Dear Sarah Burnett, I do not choose to be fat

Last week Dr Sarah Burnett wrote a scathing piece deriding fat people. People like me.

It started like this, “Being morbidly obese is a choice. There, I’ve said it. I know it won’t make me popular, that many will accuse me of “fat-shaming”, while others will argue that being grossly overweight is a disability, and who chooses to be disabled?”

Quite frankly, I think this is horrendous, especially coming from someone who works in the health sector. On Friday when it appeared on Stuff.co.nz, her opinion piece made me so angry that I could hardly read it. Then I decided she shouldn’t be allowed to speak into the vacuum without someone setting her straight.

Here it is: I do not choose to be morbidly obese. I am just fat.

I could detail everything I have done to lose weight since I was 14 to try and convince you that my weight is not a choice, but I’ll give you the short version instead.

I have been told my entire life I am fat. I came out of my mother a whopping 11 pounds. Nurses at the hospital would offer to change me because putting nappies on me was easier than on the smaller babies.

As a teenager, society continued to tell me I was fat, that I was not normal, but mostly that I should lose weight.

I was 14. Are these appropriate things to be telling someone at such an impressionable age? No.

For the next decade, I went from diet to diet, trying to lose weight, trying to be smaller. I tried Atkins, Weight Watchers, juice diets and cleanses. I tried starving myself and I tried pushing myself so hard at the gym that I would almost collapse.

Yet the weight always stayed.

When I finally gave up on trying to lose weight, I had just finished university, I was clinically depressed and felt that my life was going nowhere. I almost gave up.

A common belief by many was that my depression was caused by my being overweight. Obviously fat people can’t be happy, can they?

Have you ever thought that maybe I was depressed because society was constantly telling me I was not normal? That essentially, me being me, was not okay.

Instead of giving up, I got help. Antidepressants and the pill helped my moods. However, the adverse effect of these two medications saw me put on even more weight. And for the first time in my life, I didn’t care. If the weight was going to be there, it was going to be there.

Maybe it was the medication, or maybe it was just a general shift in my mentality, but life started to turn around. I got my first real job and met my now fiance.

When we moved to Australia in 2012, I came across the blogging challenge Aussie Curves. By participating in the outfit challenges and talking with other plus size women that blogged, I started to feel more confident in my body. I was not alone. I found I could wear nice clothes that made me look and feel good.

It was a revelation. I didn’t need to lose weight to be happy, I needed to change how I thought about myself and be comfortable in the skin I was in.

That is the lesson to take away from this. Plus size bloggers are not glorifying obesity and saying it is okay to be fat. We are saying it is okay to be happy with who you are, no matter what size clothes you wear.

Society screaming at us that we should lose weight, and that we are not normal is bullying, plain and simple.

It’s what the typical school-yard bullies do (and what I encountered at school).

Does society accept the criticism of someone who is different? That has a mental or physical disorder? No. So why bully fat people?

Additionally, obesity is not a disability. I am capable of doing many things “normal” people are capable of. And then some.

I recently bought a FitBit to measure how much exercise I was doing. The stats tell me I average 8000 steps per day. This is around 5km of walking and, being Wellington, obviously some of that is uphill.

My stair count averages 14 flights a day and I’m active for an average of 39 minutes a day. This is actual walking, FitBit doesn’t include the short walk to the kitchen or bathroom in active minutes.

It is actual, physical, pounding the pavement activity. I know I could be doing more, but this is a work in progress.

I am not under the illusion my weight is going to start falling off. No matter how much exercise I do, no matter how little I eat my weight is going to stay with me. I can tell you that because I know MY body.

That’s another point, it is MY BODY. It is not your body, you do not have a claim on it. It is my body and mine alone, so only I can dictate what I do with it. You, Joe Bloggs, are not allowed an opinion when it comes to my body.

And if you are going to use the “my taxpayer dollars will pay for your obesity related illness” line, well, my taxpayer dollars are paying for it too. Oh, and my personal health insurance.

Another popular school of thought when it comes to people who are overweight is to tell them to exercise more and eat less. If it was that easy, don’t you think that would have worked?

Also, at the size that I am, I am the happiest, fittest, healthiest I have ever been. Do I want to lose weight? Sure, who wouldn’t? But I’m not going to beat myself up about it if I don’t.

At one point, Burnett says, “…if any of these girls were my daughter, I would be telling her the truth about what lies ahead.”

Do you think we are ignorant and stupid? No, we are smart, successful women who are well aware of what health issues could lie ahead for us.

I know exactly what my health may be like in the future, which is why I am trying to live a healthy life, not go from one diet to the next.

Which brings me to my next point – do people honestly think we sit around stuffing our faces with takeaways, lollies and chocolate all day? Um…. no.

I will say that there was a time in my life where the food I was eating was not healthy. But that has changed.

I’m not going to go into all the details about my diet, but I will say this – I eat like a normal person. Do you honestly think that I eat takeaways every night for dinner? That I’m constantly shoving my gob with chocolate and candy and everything deep-fried? No. It’s not sustainable.

Do I eat takeaways? Yes, occasionally. Mostly our dinners consist of some form of meat, a carb and vegetables, all home cooked. Lunch will be something light, like a sandwich or wrap, while breakfast is usually a coffee and a bagel. Do I eat between meals? No. Do I have the occasional treat? Yes.

I am in no way saying that there is not an issue with obesity, it’s well-documented that our body size has been getting bigger, but to assume that every fat person is ignorant and doesn’t care about their health is just making the issue worse. Additionally, to call it an epidemic like Burnett does, is wrong.

