Guide to Surviving Diet Culture in the Office

I’ve been working from home since January. And it has been absolute bliss. I wake up at 8:30 a.m., brew myself some coffee, toast a bagel, and sit down to start my day in yoga pants. Throughout the day, I can take short breaks to walk my dog, pet my cat, wash the dishes. I have even baked cookies while working. I can do laundry while I work. It’s incredible. Here is a picture of me, in my home office, in my comfy Princess Leia shirt, loving that WFH life.

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I savor working from home so much because I have spent most of my career working in offices. Because I worked in the nonprofit sector, these offices have primarily been populated by women.

And I love women. I am a feminist. I support women, I want to see other women succeed, I admire the badass women I’ve met in my career. But, oh my god, an office full of women makes it nearly impossible to escape diet talk. I have worked in offices full of powerful, educated, brilliant women. And they all want to talk about their diets.

Diet culture is all around you. In the break room, at the vending machine, at the water cooler, at the coffee station, at happy hour, at a staff birthday lunch. It can feel overwhelming and oppressive. It can make you second-guess your lunch, or get a salad instead of a sub because you don’t want people to see you wolfing down a five dollar footlong at your desk, or cut off a tiny piece of a donut when someone brings in a box instead of grabbing a whole, intact donut because none of the other women took a whole donut and you don’t want to be the office fatty, even if you are in fact the office fatty. It can even infect your inbox — invitations to go for healthy walks during your lunch breaks, emails from HR about your “wellness program.” It’s basically inescapable.

I developed some solid techniques for navigating diet culture in the office over the years. (Though, full disclosure, there was a point where I was part of the problem back when I was doing Weight Watchers. Hey, we all have a past.) While I’m in a good place now (at home), I know a lot of women struggle with the office in particular when adopting Intuitive Eating (IE) and Health At Every Size (HAES), so here are my tips for staying sane at the office.

1. Don’t bring food to work unless it’s for yourself

This is a rule I’ve followed for years, and I initially adopted it for reasons totally unrelated to HAES or IE. When I was a fledgling young professional, I read the book Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office. And while it’s not a perfect book, one of the tips that stuck with me was about feeding your coworkers. Bringing food in for everyone sets a particular tone — namely, that you’re a mother or wife figure. And I’ve found that to be true. Back when I thought bringing bagels or donuts to the office was just a friendly gesture sure to impress my coworkers, it backfired on me. It made me the sort of employee that people asked to do admin tasks for them, even if they were technically my equals. It meant that people thought I’d clean out the fridge, even if it wasn’t my old lunch getting moldy in there. When people left their coffee mugs in the sink, I was one of the kitchen fairies that was expected to clean them. Printer low on toner? No worries, Linda will take care of it! Need a few reams of printer paper? Ask Linda. Oh, and while you’re down there, Linda, can you grab some other supplies I need? And can you distribute the mail? It seemed like such a small thing, but by feeding my coworkers, I had painted myself into a corner and got roped into serving my colleagues in so many other ways.

I stopped feeding people. I stopped bringing in donuts and bagels and getting cups of coffee for people when I was getting one for myself. I stopped keeping candy and snacks for others to enjoy at my desk. It felt weird at first. It felt rude. But, sure enough, the way people treated me started to shift as well.

And one major unintended benefit? Food became less and less a part of my life at the office. I had fewer conversations about food and diets. I eventually no longer knew who was doing Weight Watchers or keto or Whole30 or who was on an elimination diet. I never cared about that, but at long last I didn’t have to hear about it. Because I wasn’t feeding them and I was not eating with them. I was no longer creating moments where being face-to-face with food moralizing and diet talk and food guilt were highly probable.

It was such a simple change but it was stunningly effective. And if your knee-jerk reaction is that you’d never want to be the sort of employee who has a rule about never bringing in donuts or snacks for the office, ask yourself: Is it your job to feed your coworkers? I presume they’re all grown adults who are fully capable of feeding themselves. Feeding your coworkers is not your responsibilityYou do not have to do it. And when you stop doing it, you’re a step closer to never having to hear about Susan’s diet ever again.

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While not purchasing donuts, you can wear this amazing sweatshirt from Fat Mermaids.

2. Call out fatphobic and body-shaming comments. Every single time.

I’m not going to lie: This one is uncomfortable at first. Sometimes it’s the Queen Bee of the office blathering on about how so-and-so shouldn’t be wearing that dress. Sometimes it’s your boss or HR talking about the “obesity epidemic.” And sometimes you might even overhear some fucked up, fatphobic comments in conversations you aren’t actively involved in. But it’s essential for people to speak up and shut it down in order to change an office culture.

You wouldn’t sit by idly while a colleague was making awful, homophobic remarks, would you? Or nod your head in agreement if your boss was on a racist tirade? Or if you overheard a nasty water cooler conversation about a trans coworker using the bathroom that matches their gender? I sure hope not. Discrimination and hate in the workplace shouldn’t be tolerated. And while weight discrimination in the workplace is still perfectly legal, that does not mean you have to sit down and shut up when you encounter it. You should call it out.

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I am not saying you should get up and shout at someone making snide remarks about someone’s weight. Obviously, that could get you sent to HR. Approach and tone are everything. Here are a few techniques I have used successfully:

  1. Pull the ol’ “this is inappropriate to discuss in the workplace” trick. Stated calmly and in a friendly tone, this shuts most conversations right the fuck down. Sure, you look like a party pooper, but you don’t want to attend a Fatphobic Jerkwad Party anyway, so who cares?
  2. Look the offensive colleague dead in the eyes and ask, “Why would you think it’s okay to say something hurtful and fatphobic like that?” Or, “Why do you think it’s okay to discuss ______’s body?” Direct, to the point, and puts the onus back on the person being a jerk to explain their jerky behavior.
  3. “That’s really mean and hurtful and I’m surprised to hear you say something like that about another person.” Works even if it’s not a surprise at all to learn your colleague is a dick.
  4. “I’m really not interested in discussing other people’s bodies and weight because it’s none of our business and their bodies belong to them.”

You may want to start off with a softer approach at first, and work your way up to being blunt as a spoon. You may need to let idle conversations you overhear slide as you focus on dealing with fatphobia and body-shaming in conversations you’re actually involved in. It’s okay: no one becomes a badass body warrior all at once. And even the smallest interaction can stick in someone’s mind and make them rethink their loose lips about the large hips of a celebrity or coworker.

A real-world example of when I’ve had to employ some of these techniques: I used to work in a vegan workplace, and there was a gang of vegan gym bros running one of our departments. Ultimately, their explicit goal was to get more men to be vegan, and one of the ways they did this was tying it to physical fitness, and in turn, masculinity and virility. (I could write a novel about how much I hate this tactic, which seems to be growing in popularity.) One day, they brought a guy to our office who had written a book about being a vegan athlete. I decided not to go because I’m not an athlete and had other stuff to do and anticipated a lot of fatphobic bullshit. It was decidedly not my thing. And in the break room, on the day of this guy’s talk, a lady I barely knew stopped me while I was getting my coffee and asked me if I was going. “Nope!” I said cheerily. “I’m too busy and it’s not really my thing.” This lady’s eyes got very big with concern and she started to tell me why I should go, all but saying that my fat ass would drop dead if I did not attend this guy’s talk. So I called her on it. “Why are you trying to convince me to go?” She said it would be good for me. “Why?” Because it’s important to learn about veganism and nutrition. “Why do you think I don’t know anything about that?” She started to get the point. I delivered this in a friendly, direct tone that made it clear a) I was not going to stop interrogating her until she stopped interrogating me, b) I thought she was being inappropriate as hell, and c) I really wanted her to think about all the fucked up things she was implying here. Eventually we parted ways. She never pulled that shit with me again. Thank god.

At the end of the day, though, this technique is all about managing what you have to deal with at the office. Body-shamers gonna shame, and they may just find another captive audience who is less likely to clap back, but when you call someone out and put them on the spot, you can be certain of one thing: they are never, ever going to try to talk to you about that shit again.

3. Model a positive, healthy relationship with food

This one is a little more complicated, especially if you’re actively working on your relationship with food and adopting HAES. But it can actually be easier than you think, since you don’t need to be 100% there (who is?!) to model basic HAES and IE principles for others. And you will probably find that changing out how you talk about and behave around food in front of others changes how you feel about it internally as well. “Fake it ’til you make it” is sometimes a solid approach to adopting real transformational change in life.

These are the basic rules I try to apply to myself when dealing with food, eating, and other people:

  • It’s okay to be hungry. You can say when you’re hungry, and you can eat when you’re hungry.
  • It’s okay to not be hungry too. You don’t have to eat just because food is there and everyone else is eating. You can turn down a staff lunch or happy hour because you’re not hungry or don’t want to go. Even if it’s your boss’ birthday, you don’t need to eat cake if you don’t want to eat cake. You are in charge of your own decisions about food.
  • You can eat whatever you’re hungry for, without shame.
  • Do not apologize for:
    • Being hungry
    • Eating
    • Not being hungry
    • Not eating
    • What you are eating
    • When you are eating
    • How you are eating
    • Why you are eating
    • Where you are eating (see: at your desk)
  • Food is neutral; do not refer to certain food as “good” and others as “bad.” A person is not being “good” for eating a salad or being “bad” for eating a cupcake. Or even three cupcakes. Just eat whatever the fuck you want and refrain from food moralizing.
  • Do not comment on what anyone else is eating (unless you’re asking them where they got it so you can get one of your own)
  • Do not engage in conversation about what you’re eating (unless you legitimately want to)
  • Do not engage in weird, disordered behavior around food

I feel like that last one needs some explanation. You may encounter some odd food situations that are not openly fatphobic but are still problematic. For example, one of my favorite bosses I have ever worked for had a stash of “emergency chocolate.” It was a jar of fun-size candy bars in a jar on her desk. Everyone was welcome to the “emergency chocolate,” should they find themselves in urgent need of chocolate for some reason. (Dementor attack? I’m not sure what a chocolate emergency entails, even now.) This was charming and kind, but also, sort of weird, right? The implication was that in a stressful moment, shoveling a Snickers bar into your mouth would help. Which, hey, it might! Food can bring comfort. A sugary candy bar can also provide enough of a boost to power through the post-lunch doldrums. But, to me, the stash of emergency chocolate represented a disordered groupthink about “junk food.” In case of emergency, break open emergency chocolate bar and eat your feelings. As if one should only eat a Snickers if they are experiencing emotional distress. There was all kinds of food weirdness in that emergency chocolate jar, man.

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So my solution was just to refrain from engaging with it. I knew it was there, I knew what its purpose was, I knew it was something my lovely boss wanted to have on her desk and offer to colleagues. I did not judge anyone who went by to procure an emergency fun-size Twix. I just opted out of the whole thing.

