So I’ve been alive for thirty-three years now. When I reached plain old thirty, I was told by a great many folks that my thirties would be awesome, because their thirties were awesome, or were in the process of being awesome. I believe them. But my thirties — the three years by which I have to judge them — have been decidedly mundane. I don’t feel any wiser; indeed, if possible I feel like even less of an adult than I did in my twenties. I do feel older, which has good points and bad points but about which I am primarily apathetic. I’m no more financially or professionally well-off than I was in my twenties, but that may be as much owing to broader economic problems as to anything I’ve done or failed to do on an individual level.
The best thing about being in my thirties is that it’s increased my awareness on two crucial and related issues. For one, I am not immortal. I’ve always been tremendously lucky — dare I say privileged, lest readers evaporate? — in that I’ve not had much reason to confront the inevitable truth that my life is finite. My occasional ponderings of the abyss have really only been encouraged in the context of either historic cemeteries or unfathomable cosmic theory. For two, time goes faster as you age. This isn’t something anyone can explain to you when you’re younger, because it sounds ordinary enough but then it happens and one day you find yourself looking around thinking, where did the past decade go? What year was that? How long have I been growing up, and when will I know that I’m done? (My suspicion, at thirty-three, is that the answers to these final two questions are forever, and never.)
The idea of fatness as something other than an embarrassment or a temporary ailment came to me as a result of Susan Stinson’s novel, Fat Girl Dances With Rocks, which I read slowly, standing up, in the late lamented Tower Records on Newbury Street, when I was nineteen years old. I spotted the book whilst browsing, and I paused because I had seen it before, mentioned in Sassy magazine, when I was in high school. I told myself that I wasn’t going to buy it because I was a student and dollars were scarce, but the truth was that I wasn’t going to buy it because it had the word “fat” on the cover, and bringing such a book to the register to purchase would be like allying myself with that word. Instead, I went back to Tower Records daily, after class, and stole the book, page by page, word by word, by reading it in the store. The unhappy ending to this story came when someone bought it — or else it was moved or otherwise lost — and I felt regret, deep regret and loss.
A couple years after that I mustered the courage to order another fat-titled book, and there weren’t many in the late 90s, from the fledgling amazon.com. It was, unsurprisingly, Marilyn Wann’s seminal Fat!So?, and the rest is history.
I’ve been doing fat — living it, performing it, questioning it, and deconstructing it — in one way or another since then, since I first laid a hand on Susan’s novel in Tower Records, since I first burned through Fat!So? in a single evening and began to memorize the statistics and arguments contained therein, as tools, weapons even, to validate my continued existence. I’d had a lifetime of hating my body thus far, for failing to be thin when I had worked harder for that goal than I’d thought possible to do and still fail. Wanting something to be real does not make it real, no matter how intensely you throw your want at it.
Occasionally, very occasionally, I’ll still get the drive-by comment here that goes something like: “You complain so much; why not just lose weight?” Well, first, I don’t think I complain so much as I make observations and tell stories — I am capable of manufacturing vivid complaints of immaculate purity, and they do not sound like the things I write here. But this is subjective. No, what these comments impress upon me is the enormity of the task I’ve been about for so many years. I find them laughable, and not simply because losing weight may be inconceivable-to-impossible. It’s that the very core of this observation belies the commenter’s complete failure to grasp my purpose. Even if assimilation is possible, problems are not solved by assimilation. If they were, then no one who currently fits within standardized beauty standards would have to grapple with their self-esteem. And they do. I am not confronting simple, individual injustices here, of sometimes being treated badly. I am defying and opposing all the social systems that value some appearance-based characteristics over others, and which thusly contribute to a culture in which people who fail to comply — or who overtly resist — are punished.
I don’t do this for personal validation. At least not anymore, though surely that was once the case, and is probably at least initially true for many people who come to radical forms of self-acceptance. I do it because it is right, and because everyone deserves respect and justice no matter what they look like. You are not required to be awesome in your fatness. I do not need you to be awesome in your fatness in order for me to feel justified in being awesome in my own. You can be awesome in your fatness, if you want, or you can choose another way. I will continue on with my own life in my own body no matter what you decide. Because this is what I do. I’m stubborn and outspoken and ridiculous and outrageous and defiant and I make observations and I tell stories and I cause problems.
I just want you to know that awesomeness is possible. Always. Your body is not a tragedy. It is the only one you get, no matter how it may challenge or confound or frustrate or thrill you, and fighting your body just isn’t worth the hurt and the divide.
When I was in Los Angeles last month, I spent a beautiful day in Santa Monica with my dear friend M. That afternoon, M explained to me her theory of Universal Obedience, which basically states that the universe has a way of directing you to the things you’re meant to do, and you can resist, but you’re still going to do them, and the more you fight the harder it’s going to be. So when I was recently approached about writing a book, it wasn’t a surprise. Even now, as I find the idea terrifying and intoxicating in equal measures, it’s still not a surprise. So I’m writing a fucking book. Seriously. Don’t ask me to say more on the matter — I’ll say more when I feel comfortable doing so. I’m writing a fucking book because this is what I do and I’m thirty-three fucking years old and it’s probably time I got my head round the idea that what I do and what I write might have an effect on people, out there, like those other books had an effect on me. That I might be good at it. That it might be useful to someone. That I can contribute to the chorus I first heard so distantly, so many years ago.
Our voices matter. Now I’m going to raise mine a little louder.
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