Epidemic is defined as “the rapid spread of infectious disease to a large number of people in a given population within a short period of time, usually two weeks or less.”

You can’t catch obesity and it definitely takes longer than two weeks to happen. Trust me, it’s taken me a good 10 years to put on this weight.

My final issue with Burnett is that she has a go at the plus size fashion industry. It’s expected of me that I wear clothes when I leave the house and go to work. Is it so much to ask that those clothes fit my body?

And as a woman in my 20s, I don’t want to wear some ghastly floral muumuu. I want fashionable clothes that I feel comfortable in.

So, I’m not proud that I’m overweight, but I am proud that I’ve got the confidence to wear what I want, and that I am comfortable in my own skin.

Isn’t that more important?

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17 thoughts on “Dear Sarah Burnett, I do not choose to be fat

  1. Congratulations on your wonderful article in Stuff. I was hoping they would leave a comments section there for me to write this, but I can understand why they didn’t. I just wanted to say that you are a beautiful person inside and out and your article really spoke to me. Not because I’m a big woman, actually I’m the complete opposite. I have always been “skinny” no matter what I eat and for most of my life been unhappy in my own skin. I always wanted to be bigger! I became ill with a chronic illness 2 years ago and lost even more weight, down to a tiny 46kg. I looked like a skeleton. Why am I mentioning any of this? Because I completely agree with you – weight is irrelevant and happiness is everything. I was told by doctors that there was nothing wrong with me, that they couldn’t test me for anything, even though I was passing blood in my stool, because I was not overweight. This focus on weight as health determinant has GOT to stop! People of all sizes get ill from all sorts of things and the reality is that doctors don’t know why. What we do know, however, and this is so often brushed under the carpet, is that stress is a huge factor in all kinds of illness. This being the case, why would any doctor in good conscience write an article that likely to cause stress for so many people? Let’s instead focus on teaching people how to be happy, how to de-stress and how to love themselves in their own skin. This obsession with looking healthy isn’t helping anyone – beauty is only skin deep.

    • Thank you. And exactly! I’m glad you took the time to comment here. I understand skinny people like yourself also face the body-shamming and are told to put on weight. I know a few people that have struggled with that. It’s just not right. I would have loved to put a point in about that, but I hope I inferred it at least. I hope you are happier in your own skin now and thank you for sharing the other side – not that there should be sides, everyone is probably body-shammed at some point in their life, no matter whether they are big or small, so thank you for highlighting that.

  2. Love your work! Such a well spoken piece, and thank you for speaking up, on behalf of all the people battling to get comfortable in the skin they were given!! xoxo

  3. Hi, I found your blog from the stuff article. this is very eloquently written and I admire the strength your show. It makes me appreciate my body more. I look forward to diving into your previous articles

  4. Thank you so much for your article. I have lived with an eating disorder for 10 years and it scares me shitless when you see ignorant shit on mass media sites that are designed to make women feel crap abt themselves. The audacity of stuff to print an article fat shaming then next day an article about eating disorders then the next day the best new diet. Its a constant cycle of hate on women’s bodies. Why don’t they focus on the great stuff we can do: sing, dance, laugh, love, run, cry, kick arse in our careers, intellectual conversation and action to change the world. I often go out and I look around at the thin women and think ‘when was the last time you were actually happy?’ Because starving yourself makes you absolutely miserable and for what?

    Anyway thank you again, I hope you are dressed in something gorgeous today and feeling fabulous.

    • Exactly. Why is our worth always based on our size and not our life achievements. Thanks for commenting!

  5. Good morning.
    I read with great interest your comment on stuff. From the bottom of my heart – thank you!! I totally understand your position, and after 45 years of being told ” if only you could lose a few kilos” ….. I’m finally learning to ignore it. Like yourself I want great clothes and also not having to scuttle down to the back of the shop would be a nice change! Keep up the good work, and let’s hope Topshop when they arrive in Wellington has sizes bigger than an 18. As I keep saying to clothing shops – don’t you want my money???

    • That is a great point to make! Is our money any different? No. If the Wellington store will be anything like the Sydney store, I don’t think they will have larger sizes, which is sad.

  6. I’ve come here from your stuff article and just wanted to say well done on writing such an honest piece and for stating your point of view openly. One of the best opinion articles I’ve read in a very long time – nice!

  7. Thank you for saying something on this subject matter and I agree with everything you have said. I have had weight problems my whole life and always felt ashamed of it. I lost weight when I was 16 but then put it all back on in my early 20’s. Over the course of the last 3 years I have lost 54kgs and it wasn’t easy. I had to lose weight for my health and not because I was unhappy and felt I had to be what anyone else wanted me to be. But I no longer aim to be thin or skinny and fit into a size 8. I want to keep my boobs! I want to be able to have a bit of a ass to show in those skinny jeans. It makes me feel like a woman having a bit of something something. I love who I am and I love that I can walk down the road with my head held high, and what I learnt the most from my own life experience is that confidence is attractive. People always assume that physical stuff is the most important thing but its not, personality and the way in which you hold and present your inner self that’s important. I think a man is attractive if he’s passionate about something not because he’s handsome to look at! Thank you for standing up to this body shamming and being a great voice for all of us out there who have to put up with the pressures and expectations the world keeps demanding of us.
    xo

    • Thanks Jayne! Wow, 54kg loss is a fantastic achievement, go you! And I know what you mean about having a bit of something something. 🙂

    • Thank you! Living in Wellington has been an adjustment (those hills!) but I’m getting used to them, haha. 🙂

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