And it is simply a fact that women mirror each other when it comes to food. If you’re out with a friend and you order a salad? She’ll probably order a salad too, even if she wants a great big bloody burger with fries. If you want dessert but everyone else is opting out because they’re full, you’ll probably skip dessert, or encourage other women to “be bad” with you. (I’ve done it. We all have.) So even though a lot of these things seem small, they matter. The most stunning thing I’ve noticed in my own life since adopting these rules for myself is how quick people are to mirror it back to me, especially women. Somehow, me having the courage to say, “Dude, I’m so hungry right now,” or grab a full bagel with regular cream cheese if I want one, seems to empower others to do whatever they want and not shy away from things like eating when they are hungry or eating whatever they want. It doesn’t seem like saying you’re hungry when you are hungry should be a radical act, but it is.

4. Never talk about anyone’s bodies in the workplace, including your own.

This is something that should go without saying, but in offices all over the world, people’s bodies are a hot topic. “Have you lost weight?” so often replaces “It’s been awhile since I’ve seen you and you look well!” People talk about other people’s bodies, their own bodies’, celebrity bodies, their family members’ bodies, bodies in general. And nothing positive ever comes from it. Horror stories about people complimenting the weight loss of a coworker who is battling a life-threatening illness are real, and they happen all the time.

So, don’t do it. Don’t engage in talk about bodies with your coworkers. Even if it comes up earnestly, with no ill intent. There are so many other things to talk about! Here is a list of things you could talk about that are not related to anyone else’s weight, appearance or body:

  • Game of Thrones
  • Westworld
  • Movies
  • Your pets
  • Your family, spouse, or friends
  • Sportsball
  • A fun thing you did this weekend
  • A funny cat video you saw online
  • How you don’t like Mondays
  • How you wish it was Friday
  • Yay, it’s Friday!
  • YOUR JOB

The list is endless, really.

And it doesn’t stop with other people’s bodies. Don’t talk about your own, either. Unless you’re telling someone you twisted your ankle, or have a cold, or are calling out sick and there is an actual tangible reason why you’re talking about it. If you want to avoid diet culture in the workplace, you’ll need to avoid engaging in it yourself. Don’t put yourself down, don’t put others down, don’t stand for other people putting themselves down, and don’t stand for people putting others down. You’re there to work, not talk about your own body or anyone else’s.

This is, again, about modeling behavior for others. Compliment people without bringing their weight or bodies into it. Find ways to bond, connect and have conversations with people in the workplace that do not involve food, bodies, or weight loss. Do your job, do it well, and opt out of diet talk at work.

The other thing here is to gently remind people that it’s not appropriate to discuss bodies in the workplace, a concept people are becoming more familiar with because of #MeToo-inspired conversations about sexual harassment in the workplace. Remind people that they don’t know what’s going on with another person when they’re complimenting their weight loss, or telling them that they look like they’ve lost a little weight. Remind people that other people’s bodies are not public property and not appropriate conversation fodder. Redirect them. Change the topic. Call out problematic shit when you see or hear it.

5. Don’t be afraid to guard your lunch break and time off the clock like a lion guarding her cub.

This can also be tricky to pull off as well, with office politics being what they are. But here’s a general rule I follow: I am at work during certain hours. During that time, I have an HR-mandated break, either 30 minutes or an hour. My break and any time where I am not expected to be in the office actively working are my fucking time.

That means I reserve the right to say no to a happy hour. That means I do not have to join coworkers for lunch, unless I want to. That means I do not have to attend an after-work dinner for a visiting remote colleague or someone’s birthday, unless I want to. None of these events are required. 

For me, surviving an office environment rife with diet talk and food weirdness involved saying no to a lot of things. Sometimes I’m happy to go to a restaurant to celebrate a birthday after work, but sometimes, I’d rather stab myself in the eyeball with a fork than sit around a table with a bunch of ladies being weird about food. Attending food-centric work events outside of work hours was my nightmare. So, often, I just didn’t do it. This was for my own survival and sanity.

And, beyond just keeping me away from negative food situations, it was something I felt was important for my work/life balance. The office gets me 40+ hours per week. That’s the majority of my waking hours. (And that doesn’t even include the amount of time I would spend getting ready for work, commuting, and scheduling around work.) They get to be the master of my time for much of the week; during breaks, and after work, I briefly get to be the master before I go to bed. So, I can say no to demands on my time if I want to.

There’s no reason you need to tell your coworkers, “Look, I don’t want to go to your dumb happy hour because y’all are nuts about food and I will literally light myself on fire if I have to hear about keto one more time this week.” You can tell white lies. You have an appointment after work. You already have plans. You’re not feeling well. You’re just really tired. If you have pets, needing to get home to walk the dog or feed the cat are always solid excuses. It’s fine to lie because what you do with your life outside of the office is none of their business. You have the right to say no. 

And to avoid looking like the office grump, you can get involved in non-food ways. If it’s someone’s birthday, or you’re celebrating a promotion, or you’re sending off a colleague who is leaving, take the lead in purchasing a card and getting it signed by your department. If you’re having a lunch to welcome a new employee, just stop by their desk and give them a warm in-person welcome. If it’s a team happy hour and you feel like you should go just for the sake of team spirit, just be a kind, thoughtful, creative and capable employee and member of the team and it probably won’t ever be held against you that you didn’t have beers with them one night.


 

Do you have any tips or techniques from combating fatphobia and diet culture in the workplace? Let me know! I’d love to hear what works for others!

 

 

In Memory of Anthony Bourdain

I’m normally not the sort of person to get emotional about celebrity deaths. It’s not that I don’t care, I just have a limited reserve of emotional energy to expend on people I don’t know. But I woke up to the news that Anthony Bourdain died this morning in an apparent suicide. And this one hurts.

I probably wasn’t the intended audience for “No Reservations.” I was a young vegan working at an animal shelter when it premiered. I wasn’t much of a traveler or a rebel. But “No Reservations” struck a chord with me, and I was enthralled. In many ways, watching “No Reservations” was the first step in being free from my fear of food.

On “No Reservations,” he did a deep dive into the food and culture of a country or region. He ate at fine dining restaurants and on the street, and he did not elevate one over the other. He had equal reverence for the finest sushi in the world and the most humble street food. He saw art and beauty in all of it. He understood that both told a story – the story of the place where he was eating the food, the story of the person making it, and the story of how he and whomever he was eating with came to be eating that particular food at that particular spot.

When I discovered Anthony Bourdain, I was frankly terrified of food. I enjoyed food, but had learned that my enjoyment of food was inappropriate and too much. I joined Weight Watchers. I did not eat anything that did not have nutritional information printed on the package, or that could not be found in my little book of Points that I bought through Weight Watchers. (This was before apps allowed you to plug in any food and get the Points value. I had to carry around a book and little Weight Watchers Points calculator at all times.) I was also vegan, for ethical reasons. And I was struggling to afford to pay my bills. So, when I was eating, certain things were on my mind. How many calories are in this? How much fiber? How much fat? Does this have animal ingredients? Was this humanely and sustainably produced? Can I afford this? Will this throw off my day and/or week and prevent me for losing weight? Never did it occur to me to ask myself a simple question: Will I enjoy this? 

I had internalized the idea that enjoying food was a shameful, secretive thing. I agonized over food. One time, I forced myself to eat five stalks of celery because it was a zero-Point food and I was hungry but had reached my daily Points limit and didn’t want to use my “weekly” Points and I nearly threw up because I absolutely hate raw celery. That is a picture of my relationship with food at that stage, in a nutshell. Pleasure was never part of the equation. The foods that gave me pleasure (big heaping plates of pasta, potatoes drenched in cheese, cakes and cookies and pastries, all the beautiful carbohydrates) were forbidden, and they were Bad for Me. They would make me gain weight, and losing weight was my only concern. I actively avoided pleasure. Each night, my dinner was a dry-as-hell Morningstar Farms black bean burger topped with carefully measured dollops of barbecue sauce or vegan mayonnaise on a thin, flavorless, low-carb bun. This was how I ate. I extracted zero pleasure from food. I was a food ascetic. I was devoted to austerity with food, because it was so dangerous. I feared that if I felt joy when eating, if I ate the thing I actually wanted to eat, it would be a slippery slope that surely ended with me hoovering Cheetos and ice cream in a fugue state.

Anthony Bourdain also agreed that food was dangerous, but he embraced it. In his first published piece for The New Yorker, Don’t Eat Before Reading This, he rhapsodized about the pleasures of butter, the visceral joy of blood squirting into his mouth when biting into a boudin noir at his own restaurant. He gleefully ripped apart the assumption many diners have that their expensive meals were all prepared by people in gloves. “By the time a three-star crew has finished carving and arranging your saddle of monkfish with dried cherries and wild-herb-infused nage into a Parthenon or a Space Needle,” he wrote, “it’s had dozens of sweaty fingers all over it.” To him, food was dangerous, risky, subversive. It was communal; food was meant to be handled — the type of diner who might clutch their pearls over the bread being recycled was not the type of diner he wanted to serve or eat with. Food was primal — it was meant to be touched, tasted, smelled, experienced.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN: PARTS UNKNOWN

This was also how I felt about food. But unlike Bourdain, I spent most of my time squashing my love of food as far down as it would go. I aimed to be one of those lithe, serene people who could eat a salad with no dressing for lunch (“because it doesn’t even need it!”) and be satisfied. In reading “Kitchen Confidential,” and watching “No Reservations,” I was able to reconnect with the part of myself that was hungry. For food, for travel, for life. Going with him on a culinary journey through an unknown land and find common ground in food made me realize that food is love. Food is pleasure, food is adventure, food is history, food is community. And food can also be rebellion.

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Anthony Bourdain was the first chef I can remember who made both travel and fine dining feel accessible. Before him, there were two kinds of people. The Applebees folks and the French Laundry folks. Fine dining was a world where stuffy, classically-trained chefs served pristine, stuffy food to rich, stuffy people. But he really broke down the barriers between fine dining and food that “common people” ate. He presented the best, most acclaimed food in the world and street food you can get on a skewer from a truck with equal joy, enthusiasm and respect. There was no line for him between the foodies and the common folk; there was art and beauty to be found in both. On “No Reservations,” he frequently mentioned that he preferred humble hole-in-the-wall restaurants off the beaten path, inaccessible or unknown to tourists, because they allowed him to learn the story of a place he was visiting. How many people tried new foods because of him? How many people learned to cook because of him? I never would have dreamed of going to a nice restaurant years ago, but Anthony Bourdain taught me that I have just as much of a right to amazing food as the richest person in town. Food is for everyone, not just a select few. And, very often, there is sublime pleasure to be found in the most common of places, like Waffle House.

