Medium recently ran an essay series called Unruly Bodies, led and curated by Roxane Gay. I read a few of them (you can find the series here) but the final essay by Gay herself clocked me right in the kisser.
The Body That Understands What Fullness Is is Gay’s announcement that she has had weight loss surgery, and outlines the events leading up to her decision to do so, and the feelings and complications that have occurred since. As a leader of the fat acceptance and body positivity movement, Gay explains that this decision was particularly difficult to make, fearing backlash from this community.
The part that would make this especially difficult is the fact that she has written about how food has been her comfort and companion in her journey to overcome the trauma she has experienced. Any coping mechanism can be both helpful and harmful, and difficult to part with when the time has come to move forward. Her descriptions of working with a therapist and finding a way to fill the emptiness inside her now that food cannot physically do it just moved my entire heart. What a deep and important question to attempt to answer after 30 years. It is an answer that takes hard work and reconstruction – two things that are tough to conjure after having life and body altering surgery.
Who am I if I am not fat? Who will I be? Who will I be in the world without all of these things I have learned to live with and accommodate for?
Change is scary. It is always easier to be something we have been than it is to become something different. Redefinition is always significantly more work than reiteration. Re-branding costs money and time and energy. Also the idea of sunk costs usually creeps in too, both money and time invested that, with the change, would theoretically become “wasted.” The familiar is almost always less expensive than the unknown. The unknown requires bravery, courage, and at least a little bit of savings or support from family and friends to explore.
The central question becomes: Who am I if I am not who I think I am? Who am I if I stop becoming who I thought I was? We become a stranger to ourselves, and getting to know a new us is just another stressor in a world where self-esteem and self-care are already difficult enough to come by. But every person has their breaking point, no matter the situation. It seems as if Roxane has found hers and is taking on the work of recreating and rediscovering herself.
What is your harmful familiar situation? Are you thinking of change and transformation? What would your breaking point be?
Think about it.
PS: Roxane has been a strong and important voice behind fat acceptance and body positivity, and she writes about fearing the disappointment of that community, that they might feel betrayed.
I feel like the body positivity movement has to be more than just about being fat, it has to be about everyone being able to choose what’s best for their own bodies and about the expansion of the definitions of beautiful and “acceptable” when it comes to any body. Much like feminism is about equality across the board, this has to be across the board too.
I didn’t feel betrayed. I felt proud. She made a difficult decision, but she made the choice because it was best for her. Isn’t that the point?