Fat Acceptance vs. The Desire to be “Sexy”–a feminist dilemma?

Editors Note:  This is the sixth in a series of guest blog posts about the experiences of women in a variety of settings.  This post is by Kate Small Scheu, writer, actress and feminist, concerning her perspective on appearance, health, media pressures and feminism.  She originally posted this as a note on facebook, and agreed to cross-post it here.

Fat Acceptance vs. The Desire to be “Sexy” — a feminist dilemma?

by Kate Small Scheu

I am mentally exhausted, which probably removes some of my usual inhibitions. So, here’s my admission for today: I HATE the way I look. I mean, really HATE it. Looking in mirrors pisses me off. Seeing photos makes me cringe.

I’m not thrilled with my hair (what woman is?), and I’m pretty peeved about the fact that I’m THIRTY-EIGHT FREAKING YEARS OLD and still breaking out with zits. But none of that’s really the problem. I am FAT. Fattest I’ve ever been. And it pisses me right off. And the fact that I’m so upset about it… upsets me even more.

 I know how to lose weight. I’ve done it before. Weight Watchers. Eat less, exercise more. Blah, blah, blah. Seriously, y’all. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist. And I know I’m supposed to do it to be healthy and all of that. And I admit. I DID feel better when I was at a lower weight.

 But of course, you shouldn’t really believe me if I tell you that I only want to lose weight to be healthy. It’s bull. I wanna be pretty. Sexy. Attractive. Desirable. Whatever, pick your Cosmopolitan magazine adjective and go with it. I’m lucky enough to be married to a man who insists that he still thinks I’m all of those things… and truthfully, none of my friends seem to give crap one about it. I know that I’m smart, and funny, and talented, and a good friend to have around, and all of that. So WHY does it matter to me that I don’t look the way I think I’m supposed to look?

A big part of me, the feminist, progressive, Jezebel-reading part of me, REJECTS that idea, absolutely. I’m a big supporter of fat acceptance, and I’ve read enough research to know that the BMI is a waste of freaking energy in terms of a useful metric of health. (Most professional athletes read as obese under that metric, for example.) Pretty much all the women on my mom’s side of the family probably weigh a good 20-30 lbs more than anyone thinks they do–including my size two cousin. I think we have lead-weight bones or something. The last time I weighed smack-dab in the middle of the “official” weight I’m supposed to be for my height, my docs were threatening to put me in the hospital because I had barely been eating for over six weeks. (CAVEAT here — it was NOT an eating disorder. I was genuinely sick.)

So I don’t buy into the BMI. And I don’t really even buy into the idea that a woman has to be stick-thin to be beautiful. In fact, I find most “plus-sized” models (most of whom couldn’t actually WEAR any of the clothes at Lane Bryant without looking like they’d been dressed by Omar the tent-maker) sexier than regular models. Search for images of Crystal Renn if you want to see a seriously hot mama. And I thought I looked fantastic in my wedding. See the pics here on facebook if you want to see what I mean. Here’s another confession for ya guys. I weighed somewhere between 170 and 180 lbs that day. I’m never gonna be a fragile creature, y’all.

The problem is, I still hate how I look NOW. Which makes me feel guilty. Like I’m betraying the ideals of fat acceptance, or feminism, or whatever. Which makes me resist changing my habits so that I can lose weight. (You can call it “going on a diet” or “changing your habits” or whatever you want. It all amounts to the same thing.)

 And let’s be honest — NO ONE wants to monitor every crumb that goes into their mouth every day for the rest of their lives. I freaking LOVE food. I like food that’s bad for me. (I actually like food that’s good for me, too… but nobody ever feels guilty about that, do they?) There are days when the only thing that gets me through the next work hour is chocolate. Hand over the Snickers bar and no one gets hurt. I realize that this is officially an unhealthy attitude towards food. Food does not equal love. Blah, blah. But I gotta tell you, when your life is exceptionally busy and full… doing serious cognitive behavioral therapy about food takes a back-of-the-long-bus seat to getting through the day without yelling, crying, or otherwise embarrassing yourself.

So, when you combine the part of me that experiences moral outrage at the idea that I have to be thin-NER to be sexy with the part of me that just wants a damn cookie, those parts can usually wrestle the wants-to-be-pretty part to the ground and feed her Pumpkin Pie Blizzards until she shuts the eff up.

 Until I do a rehearsal in a room with an entire wall of mirrors. Or admit–even if only to myself–my absolute horror of my picture appearing in the paper, photographed at a function for which I had dressed up, done my hair, worn “sexy” clothes, and everything. And then she’s back. And surly. And DANG she’s got some NASTY things to say about herself. 

Which then makes my feminist side sit up and get angry back… and we’re OFF! The cycle begins again. Yay.

I tagged a random selection of women on facebook who I think are smart, gorgeous, funny, and will understand in my original post. This is partly just to get out my own frustration. It’s partly to ask others how they deal. I am hoping that, amongst my wide and diverse group of incredibly smart friends (I’m not limiting it to women, here, by the way, even though I only tagged women here–feel free to post from your own point of view), I am not the first to deal with this particular set of apparently contradictory feelings. Am I alone here? If not… how do you guys deal with it?