And he did the same thing with travel. By presenting travel not as something the wealthy upper crust does, and not staying in luxury hotels, by going out into communities and meeting and eating with people, he made travel seem approachable too. You’d don’t need to be a millionaire to travel, and if you can’t afford a trip to Tokyo, there are delights just a bus or car ride away too. (He profiled my home town, Baltimore, in an episode of “No Reservations” about America’s “Rust Belt.”) How many people traveled because of him? How many adventures has he inspired?

Personally, a lot of people have influenced me on the path to finding peace with my body and with food. But a lot of it started with Anthony Bourdain. “No Reservations” was the first time I had seen, and understood, that hunger was not something to run away from. And that food was not the enemy but a source of comfort, adventure, pleasure, pain, controversy, individuality, love, community. We didn’t always agree — I was alternately vegan and vegetarian through most of my twenties and he was a vocal critic of people who opted out of animal consumption for ethical reasons — but he never shied away from the debate, and he showed during his career that he was willing to embrace growth publicly. For all the machismo and swagger of his persona, he was one of the first prominent men to embrace #MeToo and spoke out against toxic masculinity, in the culinary world, Hollywood and elsewhere.

I’m so sorry that he was in such a bad place. Sometimes the brightest among us are the ones who burn out the hardest. And the sensitivity that makes allows people to write and live with such creativity and passion can also be our downfall. I don’t know what he was struggling with, but I do know that mental illness is a fearsome beast that doesn’t back down just because you’ve got a successful career, awesome girlfriend and everything you’ve ever wanted. I wish he had gotten help.

Check on your friends or family members, even if they seem strong. Sometimes even strong people need help and are in crisis behind the scenes. And if you’re in crisis or feeling hopeless, reach out. Call or chat online with National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Tell someone. It’s hard (believe me, I know) but it’s so necessary. The world is losing too many people who have so much to offer.

Thank you for helping me, Anthony.

Dietland on AMC: A Review

I’ve been hearing about Dietland on AMC for months now. This mainly speaks to how large and powerful the “body positive” movement has become on social media: influencers have been promoting this show, starring Joy Nash of “A Fat Rant,” with genuine excitement about a show tackling the beauty myth with a real, actual fat lady in the lead so often and so fervently that I saw multiple Instagram posts about viewing parties. Not only was the show Relevant to Our Interests, it starred one of our own.

I haven’t actually read Dietland (sorry!) so I watched the first three episodes from the standpoint of someone who knows nothing of this story or how the plot ultimately progresses. I found it to be a creative, interesting, well-acted, hallucinatory and slightly disjointed ride. Rather than recapping the episodes, I’m going to dive into some of the characters, themes explored and moments on the show.

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Alisha “Plum” Kettle

Alisha Kettle, known as “Plum” because she is “lucious” and of course round, is a hidden woman. She works for a teen magazine called Daisy Chain, answering letters for the magazine’s Miranda Priestly-esque editor, Kitty (played by Juliana Margulies.) Plum works from home, so she’s not even a presence at her own office. When Kitty gives her an assignment to cover a plus-size fashion show at New York Fashion Week, she is told to watch it on Facebook Live, while one of Daisy Chain’s “regular girls” (read: thinner, more glamorous staffers) attends the show in person. The assignment is largely exciting to Plum because it means she’ll finally get a byline — and thereby get credit for her own writing, something she doesn’t get as Kitty’s ghostwriter. Plum wears an all-black wardrobe of shapeless sacks and hides behind a shaggy, banged bob. She is hidden, and goes to great lengths to keep herself as hidden as she possibly can.

Plum is trying to lose weight at a group called “Waist Watchers” so she can get weight loss surgery. (Her douchecanoe male surgeon tells her, annoyed, that she must lose additional weight to qualify for surgery and eat under 700 calories per day.) Like many people caught in the clutches of the diet industry, Plum has pinned her personal happiness on this surgery. She buys a red dress that she pulls out to remind herself of the possibilities that await her when she is, at long last, thin. She struggles to afford her appointments at the bariatric center, and doesn’t have the money for the follow-up cosmetic surgeries that will inevitably follow.

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The sad fat girl trope

Plum is, in many ways, the kind of fat character that people involved in body positive and fat acceptance communities loathe to see. She’s sad, she’s hopeless, she’s deferential, she silently suffers indignities like dumb boys in beanies catcalling her from a car and rude comments from custodians in the elevator at work.

When a cute ragamuffin college kid at the coffee shop she often works in takes an interest in her, she brushes it off, avoids his advances and seems to dismiss the idea that he could be interested in her. When a handsome detective hits on her, she dismisses him as a fat fetishist who will want to sleep with her in private but never own up to their relationship publicly. (Not exactly off-base, especially since he refers to her as “Chocolate Cake,” and we later find out he has a wife and kids.)

What makes Plum interesting is that she’s clearly got an empowerment arc … and she is the lead character in the show. Plum is the show’s center. Usually, the sad fat girl is relegated to the sidelines of movies and television. But Plum is not a sad sack friend of a more conventionally attractive romcom lead, or comic relief, or a tragic minor character. She’s the lead. The show is focused on her sadness, her issues with her weight, her oppression and ultimately her empowerment. In one scene, we literally enter Plum’s brain as she thinks back on a time before she realized she was fat, before she came to associate food and her body with shame. (It’s a small but gorgeous scene where we see Plum’s smiling, victorious, happy younger self.)

Like Kate Pearson on “This Is Us,” the Plum we meet at the beginning of the show is not exactly the role model the body positive community wants. (That would be Janice, the loud, proud fat woman who barges in late at a Waist Watchers meeting, declares herself a unicorn who gets plenty of dick, and storms out.) But Plum is a character with nuance, who has a lot of potential for growth. Like Kate, she’s starting off as something of a wet blanket — an empty vessel that others act upon. And, like Kate, she’s actively pursuing weight loss surgery. I’m cautiously optimistic to see where this goes, because while the body positive community often gripes at this sort of representation, it’s also where a lot of us start out, and where the Janices of the world began. So watching her transformation from a sad, weight loss-obsessed, hidden woman waiting for her life to start when she hits her goal weight to (I assume) an empowered, more Janice-like woman should be interesting. We see this kind of thing a lot in BoPo/FA circles, but it’s not something often portrayed outside of those very small media bubbles.

And Joy Nash is wonderful as Plum. (Sidenote: Did you know that Joy Nash also played Señorita Dido, the mysterious lady who hung out with The Giant under the Black Lodge and, like, manufactures the Glowing Laura Palmer Orb that gets sent to earth to take on Judy and Bob in “Twin Peaks?!” I, for one, was very excited by this.)

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Daisy Chain

So, I’ve read a few times that the Daisy Chain brand seems a little outdated, like in this piece on Jezebel. The implication is that, in an era where Teen Vogue publishes “woke” think pieces, we’re way past the era of the glossy beauty mag. But, really now … are we?! I think there’s a certain segment of women my age range (early to mid 30s) who simply don’t encounter this kind of beauty myth-mongering, but oh, it still exists, even if some companies are smart enough to package their beauty myths a little differently. Seventeen Magazine is still around, they just publish articles about #MeToo alongside their articles about prom dresses, make up and boys.

“Jennifer”

Throughout the first three episodes, there is an emerging plot line about a group called “Jennifer.” Several of the people Plum encounters, from Julia (the alternatively British and Southern woman working in the Daisy Chain beauty closet) to Leeta (the goth girl who stalks Plum through the first episode, who is Julia’s intern) to Verena (the author a book exposing the lies and abuses of the Baptist Weight Loss Plan, a group started by her parents), seems to be either recruiters, masterminds or mercenaries of Jennifer.

Here is what we know so far about Jennifer: they are abducting men, forcing them to confess to their sins and crimes against women, and then presumably killing them and dropping their bodies on the unsuspecting public (either from a plane or a very tall building). They’re also responsible for a hack at Austin Media, the company that owns Daisy Chain. The hack has Kitty spooked, and she’s working with a detective (the one who called Plum “Chocolate Cake”) to find the source of the leak. Plum is a suspect, but all she’s done thus far is send a list of the people who emailed Kitty to a secure server at Julia’s request. Jennifer has claimed responsibility for killing a Terry Richardson-esque photographer named Mallick Ferguson.

Jennifer’s mercenaries stalk their prey in grotesque crone/witch masks.

We don’t know a whole lot about Jennifer yet, but they appear to be a group of female vigilantes under the command of Verena Baptist. It appears that Jennifer will be Plum’s catalyst for empowerment.

Verena Baptist and Calliope House

Verena Baptist is the daughter of the couple that created the Baptist Weight Loss Clinic. It’s one of the many methods Plum has used to try to lose weight over the years, and we learn with no details, it almost killed her. Leeta, when she was stalking Plum, correctly surmised that Plum was a former “Baptist” because she still follows the “commandments” of the Baptist plan when she eats. (For instance, always leave food on your plate, chewing a certain number of times, etc.) Verena wrote a book (Dietland — her book exists within the book Dietland by Sarai Walker, which the show is based on) exposing that the Baptist Weight Loss plan was a lie that ended with a botched stomach stapling and a car crash. She shut down all the clinics, and has turned into an anti-diet activist of sorts.

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Verena’s house is called Calliope House, and Plum ends up there at Leeta’s suggestion. Verena tells Plum the truth about the empire her family created, and ultimately offers Plum $20,000 for participating in “the new Baptist plan,” the first step of which is Plum getting off the antidepressant she has been taking for years, called Y. Verena says the money can be used for Plum’s weight loss surgery, if that’s what she wants, and hands her a check for $20,000, to be cashed at the end of the plan.

We’re lead to believe that Calliope House is base camp for Jennifer, and that Verena is at least involved, if not the leader of the vigilantes. I’m interested to see where this goes, because as of the third episode, the vigilante group offering all of the cathartic misandry and murder and mayhem seems … well, like a cult. Which is a weird direction for the feminist vengeance in a seemingly feminist series to go — female empowerment as a cult? It’s sort of a female Project Mayhem. It would be disappointing to learn that all of the non-Kitty female characters we’ve met so far, who are appearing to help Plum, are actually recruiting her for their cult. But I’m at least intrigued enough to see where they go.

The Jennifer plot seems a little ham-handed and about a subtle as a rack of lamb to the head in the #MeToo and Time’s Up era. I hope they add a little nuance in future episodes; it feels like they’re aiming for social commentary but the effect so far is removing a splinter with a chainsaw. This is the aspect of Dietland that’s grabbing the headlines, but so far, it is also the most disappointing and confusing part of the show.

That weird tiger sequence

In episode three, Plum is detoxing from Y and things get a little bananas. A tiger comes out of her television screen and we spend about 15 minutes with Plum and the tiger (who is the married detective low-key investigating Plum in a Zoobillee Zoo get-up) just … hanging out. Ordering food, cuddling, flirting. With, you know, a man dressed as a tiger that came out of her TV.

