“You’re not fat, you’re beautiful.”
Language is a tricky thing. On one hand this phrase conjures a kind of instruction, one that works particularly well for people who believe that “I am fat” is inaccurate. You wouldn’t say, “Ugh, I am so central nervous system” or “I am so fingers”. You have a central nervous system, you have fingers, you have fat. “You are not fat, you are beautiful” is a kind of redirection, and one that is generally meant with love.
But for many there is an implied mutual exclusivity between beauty and fatness. Something that was drawn to my attention in this recent article(trigger warning), one that felt insightful while still making its own mistakes. (The lead image of a thin body in measuring tape: triggering, and potentially shaming given the content.)
Regardless, it made me think about the way “beauty” and “fat” are separate categories, descriptors that are often regarded as so different, they might as well be oil and water, destined to never mix.
Again and again there have been articles, studies, and conversations that have all shed light on the fact that people who are fat are regarded as lazy and slovenly, regardless of how untrue. Leaving many to ask, “Where is the beauty in that?”
I have been thinner and I have been heavier, and I have absolutely been praised more for my beauty when I was thinner.
In transitioning into a lifestyle that is healthier in body, mind, and soul; discovering what kind of life I could be living in my post-cancer, post-thyroidectomy life, it also meant that I happened to gain weight. It also meant coming to learn that this physical change had no bearing on my worth as a person, and that it many ways it allowed me to be healthier than I was before in my days of restricting and shame.
But I was no longer seen as beautiful.
In spending time with some girlfriends recently, I suddenly felt other. In a group of girls there was always congratulations and praise to be passed around whenever someone lost weight, whenever someone maintained a weight loss, whenever multiple girls could fit into the tight dress that the girl with the most consistently enviable body planned to wear to that evening’s event.
I did not even attempt to join in. And in my new life I was ready to make peace with our different body types, but I was not ready to feel so excluded socially. We did all do our hair and makeup together, trading stories and curling irons, a time honored tradition. I carefully applied my eye makeup and added extra volume to my already long and thick eyelashes, a source of life-long pride that I inherited from my father’s family. I rolled and pinned my hair with joyous precision. And then it was time to put on the bright patterned dress in my favorite fit and flare style. I felt beautiful.
But when it came to trade sincere compliments all I received amongst the fluttering, “You look beautiful” my friends graced upon each other, was, “I like your dress.” Never mind the body in it.
“Why can’t I be fat and beautiful?” I ask myself and I ask the world.
In regard to myself I am able to say, “You can be both.”
I have body fat. It creates a shape to my body that sometimes makes pants shopping difficult and frustrating. It creates a soft layer around my otherwise strong core, it makes my arms droop in a way that most people would probably prefer that I always keep covered. And I am beautiful. I have my grandmother’s long graceful neck and my father’s dark eyelashes. I have smile that often brings out a smile in others and a knack for storytelling that weaves a beautiful interest. My beauty is in who I am, what I do, and how I feel about myself.
In regard to the world I am able to say, “We’re getting there.”
I see examples every day of people with different shaped bodies and different levels of ability, dare to not only believe in, but declare their beauty loudly. There are people who say, “I have no arms and I am beautiful, I am thin and I am beautiful, I am in a wheelchair and I am beautiful, my skin is dark and I am beautiful, I am masculine and I am beautiful.” The list has the potential to be endless.
Everyone wants to feel beautiful. And deserves to feel so. It’s as simple as that.
So let me make a point of telling you, regardless of what kind of “otherness” you feel that you embody, “You are beautiful today.”
CASEY ROSE FRANK