly how possible it is to live your life with confidence as a larger person, take up the space that you are entitled to and enjoying yourself without giving a solitary fuck what anybody else thinks about it.

I came home that night, and tried to explain how I felt about you to my partner and I ended up just sobbing.

I'm not sure I can explain why.

I feel as though witnessing the way you live your life has set me free.

That witnessing the confidence and power you exuded made me feel liberated.

And at the same time, it also made me feel so angry that so many of us are wasting our lives living in absolute fear of what other people think about us - because that's just not what its all about.

You showed me that it's possible to exist in this world as a fat person and just enjoy it - eat the burger, ask the questions, be seen and be heard.

You showed me that I'm not wrong for looking the way I do....the world is wrong for judging me on it.

And that it doesn't have to be my cross to bare.

I don't know when, but I am promising myself that one day I will be that person for somebody else.

One day I will sit in a crowded room where nobody else is eating, and I will munch my way through a burger and a beer and woe betide anybody who has anything to say about it.

Because I have every right to enjoy my life and do exactly as I please, regardless of what size or shape I am.

Just like everybody else.

Thank you for showing me what I aspire to.

Turns out it's not the #thinspiration bikini babes on Instagram after all, it's a beautiful, confident, bold fat person enjoying their life and not apologizing for it.

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