This sequence is, presumably, to represent Plum’s reawakening now that’s she off Y. She’s flirty and confident with the tiger and then later with the detective, whom she’s called and invited over. “My skin is so soft,” she says, rolling around in her bed with her belly on display. “And there’s so much of it! Wouldn’t you like to get lost in it?” The detective excuses himself to get her a glass of water and then copies the hard drive on her laptop when she passes out.

We also see that the “tiger” deleted all of Plum’s emails and, later on, that she made multiple phone calls while hallucinating, including to her best friend from the cafe, and apparently Kitty. A lot of things happening here that will probably become important, and while I appreciate what the show was going for, this sequence just missed the mark and distracted from the story. There is a way to do absurdity, and this was just… not it.

Waist Watchers and the Baptist Weight Loss Clinic

One of the greatest things to see on Dietland was how hard the show went after weight loss programs. No one has to guess twice at the real-life counterpart to Waist Watchers. And, as a former Weight Watchers member who is still untangling the messed up ideas about food, thinness and fatness that company programmed into me, it was so satisfying to see. Seeing the weigh-in and weight loss talk from a thin coach, the group of women (all women, it’s always women) bemoaning their weight and stalled weight loss attempts, even when they are thin. (“My husband doesn’t think so,” one sad thin woman in the meeting says.)

In a time when diets are being sold to the masses as “lifestyle changes” and “wellness programs,” it’s a good reminder of where these programs have their roots. Weight Watchers is all over the internet posting about wellness and health and showing smiling, diverse faces enjoying life, and it’s easy to forget that the actual program is one where they put you on a scale each week, measure your success, make you write down everything you eat, count Points, and mete out little stickers and tokens for losing weight. In meetings, people talk about food, their tortured relationship with potato chips, developing strategies to deal with the trauma of a basket of bread being brought to your table at a restaurant, the daily panic of having to make food choices … it’s all really very depressing and about as far away from “wellness” as one can possibly get.

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This is all something we logically know but we rarely ever get to see in action, unless you actually sign up for the program and attend a meeting. Seeing in starkly portrayed in Dietland was great fun — and as much as it was satire, it’s absolutely scary how close the portrayal is to reality.

Weight loss surgery

One of the show’s most nuanced moments comes at the end of episode three. After her tiger hallucination, Plum’s mom and best friend come banging on her door, worried about her. They’ve both been critical of her decision to have weight loss surgery. Naturally, they’re worried about their daughter and friend. The surgery is risky, they reason, and Plum is beautiful as she is. They accost her again, as a united front, about weight loss surgery and Plum finally stops brushing it off with a joke.

For Plum, weight loss surgery is not about being beautiful, it’s about survival and being able to live her life without the dense miasma of her weight hanging over her head. The interesting and unique thing Dietland does is show fatphobia as a form of violence. It’s not just a sad thing that happens, or treated as mere bullying. It exists alongside sexual assault as violence against women. (Of course men experience fatphobia too, but there is no doubt that fatphobia is most often incredibly gendered and tied into the policing of women’s bodies.) For Plum, weight loss surgery feels like a chance to be free of the violence she experiences on a daily basis, the slings and arrows she walks through every time she leaves her apartment. Being thin represents being free and seen.

“The world hates me for being like this,” she says. “Every day I walk around in this skin, people look at me like I have the plague. They act like I’m a stain. They stare and laugh and yell and worst of all, they tell me I have such a pretty face. And then they lecture me on how I can fix my body, because how I am is wrong.”

Weight loss, for Plum, is not about being thin and beautiful at all. It’s about her right to exist, and not feeling the need to defend it at every turn.

This is, of course, an incredibly unfair choice Plum (and other fat women) often have to make. Choosing between dehumanization, harassment, being passed over for opportunities, feeling less-than, being unable to access competent healthcare and life-altering, major surgery (that actually kills people) is not a choice anyone should have to make. Hopefully Dietland will eventually frame weight loss surgery, Waist Watchers and the Baptist Weight Loss Clinic as part of the violence that fat women experience. Dietland is utterly unique in how it portrays fatphobia and the experience of living in a fat body — it acknowledges that it’s impossible to just trust that you’re beautiful and worthy when the world hates you and wishes you didn’t exist. It’s not something self-esteem or a love affair or a makeover can fix, because it is systemic.

Dietland went there, and I’m excited to see where it goes from here. With Marti Noxon at the helm (from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and the movie “To the Bone”), I think the show could get to a truly revolutionary place.

Older, Wiser, Richer, Wider.

Recently, I was going through old pictures of myself and pining for the body I used to have. I wrote Memories of a Body about the experience of going through those pictures, the feelings they evoked, and the memories I had tried to ignore. I saw a thinner body in pictures of myself in my 20s and projected so much onto it that I forgot the reality.

Today is my birthday. I am now 35.

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On the left, I am 25 years old. It is 2008.

I live with my grandmother, in a tiny room with all of my possessions shoved into drawers that won’t close. I make $8.25 at an animal shelter. I work part time (on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays) because we’re in the middle of a recession and full-time work is simply not available to people like me, who are looking to build experience. I have no health insurance, so an upper respiratory infection could send me spiraling into financial ruin. I have a few bills, and I can never pay them on time. Sometimes I have to choose between paying my phone bill and buying groceries to get me through the week. I borrow a lot of money from my mother and grandmother. $20 here and there, just to get me through. I am also fresh off my first big heartbreak and convinced that I am unlovable and will be alone forever. (At 25! Good grief.)

But I have one thing: I diet. I scrape together the cash each week to attend Weight Watchers meetings, and delight at the number on the scale going down week after week. The lady weighing me in always gives me a gold star and sometimes stickers that say “Good job!” when I lose weight. It doesn’t occur to me to find this infantilizing and offensive. I hoard my gold stars like they are actual gold. I stick to my Points each and every day, cataloguing them in my little Weight Watchers notebook, and sometimes eat under my allotted Points because I have run out of food. I eat a lot of Smart Ones meals and Lean Cuisines. I don’t enjoy them, but they are cheap and I can’t afford much fresh food. I fast before each weigh-in so I will get my gold star for the week, and then binge afterward with friends, one of the few indulgences I allow myself. (We all go to meetings together on Saturday mornings. We call our post-weigh-in binge “Faturday.”)

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I throw myself into Weight Watchers full-force because it is the only thing in my life I feel I can control. When I successfully lose a pound, I feel like a winner, only for a moment. I convince myself that if I just keep losing, if I get to my goal weight, I will break my losing streak. If I am thin, I will be able to get a better job, I will be able to buy nicer clothes to wear to work and to interviews. It’s an investment in my future, I think, to justify the expense of Weight Watchers, which I frankly cannot afford. And, most of all, I am lonely. If I am thin, men will be able to see me for who I am and not just see me as a fat girl. Losing weight is paramount to finding love, I think. And though my ex-boyfriend said he had no issue with my weight, I am certain, absolutely certain, that my weight had something to do with our break-up.

I really just wanted to be seen, and it’s funny how often we resort to shrinking ourselves in an effort to be seen.

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Looking back at these photos, it’s easy for me to forget all of this. I scrupulously maintained an online presence that rarely alluded to my troubles. And I took picture after picture after picture until I got the right shot, the one that was flattering and cute and made me look like a MySpace princess. It took forever, and flipping through the photos, taken with a clunky digital point-and-shoot at impossible angles, I was filled with self-loathing. I’d cry over the pictures that showed my double-chin, round cheeks. I rarely ever took a photo of my full body, and all photos were intensively curated.

Now I’m 35. And I don’t give nearly as many fucks.

Sometimes I don’t realize how far I’ve come until I sit back and really think about that time in my life. I’ve bought a house, established a career, caught a husband, bought my dream car, assembled a menagerie of awesome pets I can spoil with the fancy food from the holistic pet store, and my husband and I regularly eat out at nice, upscale restaurants with our fat paychecks. If you had told 25 year old me that any of this would happen one day, and that none of these things was contingent on losing weight, I would have laughed at you. If you had told me that all of these things would happen and I would actually be fatter than ever (somewhat due to all the good times dining out with my husband), I would have flat-out not believed you.

Here’s to being older, wiser, richer and wider. Now, at 35, when I see people jumping on the latest diet trend or rejoining Weight Watchers for the fourth or fifth time, I want to shout: You don’t have to lose weight! Losing weight won’t actually make you better, or happier, or more successful, or more loved! You can have all of those things without counting Points! You can literally have your cake and eat it too!

This doesn’t mean fatphobia does not exist, or fat people don’t have challenges because of their weight, like getting hired, getting promoted, getting appropriate medical treatment and care, and getting raises. They absolutely do. But I feel like each person like me, who achieves their Optimal Level of Success™, without losing weight, can chip away at the things that hold us back. And we can fight the fight for other people by calling out fatphobia when we encounter it. We can fight for the people who aren’t strong enough to fight yet. And I have felt it happen, felt a shift in my interactions with people, when I push back on fatphobia, when I talk about size diversity and fat acceptance, when I talk about Health at Every Size. Slowly, we can shift things, and perhaps one day, people can get to the point I am at, at long last, at 35, without wandering through the desert of endless Weight Watchers meetings and books about dieting and self-loathing and false hope of being able to better your life through dieting.

That’s my hope, anyway. All I know is that I’m so thankful I got here.

Memories of a Body.

I am four years old. I am taking ballet class. I have to get up early on Saturday morning to go to ballet class at Karen Sachs’ Dance Academy. I hate waking up early and I hate wearing itchy tights, but I love ballet class. I feel graceful and powerful when I dance, even if I can’t yet touch my head to my outstretched knees like the other girls in my class because my belly gets in the way. I love my pink ballet slippers and my pink ballet bag with my name monogrammed on the side. I have fun, and move joyfully.

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And something else keeps me going. I want to be the fairy princess.

At the end of each class, our teacher plays a soothing classical song that puts us all to sleep. We have to pretend to be asleep until the fairy princess – a girl from the class who gets to wear a plastic crown and special tutu – taps us on the head with her sequined wand in the shape of a star. When the fairy princess taps you on the head with her wand, you wake up and are free to go home.

desperately want to be the fairy princess, but I am never chosen. I get up every Saturday morning, tired but full of hope that today is the day, but I never get to be the fairy princess.

One day, I pluck up the courage to ask my teacher if I can be the fairy princess next week after being sent home by someone who has been the fairy princess twice. (I keep count.) “We’ll see!” she says, not looking me in the eye.

Next week was not my week. I never got to be the fairy princess.


