Posted on August 10 2016
Do you listen to podcasts? I love them. Once I’ve browsed and subscribed in iTunes, I watch history, fiction, current events, and even epic, comedic weirdness arrive weekly and monthly to my phone. The eminence grise of the podcast universe is This American Life, hosted by Ira Glass. This American Life is a powerhouse because it’s also a public radio show from WBEZ in Chicago, so Ira has access to people, stories and events that most podcasts can’t reach. Just last month, he broadcast a story so powerful, so resonant, so moving that it blew me away. I want everyone to listen to it, but in the likely event that you won’t, let me tell you about it.
The show is broken into acts, around a unifying theme, and in Tell Me I’m Fat, Episode 589, well-known writer and fat woman Lindy West tells her story. After years of being not just overweight or heavy but fat, one day she decided to ‘come out’ to her family as fat. Which sounds ludicrous, but what she meant by it was that she was going to stop pretending that she was trying not to be fat, pretending that she was doing everything she could do to lose weight, and that she had accepted herself and so should her family and friends. As she says to Ira, “The way that we are taught to think about fatness is that fat is not a permanent state. You're just a thin person who's failing consistently for your whole life.” (Imagine for a moment the psychic burden of waking up every single day already a failure!) Lindy realized that the way she had been seeing herself was entirely based on how other people decided to see fat people, and that if she wanted to see herself as beautiful, no matter her size, she could just change her brain. So she did.
During Act II, the narrator, also a producer on the show, revealed that she’d lost over 100 pounds in a few months many years ago, and that she’d kept it off. She described how her life changed for the better, how people treat her differently, men especially, how her career took off, how she was now married to a man she loved. But she also told us that she used diet pills (under a doctor’s supervision) to lose the weight, how she’s still taking the pills so many years later because she’s afraid of what would happen if she didn’t, and how she fears that her husband wouldn’t love ‘fat’ her, because he’s only known ‘thin’ her. And how her true identity, inside, is fat, and how the ‘thin’ her still feels like an imposter. She feels like an imposter in her own life. It is one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard.
I have been fat and I have been thin. I struggle with my body no matter what size it is, with deciding what’s appropriate or what I can wear to cover it up. I collect purses because clothes are too complicated for large women. Neither of the women in this podcast focus on clothes, but it’s crystal clear that the ‘out and proud’ fat woman sounds happy and healthy. The thin woman, successful by society’s every measure, sounds miserable and fearful. It’s time for all the nonsense we tolerate around size to end. We all deserve to feel cute, or pretty, or stylish, or sharp. Whatever size you are, stop covering up and be bold - wear something striking, something original.