 

I am six years old. My stepfather’s mother gave me $50. I am not sure why I was given this money, but I keep it in my ballerina jewelry box with all of my plastic clip-on earrings and Tinkerbell nail polish. One Saturday, a friend a few houses down tells me that the ice cream truck is on our block and will soon be on our street. I run in to ask my mom for some money, but she tells me I can’t have any.

I remember what’s in my jewelry box. I grab the $50 and go out to meet the ice cream truck.

I buy a Good Humor ice cream cone and so much candy. I am overwhelmed, because I have never had this much money for the ice cream truck before. I buy all of the candies I’ve wanted to try. Fistfuls of Fireballs, jawbreakers, Ka-Blooey candies that turn your whole mouth blue and stain anything that touches them, candy buttons, candy necklaces. I give some of the candy I’ve purchased to my friends and take the rest up to my bedroom and hide it in the toy box in my closet with my Barbies because it occurs to me that I have done something wrong. I sense that I was not supposed to buy candy, definitely not with that money, and definitely not a stash so huge to keep me flush with candy for several months.

My mom finds the candy. She is upset with me. She is so much more mad than I expected her to be; I get in trouble. I feel ashamed. She takes my candy. I cry at the injustice of it all (it was my money!) and also out of shame. I am not sure why I feel so ashamed of myself.

She takes my candy and gives it to my siblings.


 

I am seven years old, and my favorite outfit is a neon green tunic with ruffles at the bottom, with a pair of lacy white bicycle shorts. The tunic hits me mid-thigh and the bicycle shorts go just above my knee. I wear this outfit with several pairs of big slouchy socks and my light-up L.A. Gears. I wear my hair in a half-ponytail with a colorful scrunchy. I feel so fashionable in this outfit. The lace makes me feel sophisticated. It’s something I could see Clarissa Darling wearing on “Clarissa Explains It All,” which is my favorite TV show.

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My mom told me I couldn’t wear the outfit anymore. She said another grown-up said something to her. The tunic is too short, she said, and the lace bicycle shorts are too revealing. She makes me get rid of the outfit.

I never get to wear it again.


 

I am eight years old and at the pediatrician’s office. I hate going for my check-up. They make me strip down to my underwear in front of my mother and the doctor weighs me, pokes me and examines my body. It is embarrassing and I dread it every year.

This year, my mom and the doctor discuss my weight. They talk about me like I am not even in the room with them. My mom tells the doctor that I keep gaining weight and she is worried. The doctor confirms that I have gained a lot of weight and asks questions about what I am eating, what sports I play, if I eat too much. My mother says I sneak food. I hate this appointment. Why doesn’t anyone ask me any questions? Do they not see I’m sitting right here, in my underwear? My cheeks flush red and my eyes well with tears.

I refuse to strip down to my underwear for future appointments. I doggedly insist on wearing a t-shirt for all exams. My doctor is baffled. My mom says I am just “sensitive about my weight.”


 

I am 10 years old and we’re on vacation in Ocean City, Md. I need a new swimsuit because we discovered mine no longer fit. We go to one of the many stores that sells swimsuits and I am instantly drawn to a two-piece swimsuit; it’s black and the top has a splash of hot pink, neon green and florescent yellow flowers. These are all of my favorite colors, and I love it. I also think of how annoying it is to go to the bathroom with a wet one-piece on, and think it would be so much easier if I just had to pull down my bottoms. It seems like the best choice.

My mom tries to sway me toward boring one-pieces in subdued colors. “Wouldn’t this be more flattering?” she asks. But none of them have the bright neon flowers. They are all one color, like blue or black. The two-piece is clearly the better choice.

I try on the two-piece. I think it’s great. The top comes to just above my belly button. I come out of the dressing room. She frowns. She says, “You can see your stomach.” She furrows her brow further. “What if people at the pool make comments about your stomach?”

It has not occurred to me before that people might make fun of me for wearing this swimsuit. And I like it so much, I make my mother buy it for me, but her comment about people teasing me for my stomach is a bell I cannot unring. I wear a t-shirt into the pool, with my stomach and the neon swimsuit safely hidden away.


 

My brother and I are fighting. I hate fighting with him because he is older than me and always thinks of mean things to say more quickly. He makes fun of my “double-chin.”

I cry and slam into my bedroom. I look in the small mirror I’ve taped onto my wall, which is from an old jewelry box. (The one where I hid the $50.) I examine my face.

He’s right. I have a double-chin. I refuse to go down to dinner that night. I vow not to leave my room and not eat until I have lost enough weight to only have one chin.

I get hungry. I stare at my face and try to contort it so my chins are less noticeable. I find that if I hold my neck very straight and jut my lower-jaw out, my second-chin is less prominent.

I am 34 now. I still use this trick.


 

My brother has a friend over. It’s dinner time. I come downstairs and start to sit in my chair. It is an old, rickety dining room chair that has shifted every time I slam myself into it for years.

Today, the chair finally breaks when I sit on it knee-first.

My brother’s friend leaves, but when we are at the bus stop on Monday morning, he’s looking at me and whispering to another boy. They’re both laughing at me. He told everyone at school that I was so fat I broke my chair.


 

I’m on the softball team. I hate softball. I hate running, I hate dirt, I hate the heat and I find the game boring. I’m not friends with any of my teammates. I don’t think they want me on their team. We get our shirts for the year – mine is so tight and uncomfortable. It’s tight on my arms, it stretches across my belly so that you can see the outline of my belly button, and you can see the outline of my nipples. I do not want to wear it, and I cry and tell my mother that I want to stop going to softball.

“Why?” she asks. “I’ve already paid for you to do softball this season.” I tell her that the shirt is too tight. She says it was the largest one they offered. I tell her I want to quit, but she will not let me. “I’ll talk to the coach,” she says.

For the rest of the season, I wear a plain men’s t-shirt in our team’s color, yellow. (We were called The Yellow Jackets.) My shirt does not have my name or a number or anything printed on it. I don’t look like I’m part of the team. My teammates know that I’m wearing a different shirt because the team shirt they gave me didn’t fit me. I am miserable, and start refusing to run at practice. I don’t want to be there. I don’t want to be anywhere. I just want to disappear.


 

I am in fourth grade. I go to the nurse’s office a lot, because I get dizzy and my throat burns a lot in the morning. I get dizzy because I refuse to eat breakfast, and my mother makes me drink these chalky Instant Breakfast shakes. I refuse to eat breakfast because it makes my throat burn. I do not yet know that this is called acid reflux.

One day, the nurse comes in to talk to me. She is a woman in her 50s, with thin, graying curly hair. She wears white scrubs and her large hips struggle against her white pants. She is fat. She wants to talk about my weight. She tells me I should ask my mother about Weight Watchers. “But I don’t eat that much!” I protest. She tells me I have such a pretty face. “You would be so pretty if you just lost the weight!” I cry and she hugs me. I do not want her to hug me, and I do not want her to talk to me. I just want her to leave so I can lie down on the blue plastic cot.

I never tell anyone about the nurse’s recommendation that I join Weight Watchers. When I get dizzy or my throat burns, I hide in the bathroom at school instead.


 

I am 23 and in love with a friend of mine. He often rides his bike to my house and sleeps in my bed. We fall asleep with my back against his front. He kisses me on the forehead. He says things like, “None of my friends have ever let me get this close before.” He tells me how smart and incredible I am. I am certain he likes me back, but we never do more than cuddle.

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I write him an email. I tell him how I feel. He takes me out to Denny’s one night. He tells me he is attracted to me and he does like me a lot. “But I can’t date a fat girl,” he says casually. His words are lasers that sear through my skin and burn the most secret, hidden parts of me. “My friends would make fun of me.”


 

I am 25 and my first boyfriend just dumped me. I have decided that being thin and beautiful, at long last, is the best revenge. (And maybe he will want me back if I am smaller? He dumped me because I was too needy, too demanding of his time, too much. I think being smaller will help.) I am determined to shed the parts of me that are too lumpy, too unfeminine, too much.

I join Weight Watchers and purchase a membership at my local gym. I count my Points diligently, often eating less than the Points I am allotted. I spend hours at the gym a few times per week. My calves burn and my heart races and I am miserable. But I must keep going. One more mile. You’ll never get anyone to really love you if you don’t do 30 more minutes on the treadmill.

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I’m at the doctor’s office for a sinus infection. Only a nurse practitioner could see me that day; I have never met her, but I need antibiotics or at least some industrial-strength decongestant so I can sleep. She is so thrown by the sight of my size 22 body that she insists I must lose weight. I am confused. I feel my cheeks burn like they did when I was younger and my mother and pediatrician talked about how much I ate, how I was too much.

She tells me that if I do not explore weight loss surgery, I will die. “But you took my blood pressure, and it was fine,” I insist, meekly. She said I might be fine now, but that won’t last forever. Soon enough, she says, I will have hypertension and diabetes and joint pain and have a heart attack or stroke. I may lose some toes. She has seen diabetic patients, did you know you might even lose your entire foot? I am not sure what to say. I have been dieting and exercising, and this is the smallest I have been in years. I do not have diabetes. This woman has no blood work on file for me. But I believe her, even as I hate her, because she has spoken my worst fears.

I go to a weight loss seminar at a local hospital, one of the leading ones for bariatric surgery.

A man speaks. He is in his 50s, still fat, but less fat. He has clearly shrunk. He wears a large, tent-like t-shirt and I can tell when he moves that his skin is hanging off of him in curtains, like wax on a melted candle. He shows us his dinner, a small sandwich on a King’s Hawaiian bun wrapped in foil. He tells us that he must drink protein shakes every day, and they don’t taste like McFlurries. He says he will be taking vitamins every day for the rest of his life. He is walking a fine line of trying to weed out the women (we are all women in this seminar) who aren’t serious while making sure we know the surgery is a positive, life-changing thing. He doesn’t sound happy, but insists he is. Because he’s finally losing weight.

A woman near me says she doesn’t think she can give up soda forever. I decide that everything I’ve heard is a fair price for being thin. I proceed, but the surgery center calls me a week later to let me know my insurance won’t cover anything. I am devastated.

linda mb


 

I am working in a big city. I am 33. I have a good job, and I am doing well at it. Each day, I walk across the street to Whole Foods for a $16 salad. The city is full of thin, attractive, powerful people. The streets are clogged with important men in suits, walking and talking. We play a game of Chicken – they walk forward, on their phones, and pretend not to see me. They will bump into me if I do not move out of their way. Their path doesn’t waver. I dutifully moved out of the way for them at first. Then I test them. I don’t move. I keep walking. They almost bump into me. I force them to see me, and they are startled. They are inconvenienced and angry. But they’re not sure why they are angry, so they cast their gaze forward again, and keep walking.

I giggle internally and marvel at how the body that I have learned is so hard to miss, so big and obtrusive, could be so invisible to so many.


 

I am 34. I am at my highest weight ever. I am in the shower, running a loofah over my body, with its soft skin and curves. I look at my belly and frown. I think, Maybe I should join Weight Watchers again. I am getting married in 6 months – what if I keep gaining weight and my wedding dress doesn’t zip?! I think of everyone looking at me, being on display, being photographed. I panic. I think back at the body I had at 25.

I take an inventory of my life at the moment. I am getting married, to a man who loves me, belly and all. I have a good job. I can pay my bills on time, and just bought my dream car, a robin’s egg blue Volkswagen Beetle. I write for work – I am a professional writer, even if I mostly just write blogs for SEO. I have a house that I share with my future-husband, my cat, our newly adopted dog. All of these things happened, and I’m fat. I’m healthy. I realize that being thin was not required to achieve any of these things.

I smile.


 

One night, I look through old pictures online of me and my friends when I was in my mid-20s. I feel pangs of sadness looking at them. I was so thin! My legs were so much smaller, and my stomach was so much flatter. I examine them closely. Even my feet were thinner. My face looked more like my face, how I picture myself in my head. I miss having a sharp, defined jawline. My face now is so soft, so squishy.

I stare at a photo of myself. I was so cute, and I didn’t even know it. I hated myself. I punished myself. I blamed all of my problems, from my string of crappy go-nowhere jobs to the poor treatment I received from the mean boys I fawned over to my inability to pay bills on time, on my body. I am overwhelmed with compassion and sadness for her. She was so sad, so unhappy.

I am filled with love for her, and for me. I realize that I never had a good sense of what my body looked like any way, and my body has withstood decades of blame for things it had nothing to do with. I realize I can’t see myself as I am, after so many years of shame, sadness, and blame. My body is a structure that has stood firm, through war, bombs, cities falling and being built around it. It is a beautiful, towering ruin, a symbol of strength through adversity. It has had every weapon ever invented used on it, and yet, it stands.

linda now

I wonder what I will think when I look back on photos of me in 10 years.

Landwhale by Jes Baker | Book Review

I’ve been following Jes Baker and her blog, The Militant Baker, for a few years now. She was one of the first “body positive” personalities I was exposed to. And, in a lot of ways, embodied a lot of the things I love and hate about the body positive movement.

At first, “activism via selfies” was eye-opening. I had simply not seen many fat bodies, despite living in one. Fat bodies in swimsuits, fat bodies in crop tops, fat bodies in dresses and overalls and shorts and looking fabulous at brunch. It was powerful for me. Fat women — not hating themselves?! What on earth?! Who knew such a thing was possible! But, as the body positive movement grew, it wore on me. The landscape was dominated by young, seemingly affluent white women who were on the smaller end of the size spectrum. As “BoPo” became more mainstream, sizes started to skew even smaller. And it no longer felt revolutionary. It felt … well, kind of empty. Lots of selfies and hashtags and body positive talk but very little activism.

I grew weary of it. It’s all well and good to tell people that they should love themselves. But sometimes that message can distract from the less Instagram-worthy reality of the oppressive systems that make loving yourself hard when you’re fat. To me, Jes Baker became sort of the poster girl for that.

Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls
Photo by The Militant Baker.

So, when Jes released Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls, I bought it. I enjoyed it, even. It was an easy, breezy read. But it was 101-level BoPo. Which is great! It’s an important book for women who have never even considered that they don’t have to lose weight to be happy. It’s a great introduction. But it didn’t shake my foundations.

Then, something funny happened on Jes Baker’s blog and Instagram. First, she gained a little bit of weight. She’s written about it; it was a little weird for her. Around the same time, her brand of activism started shifting. She wrote about “Lisa Frank BoPo” and it had me cheering. She was moving away from body positive and into body liberation. She was, it seemed, moving toward honest-to-god fat activism — which is where the body positive movement has its roots, but they’ve diverged pretty violently from one another as movements and communities. BoPo is about feeling good about yourself and challenging norms. Fat activism is about angrily dismantling the system that make things like BoPo necessary, the systems that make being visible and happy while fat seem rebellious.

So, she became more interesting to me. And when I heard she was publishing a new book, I pre-ordered it. I got it in the mail this week, and it did not disappoint. It is much more interesting than her first book.

Landwhale memoir Jes Baker the Militant Baker
Cover of Landwhale: On Turning Insults Into Nicknames, Why Body Image Is Hard, and How Diets Can Kiss My Ass by Jes Baker

On not actually being a fat kid

This is one of the first revelations in the book, and one that honestly surprised me. Jes Baker was not a fat kid. She writes about going through family photos to research this very book, expecting to see a fat blonde kid starting back at her from her mom’s photo albums, and was surprised to find that she wasn’t the fat kid she remembered.

She dives deep into her body dysmorphia, how it’s connected to her parents (particularly her father), her Mormon upbringing, poverty and food scarcity. The first part of the book is less about fat activism, and more about dissecting the influences that set her on the path to becoming a fat icon and activist.

Despite the heavy subject matter, she has an easy, conversational writing style that makes these parts of the book easy to digest and relatable. Which is a great trick of her writing because … I do not relate to this at all.

I was an Actual Fat Kid — and I didn’t realize it until I was pushing 8 or 9 and sharing clothes with my mom. I legitimately did not realize that I was fat, or that anything was wrong with my body, until people started telling me so. I did not realize that I was not allowed access to certain space and experiences, until I was denied those things because of my size. This part of the book taught me a lot — especially when it comes to why BoPo is so powerful for some. For Jes, it felt revolutionary to embrace her body when it was tangled up in so much pain, trauma and self-doubt. I had a hard time relating to BoPo because I never felt those things, until I was treated differently by the world. So, in sharing these difficult revelations (and nothing can be more difficult than realizing that your vision of who you were as a childhood was totally wrong), she helped me find empathy and understanding for a community to whom I often cannot relate.

HAES and Donut Land

The middle of her book hit me like a clap of thunder, particular the chapter entitled “HAES, Hot Mics, and Other Things I Learned the Hard Way.” Like Jes, I’ve embraced Health at Every Size (HAES) and Intuitive Eating (IE). Like Jes, I stopped dieting, which is something I have been doing since the first time my brother teased me for having a double-chin. And, like Jes, I gained weight. (Also, like Jes, Depo Provera and a desk job came into the picture.) I also went from the smaller end of the fat spectrum to the larger end. And it gave me some feelings.

I see the sentiments and the struggle Jes writes about in this chapter in a lot of people when they start HAES and IE. I went through them myself. There’s the ecstasy of no longer counting Points or calories or carbs, tossing your FitBit in the trash, not punishing yourself with exercise because you ate a cookie, freedom from the cycle of restriction and bingeing, having a doughnut for breakfast instead of a protein bar because who ever actually wants to eat a protein bar, they’re fucking gross. The space alone that is freed up in your mind and the extra time you gain in a day is astonishing when you stop dieting. When you push all of that shit out of the way, it feels liberating. And you get to eat ice cream if you want ice cream!

And then you gain weight. (Of course you gain weight! You’re not dieting! You’ve been dieting your whole life!) The doubt and shame creep in.

The wonderful thing about this chapter is that it serves as a reminder that this is part of the process. This is normal. Everyone goes through this when they ditch Weight Watchers and delete My Fitness Pal from their phones for good. It’s a pendulum, as Jes writes. You swing from Diet Land to Donut Land, propelled by diet culture in both directions. Finding yourself in the middle takes some time, effort, a lot of self-reflection, and some improvisation and experimentation.

HAES and IE are not diets. That’s kind of the point of them. They’re paths to healing your relationships with food and with your body. And it’s a fucking process. It can be hard, and it can feel devastating that even after you’ve read all the books and blogs and listened to all the podcasts and had all of the discussions, you’re still struggling to find peace with all of this shit. No one goes from walking on the treadmill telling themselves that no one will ever love them if they don’t finish three miles (something I have done, many times) to embracing joyful movement after reading some books. It takes a lot of time, patience with yourself, and learning to recognize when diet culture is flooding your thought processes. The real bummer of it all is that you’re going to be fighting this battle maybe forever. There may not be a promised land; there may just be a lifetime of process.

This is an important chapter. It’s something I don’t think I’ve seen written about, or even talked about much, anywhere else.

Loving yourself through the eyes of another

A lot of the latter half of the book is about her relationship with her fiancé, Andy. I loved reading about this. Because I’m a cheerleader for love (hi, I’m a newlywed!) and because something I rarely ever talk about is the role my now-husband played in my path to accepting myself.

It’s a little bit of a taboo, isn’t it? It’s all so heteronormative and anti-feminist. “I finally learned how to love myself when a man decided that I was worthy of love!” Ew, no. But for me, it’s reality. That was, in fact, the turning point for me in my life.

I spent most of my teenage years silently accepting that I was not worthy of love. (I wrote about that here.) In my twenties, I was convinced that the only way I could land and keep a boyfriend was hiding my true self (the difficult, opinionated, moody, complicated part of me) and becoming as accommodating as possible. One boyfriend I had repeatedly chose Dungeons & Dragons over me, even though I’d traveled from a different state to see him. And I was too scared to say, “Hey, can you stop treating me like an inconvenience and maybe forego D&D for one Sunday so we can hang out?” (And when I did find the strength to say that, he dumped me.) I had other men treat me like a dirty little secret. They were happy to spend all day quietly texting me and invite me over after dark but never introduced me to their friends or, you know, saw me in the light of day. (One guy even had a girlfriend while we was secretly seeing me. I had no clue I was the other woman, because I never met any of the people in his life. Whoops.) So, when I met Greg, who treated me like I was a goddamn princess, respected me, accepted me, and even thought all those body parts I was so desperate to hide were cute … the whole world opened up.

Sometimes, for some people, it really isn’t possible to fully love and accept yourself until you experience unconditional love and acceptance from another.

And that’s okay. It’s understandable. It’s common.

The prevailing narrative is the you cannot fully love someone else without loving yourself. This isn’t true. I say this as a person in love with, and loved by, a person who still struggles to love himself. We both struggle together. We lift each other up. When one of us is having a hard time, the other swoops in and provides support so they don’t fall down the rabbit hole of their own thoughts. That’s what a good relationship is — finding someone who accepts all of you. Even the insecure and unstable parts that need constant reassurance.

This is another thing I haven’t seen written or talked about much. I enjoyed reading it, because Jes’ journey with Andy is so similar to my journey with Greg.

Weight loss surgery

One of the chapters of Landwhale that was somewhat disappointing to me was her chapter about weight loss surgery. (And also not fitting on the Harry Potter rides at Universal. GIRL, I HAVE BEEN THERE.) Her thesis is essentially that body autonomy trumps all … which I agree with. No one’s body belongs to anyone else. And they can do whatever they must to survive, including dieting, including weight loss surgery.

She touches briefly (in a footnote) on the way people seem to condemn women of color who’ve had weight loss surgery more harshly. Which, frankly, should have been more than a footnote. Because being fat is hard, but it’s even harder when you live in the intersection of so many other forms of oppression, like Gabourey Sidibe and Ashley Nell Tipton and Roxane Gay.

She also mentions that a friend of hers died from complications from weight loss surgery while she was recovering at home. Holy shit, back up for minute! That is horrifying. That gets a short mention. And I want to know so much more. I get that it is not her story to tell, but oh my god, that deserves a little more than a brief mention when you’re talking about weight loss surgery, right? The fact that PEOPLE DIE?!

Then things get weird. And I get what she was going for, but the story about her friend segues into, well, essentially blaming the body positive and fat acceptance communities for her friend’s death. Because she was ashamed and secretive about having it done, and afraid of the backlash from those who would feel it was a betrayal. Which is a valid concern, because there may be backlash, but let’s place the blame where it actually belongs: on the doctors who performed the surgery, on the culture that makes so many fat people feel like permanent, serious, life-altering surgery is necessary for their survival, on the hospital system that sent her home without ensuring that she had the support systems she needed in place as she recovered.

And that’s the thing. That is what people are opposed to. That is what people rage against. Not the person who decides it’s the right decision for them. The doctors and culture who convinced them it was the only way to go, and the society that finally opens up to people when they go to extreme measures to fit in. The world that is happier to cut pieces out of your body than make space for your body as it is.

And, sometimes, like with Ashley Nell Tipton, people get backlash because of how they behave after the surgery. Like giving interviews to People Magazine where they engage in healthism and negative talk about fat bodies. That backlash is justified, because that is betrayal, when you make a living with the support of a certain community and then slap them in the face when you have lost enough weight to no longer need them.

It’s a complicated topic, and I wish she’d dove a little deeper than she did.

“Bulletproof Fatty”

This is the chapter where Jes acknowledges the “Bulletproof Fatty” image and persona, and how she ended up playing that role, without really meaning to.

I found this chapter to be vulnerable and honest and a nice way to move past the old Jes, who preached the gospel of selfies, and the new Jes, who is an activist and still takes lots of selfies and recognizes their value but wants to do more.

Overall, this was a very good book, and I think a huge step forward for Jes Baker not just as an activist and fat, feminist voice but as a writer — it is legitimately well-written. It still has all of  the approachability and plainspoken pluck of her blog, but also dives deep on a lot of topics in a way I honestly haven’t seen her do before. It’s a great, thought-provoking read.

Get your copy of Landwhale here. 

 

Fluffy Kitten Party: IRL.

Last week, my dog Special Agent Dale Cooper, started obsessing over something under our shed in the back yard. He’d squeeze his big melon head under the shed with great interest, then scoot backward and bark defensively. He spotted something. There was something under our shed. Something alive. I thought, Please don’t let it be kittens, please don’t let it be kittens. 

Guess what was under there? You guessed it. Kittens. 

shed party

My life in feral cats

I work in nonprofit technology now. I sit behind a desk and manage projects and respond to emails and send GIFs on Slack. (I am very, very good at GIFs.) But before I moved into technology, I worked in animal sheltering. I fought my way from working as an animal caretaker at on shelter to doing admissions in another, better shelter and eventually moved all the way up to a big national nonprofit that helps all animals. I worked in the companion animals department, and spent a lot of time talking, thinking, writing and learning about feral cats and community cats. (There is a difference!) And I also used to feed several managed cat colonies.

So I was well-prepared to deal with these kittens. Given all the sheds and piles of leaves they could have been born into, it was a good thing they were born under my shed.

Kitty rescue plan

The kittens appeared to be about a week old, maybe a little older. Their mother had nested under our shed. They were well-fed and clean, so clearly their mama had been taking good care of them. My husband spotted her coming and going under the shed a few times. So they had a mom. But… she was feral. So that posed a problem.

Caring for young kittens

Here’s who is best able to take care of young kittens: their mother. Here’s who is not: anyone else, really.

Kittens who aren’t weaned need to be bottle-fed. Bottle-feeding is a ’round-the-clock sort of deal. Newborn kittens need to be fed every 2-3 hours, so for a litter of kittens, that means waking up throughout the night to feed them formula from a tiny bottle. Bottle-feeding kittens isn’t an intuitive thing — you can actually harm them if you don’t know what you’re doing. Kittens also can’t go to the bathroom on their own (because mom helps them out) so you need to stimulate them to urinate and have bowel movements. Very young kittens can’t regulate their body temperatures either, so you have to be careful to ensure that they’re warm. And you’re also mom, for all intents and purposes, so all of the bonding and nurturing and grooming is on you.

That’s why it’s essential to keep litters of kittens with their moms. Bottle-feeding is a great way to save the lives of orphaned kittens. The volunteers who bottle-feed kittens for shelters and rescues are saints. But it’s a last resort. If they have a mom, they should remain with mom.

So we hatched a plan for the whole family.

It’s a trap!

Knowing that it was best to keep the litter with their mother, but also knowing that it’s critical to socialize the kittens while they’re young so they can grow up into spoiled house cats, we made a tentative plan. We’d grab the babies, trap mom, and keep the family in our garage.

Getting the babies was easy. We waited for mom to go out for the day, and simply picked them up from under the shed and put them in a carrier. Voila! Kitten rescue.

babies

We acquired a humane trap (Havahart Easy Set) and used her kittens as bait. Here’s what that looked like.

it's a trap

We set the humane trap near her nest under our shed, then we took the carrier with the kittens inside and placed the front of the carrier at the back of the trap. Then we covered the whole set-up with blankets. The hope was that mom would come back to the nest, realize where her babies were, circle the trap, and realize the only way to get to her kittens was to go into the trap. The trap would snap its door behind her as soon as she stepped on the trigger to go check on her babies, and boom! Mom would be trapped.

She did eventually walk into the trap. It took about 8 hours. We had to watch closely, repeatedly go outside to ensure the kittens were warm and safe, but we finally got her just before sunset.

“Oh shit, now there’s a feral cat in my garage…”

My husband cleaned out the garage so the kittens and mom could safely live in there. (Which was no small task, he has a lot of tools and a giant 1970s Lincoln and assorted car parts strewn all over the garage.) We removed anything small that could post a risk, anything that could be knocked over by an outraged feral cat (which is a lot of things, really) and any toxic chemicals that were not sealed up tight.

To keep the kittens warm and contain them, we used what we had on hand: 3 plastic storage containers tipped on their sides, arranged in a semi-circle, with some warm blankets in them. We got the kittens set up, put out food and water and a litter box for mom, and then, very cautiously, released mom from the trap.

Climbing up the walls

Mom is feral. Not just scared of people. Not just shy. Feral. She wants nothing to do with people and does not want to be enclosed. She is basically a wild animal. So, when we opened the trap, we ran out of the door as quickly as we could.

Mom was climbing up the walls (impressive), doing backflips, jumping and running around frantically.

At that moment, we doubted whether we were doing the right thing. She was freaking out. I had expected her to do that, but the panicked response she had was startling. Would she ever calm down? Would she feed her kittens? Would her kittens be harmed by her flailing? How was I going to get to the kittens and give mom food and water if she behaved liked this the whole time?

I cried. My husband tried to calm me down. I worried we’d done the wrong thing.

Settling in

Thank the heavens, mom calmed down in about an hour. First she hid, and then she climbed out of hiding to feed her kittens. Once I was able to visually confirm that the babies were being nursed, I was able to go to sleep.

A new routine

The timing of this kitten party was not ideal. My husband is currently attending a forensics school 2 hours away from where we live. It’s an 8-week program. He comes home on the weekends, but is away all week. So, that means that I’m home alone. Taking care of the house, our 2 pets, while working full-time, while fending off my anxiety about ghosts and house intruders. And now I had six more animals to worry about.

But it has been going well, so far. Mom is super feral so when I turn on the lights in the garage, she hides. That allows me to get into the garage, refresh her food and water, snuggle with her babies, and clean up. She watches me from behind some shelves. When I leave, she takes over tending to her kittens. We have an arrangement. It works for both of us.

And the babies! They’re precious. I mean.

the beanz

They have a great mother — she does all the hard work. The kittens, all five of them, are healthy and clean. I’ve seen zero evidence of fleas. They’re doing wonderfully. They are too young to really have personalities of their own yet, but they’re getting there. Today they just started play-tussling with each other. They’re going to be just fine, and if all goes according to plan, these will be the five friendliest kittens in the world when I’m done with them.

The long-term plan

The great news is that I have tentative homes for each of the kittens. Once their sweet little faces went up on social media, it was a done deal. Once they’re weaned, I’ll separate them from mom and bring them inside, most likely in one of our spare bedrooms. They have their first kitten appointment with my veterinarian in a few weeks, and once they’re old enough and big enough, I’m getting them spayed and neutered before they go to their new homes.

I am working with a local TNR group to get mom spayed after her kittens are weaned. She’ll be spayed, vaccinated, and ear-tipped and then put back outside. If she still comes around, I’ll feed her. She’s a known cat in the neighborhood. Apparently her name is Mrs. Jenkins. (Who knew she was married?!)

Doing the right thing

So, full disclosure, literally none of this was easy. I had big plans for the weekend, and none of them included putting a feral cat in my garage. Work and life have been stressful and this was not a welcome development. I was not looking to take on the responsibility of caring for a family of cats.

But once I knew they were there, I couldn’t not help them. That’s the thing about doing what’s right: it is never, ever easy or convenient.

Helping community cats

Community cats are a human-created problem. We domesticated cats to begin with. We made them dependent on us. And then we did not do right by them. We let them outside, without spaying and neutering them. We kept them as pets, and then dumped them outside when they were no longer wanted. Outside, they bred. They produced litters of kittens. And those kittens grew up and produced even more litters of kittens. And now feral cats live in practically every neighborhood, suburb and city in the United States. Some of them are feral, meaning they were never socialized with people, and some of them are friendly. (The term “community cat” refers to any unowned cat living outdoors, feral or friendly.)

We get annoyed when they urinate near our homes, because it stinks. We fight and point fingers at cats because they kill birds. We round them up and euthanize them. We even shoot or poison them … or worse. We consider them a menace and get irritated when they knock over a trash can in search of food. There are veterinarians and even nonprofits who advocate for the killing and eradication of community cats.

But none of this is the fault of the cats. It’s on us, folks. We did this.

I did not personally create the feral cat problem in our neighborhood. I’ve only been here a year! And my pets have always been spayed or neutered. But because this cat problem is a human being-created problem, and I am a human being, I feel an obligation to whatever I can do to help alleviate the suffering of outside cats.

Trap-neuter-return

Trap-neuter-return (or TNR) involves humanely trapping community cats, taking them to a clinic where they are spayed or neutered, vaccinated, sometimes tested for diseases like FIV and feline leukemia (depending on the clinic), and then released back outside once they’ve recovered. If you’ve ever seen a cat walking around outside with the tip of one of its ears missing, it means that cat has been through a TNR clinic. An “ear-tip” is the universal symbol of TNR.

ear-tipped-kitty2

Here’s the thing about TNR. It’s not perfect. It’s not an elegant solution that magically solves the world’s community cat problem. In order to be successful, it needs to be implemented by a municipality and then strategically executed to reduce the number of community cats over time. And we’re not there yet. Many communities still consider community cats to be pests, and treat them as such. People still bring feral cats to shelters, where they are euthanized because they’re not suitable for adoption. Animal control agencies still cling to trap-and-kill, which is expensive and ineffective. (Also? Mean!)

TNR is a harm reduction approach. It doesn’t necessarily solve the bigger problem, but it does reduce harm. It improves the quality of life of the cats, who aren’t breeding every heat cycle. It improves quality of life for communities too, because sterilized cats are less likely to cause disturbances and it prevents litters of kittens from being born. It addresses many public health concerns, because cats are vaccinated against rabies at TNR clinics. Managed colonies are fed, their health is monitored, and they’re less likely to do things like hunt for food in people’s trash cans.

TNR can only work if people are proactive. If you see community cats without ear-tips running around, contact a TNR group. Offer to learn how to trap and get involved. If you find kittens, try to find a solution that does not involve bringing them to a shelter or looking the other way.

I know that not everyone has the capacity to do what I’m doing. (I barely have the capacity to do what I’m doing, to be perfectly honest.) But by allowing myself to be inconvenienced and taking on the responsibility of helping these kittens and their mom, I’m making a difference. It doesn’t solve the problem of community cats. But it does prevent mom from giving birth to any additional litters, and it’s saving the five kittens from living outside like their mother (and producing kittens). And the people who adopt these kittens will have lifelong buddies.

So, it’s not easy. I certainly didn’t envision myself doing this. But when the opportunity to help presented itself, I took it.

Because, at the end of the day, I don’t want to be the sort of person who can turn her back on six lives that I could have helped. I don’t want to add to the problem because I didn’t want to be inconvenienced. That’s how we ended up with this problem in the first place. I want to be one of the helpers.

Disclaimers

Okay, first of all, bringing a feral cat into your house is not something you should do. Even bringing a cat into my garage was risky. It was stressful for me, and for the cat. (Mostly for the cat, I think. I cried but I did not do back flips in panic.) It can be super dangerous. So, unless you have lots of experience with feral cats, DO NOT DO WHAT I DID. Okay? Okay.

If you come across kittens or a feral cat in your neighborhood and want to help, call an expert! Email a TNR group, call your local animal shelter. Tell them your situation, and let them guide you through how you can best help.

Community cat resources

KittenLady.org

Neighborhood Cats

Alley Cat Allies

I was a fat bride. And it was awesome.

It was a perfectly imperfect day.

I forgot my wedding ring; a friend had to rush back to our house to grab it before the ceremony started. The weather was cold and crisp that day in March, and the wind was blowing; a few guests couldn’t stand the cold and watched our ceremony from the heated reception area. I stumbled during our first dance. I almost knocked over a table scurrying to grab some food during cocktail hour, and then, knocked over a bucket of champagne on a stand when I hadn’t realized our wedding coordinator placed it behind my chair.

kiss

But it was perfect. I never thought I’d get married. I never thought I’d wear the white dress, or walk down an aisle, or find someone to commit to me for a lifetime. I had been made to believe that none of things were available to me because of my weight. But it happened, and it felt like an act of rebellion.

Greg and I met when I was in my mid-twenties, in 2008. I was underemployed, struggling to pay rent on a tiny room in someone else’s house, trying to be an adult for the first time during a recession. He was on a different path, but was also struggling. He had been studying to be an engineer and made it two years before realizing that, although he could do the math, he hated every minute of it. Neither of us knew what we were going to do with our lives, and we forged a tight Hansel-and-Gretel companionship, following breadcrumbs on a wayward quest to become adults.

us

Our relationship was different than any others I’d been in. When I was with him, I forgot about my weight. A lifetime of desperate dieting, restricting, counting Points, walking on the treadmill until my calves burned and my lungs gasped for air telling myself that if I didn’t keep going I would never be worthy of love, melted away when I was with him. He loved me. Not in spite of my weight, or pretending he didn’t see it, but embracing it. I was soft, he said adoringly. I hid my belly from him and he insisted it was cute, that he loved it. He made me feel like I didn’t have to hide myself or shrink, for the first time in my whole life. I felt comfortable. He loved me for exactly the person I was — moody, opinionated, generous, idealistic, self-doubting, smart, anxious. He didn’t pick and choose which parts to love. He loved all of me.

I had been loudly insisting that I was never going to get married since I was a teenager. Part of it was that I protested the patriarchal, heteronormative institution of marriage. But part of it was self-protection. Reject marriage before you have a chance to be rejected. That way, when I was a spinster, no one would feel sorry for me. It was a choice, not a tragedy.

I was preparing myself for a lifetime of solitude, because I had been taught that love and marriage was for thin people. And if I wanted to gain entry to the promised land, the price to pay was shrinking myself. I could never quite get there. My belly, my fat arms arms, my wide hips, held tight no matter how much I starved them. So I didn’t qualify. I hadn’t earned my way in, and never would.

So I rejected it outright. Marriage wasn’t for me, I said.

I inherited my grandmother’s engagement ring when she passed away. I kept it in its box on my vanity for years, convinced I would never be able to wear it. It was too small. It didn’t even fit on my pinky finger. I kept it there as a reminder of my grandmother. I’d open the box, admire the small gold ring with a few small diamonds in a vintage setting. I loved it, but I’d never wear it.

Greg and I had been living together for a year when I realized that perhaps I could get married after all. It hit me like a freight train: Why wasn’t I allowed to get married? I was in a relationship with a man who loved me, fiercely. We had an apartment, a cat, dishes, shared bills. Why couldn’t we get married? The thought hadn’t even occurred to me before.

I gave the ring to Greg. I told him he could give it back  to me if he ever wanted to marry me. But if he didn’t, that was fine, too. The decision was his.

A year later, we owned a house together. We adopted a dog. We had even more dishes and bills and things we shared. On our ninth anniversary, on the Fourth of July, I thought he might propose. It had been nine years, after all. He had dropped a few hints. We had planned to see some fireworks, but they had been cancelled due to rain. 11 p.m. rolled around. It was close to midnight. I sat in our living room watching “The Twilight Zone” marathon on TV. Oh well, I thought. How silly of me to think it would happen. I sunk into the couch.

Then he walked downstairs, with a cupcake lit with candles and my grandmother’s ring in the frosting. He got down on one knee, and asked me if I would marry him.

We got married on March 25, 2018. It was a great wedding — family and friends traveled in from all over to see us get married. It was small, about 38 people, but it was exactly what we wanted. We kept the traditions that we important to us. Take what you need, and leave the rest. We walked down the aisle together. We danced to Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” a song Greg chose. He had tears in his eyes as we danced. We filled our playlist with songs we loved and hung out with our friends and ate brunch, drank mimosas, posed for photos and had a fantastic time.

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I was fatter than I have ever been on my wedding day. My fat, tattooed arms were on full display in my cap sleeve dress. And I was so radically happy. I didn’t think of my weight once. It occurred to me how silly is was, to think that this happy event, this celebration of love, was not something I was allowed to want or experience.

Fat women are raised to believe that there are certain experiences that just aren’t for them. Simple things like wearing a swimsuit to the beach and enjoying the sun, sand and warm water. We decide we don’t like water anyway, and the sand is dirty and hard to walk in. We may grudgingly go out with a t-shirt or cover-up on, aware of how many eyes are there to see us. Enjoying a decadent meal at a restaurant, dipping our forks into a rich dessert. We’ll just have a salad, thanks. And we don’t get to have the full bridal experience. We get engaged quietly. We don’t get the dramatic proposal. As Lindy West wrote, “Thin girls get public proposals, like those dudes are winning a fucking prize.” Fat women get married in jeans or a nice pantsuit at the courthouse after we’ve already had a few kids with our partners. We become wives quietly, without any fanfare, without ever seeming to be a bride.

Fat women are constantly performing, trying to be the “good fatty.” No, we aren’t hungry. No, we don’t want to go swimming. We didn’t really want that raise or promotion anyway, it’s fine that we were passed over and our hard work taken for granted. No, we don’t want to find love or be treated like a prize or have someone write in the sky that they love us. We don’t want the attention. Living quietly is the price we pay for our fatness.

And that was why I had a wedding. I wore the dress, I was “announced” and everyone stood when I entered the room, I danced the first dance with everyone staring at me, I cut the cake (and ate plenty of it, without shame). I showed off the parts of my body I had always been most self-conscious about, my arms and my legs. I considered it a rebellion. I had silently accepted my fate as a spinster for so long, had been treated like a dirty little secret by so many guys, that not having a wedding was not an option for me. I was going to be looked at. I was going to be heard. Sure, weddings can be problematic in many ways. They are still steeped in patriarchal tradition. But for me, a fat woman who spends her days policing herself and her desires in so many way, it felt like a radical act. It’s easy to call wedding problematic when they’re still an option for you, when you’re allowed to want one.

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We have been happy together for nearly a decade, and we are happily married now. Not much has changed. I can be on Greg’s health insurance now. We can have joint bank accounts. Our lives have gone back to normal. We sit on the couch and watch “Game of Thrones,” we eat dinner at our favorite restaurants (and always enjoy dessert), I cook and he does the dishes, we walk the dog and pet the cat. But being a fat bride taught me that it’s okay to want things, to ditch the “good fatty” performance, that I can do anything I want to do, up to and including wearing a pretty white dress and having a killer wedding. Life is too short to wonder whether you’re “allowed” to want something or do something. You and I can chip away at the barriers in the world that tell us fat people can’t do, wear, experience or want by just fucking doing it. Do it loudly, do it imperfectly, and do it the way you want.

Join the party!

Hey everyone! I’m Linda. I’m 35, live in northern Virginia with my husband, our cat Pixel, our dog Special Agent Dale Cooper, and I work in nonprofit technology.

I started Fluffy Kitten Party because several people asked me, “Do you have a blog?” And I didn’t. So now I have one.

Why “Fluffy Kitten Party?” Well, what I’m going to be writing about here is a lot of thoughts about fat activism, cultural critique, body positive stuff and political meanderings. But that doesn’t sound inviting, does it? You know what does sound inviting? A FLUFFY KITTEN PARTY.

fluffy kitten party header

So read on! Sit down. Relax. Have a cookie. Pet a cat. Join the revolution.