S3 Ep 9: Fat Grief

Listen: http://fatandfaithful.libsyn.com/s3ep9-fat-grief

Episode Transcription by Fayelle Ewuakye. Find her on Twitter at @FayelleEwuakye.  

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(intro music)

Amanda – Welcome to Fat and Faithful, an ongoing conversation about faith, politics, and culture as they relate to fatness.

Nicole – Hi everyone and welcome to this episode of Fat and Faithful, we’re so glad you’re joining us here today! This is J. Nicole Morgan, and I am here with my podcast cohost and friend, Amanda Martinez Beck. Hi Amanda, how are you today?

Amanda – I’m doing well. Good to talk to you Nicole!

Nicole – You too! It’s been like, I feel like it’s been a few weeks since we’ve actually sat down to record, we’ve just had life.

Amanda – Yep, sick kid, sick cohosts, life.

Nicole – Travel, yeah. Anyway, so welcome back everyone, we’re glad you’re with us. We’re not a consistent one week a week, one podcast a week podcast people, but you love us anyway.

Amanda – That is okay. What are we talking about today, Nicole?

Nicole – So today, we are talking about fat grief. And I think we’ll have to define what that means a little bit for both of us. And it can mean a whole variety of things. But just this idea that there’s some like, deep sadness and sorrow that’s connected to being fat. Yeah, and that’s a reality and how do we process that and what’s that look like for us.

Amanda – Yeah, and where our safe spaces to grieve for that, there are not many. So we’ll be talking about how you can find a safe space to grieve, and it’s gonna be a good conversation, not our most lighthearted conversation. We’ll start with, a friend shared with me not long ago, that she was grieving a loss. And didn’t feel like she could share that in public because people would blame that loss on her being fat. And so she felt very alone in her grief. I just, it struck in a powerful way because, ugh, if we have to grieve alone, that is just so isolating. I’m really glad that she found a place that she could grieve the loss that she had experienced. But what happens when you feel like you can’t grieve publicly? So what circumstances, Nicole, have you had something where you’ve felt grief but you haven’t felt free to grieve publicly?

Nicole – Yeah and I mean, I’m not like a public griever by nature, but there’s definitely, where I don’t feel like I’m allowed to express my sadness and my grief and how it’s connected to fatness. And I guess you know, right now, most of you who follow me on Twitter, you know I’m talking about my attempts to date this year. And often there’s this reality that my singleness is connected in some ways to the size of my body and that that influences. And I know that’s not the only reason I’m single, I know thin people are single and fat people get married. Those are all true things and it’s also true that my body plays a role into who’s available for me to date and who’s interested in dating me. And so often it feels like when I express that kind of grief, people want to quickly assure me, that those aren’t the people I want anyways, if they’re not willing to date me, or they offer all of these, I mean platitudes maybe. Or just reasons. Or they try to assure me that it’s not my body or that if it is my body, that I don’t want them anyway, or tell me stories about fat people who got married or thin people say that they’re single too, and all of those things can be true. But sometimes I just want to acknowledge that part of our messed up world and how we’ve coated fat bodies and their value means that it’s harder for me to get a date than if I was the same person who was also thin. And so yeah, that’s a source of grief. I posted on Twitter a couple weeks ago, that, or maybe not that long, that you know like, intentionally dating this year has had its fun moments, like you know, going on dates and flirting is fun. But it’s also just highlighted like a loneliness. Yeah, that’s a reality. And my body is a part of that reality. And having space to acknowledge that and be sad about it is difficult.

Amanda – You know on Twitter you’ve been expressing grief but I think it’s also been laced with humor.

Nicole – Yeah, which is kind of my default. You know, coping mechanism.

Amanda – I think there can be that tension of, there is grief and humor tied together and that’s one way we cope. But also, and maybe this isn’t something that you’re looking for, but is there space on Twitter to grieve about online dating without it being funny? Like, that’s a question.

Nicole – Yeah, I mean, I don’t know. It’s hard to sit there, like you’re putting it out in this public forum. For me, that’s probably not the most conducive space for me to just be sad and to not have the little bit of humor with it. Because, yeah, and putting that out there for people, and this is not like my close friends, like it’s just literally thousands of people. So many of you I love dearly but I don’t know half of you either. So yeah, that’s an awkward space to do that in.

Amanda – Yeah and I think that’s something instructive, like we have to learn where it is safe to grieve.

Nicole – Yeah.

Amanda – Fully, without humor, or without the pressure to perform in our grief. To draw some life lesson out of what we’ve experienced, or to say, you know, let God’s will be done. And just to sit in that uncomfortable place. I think that’s a human experience that we need to have. But from our perspectives as fat women, what are not safe places and what are safe places to grieve?

Nicole – Yeah ,and I think in terms of like, public grieving, about fatness, I can do it much easier if it’s not about me. And so can express grief and anger over fat erasure or fat abuse on Twitter without being funny about it if it’s not about me. If it’s about other fat people. And I mean even then, like you’re gonna get a lot of people trying to fix the problem. Or it’s just like, this echoing chamber of let’s all yell over each other. And so even then like, that just like, let’s just sit in the grief and be sad and feel it, is hard. But I’m less likely to need to like protect my own kind of vulnerable emotions if it’s about someone else than if it’s about me. And I don’t necessarily think that’s wrong, I think it’s good for me to know that and make sure that I’m like aware of all of those dynamics as I’m processing my own emotions. But yeah, I think there’s a distinction there.

Amanda – Yeah, I’m glad you made that distinction. I was thinking about another way that grief can feel limited for fat people. And that’s with fertility issues. A couple episodes ago, it might have been the last episode, I don’t remember but, we had Nicola Salmon on and she deals with fat fertility but that’s one area where, fat people are really not allowed to publicly grieve without getting input or shaming. Because of the size of their body. Well if you just did this, or if you ate this way, or if you lost weight, than all these problems would be solved miraculously and you could have a baby. And putting the burden of that grief on the person that’s grieving. It’s basically your fault that you can’t have a baby.

Nicole – Right. And it’s just, I mean I think we as humans are bad at grief in general. Like we try to run to fix the problem, but with fatness there’s that specific, everyone, such the common cultural assumption that we can just, we can make this grief go away if we would just fix our bodies. And for so many people it’s the simple, well just do this, or why you are upset about it? You should know that this is what’s gonna happen if you’re fat. And one, that’s like not true, and two, it’s just rude.

Amanda – I think one way that we think about grief as fat people is a similar way that we think about medical problems. We ask, you know, if a doctor says you need to lose weight, we say well can we, does this problem occur in people who are quote, average weight? You know, does infertility occur to people with average weight. Yes, okay then, I’m allowed to grieve this, this is not my fault. And just taking that burden of fault away has such a huge thing. With your body and dating too, like, it is a systemic issue, it is not Nicole’s fault, or Amanda’s fault, that people in our culture have been trained to find thin bodies more attractive than fat bodies. That is not our fault.

Nicole – Right. It’s like we live with the consequences of that. But we’re allowed to grieve those consequences and the impact they have on our lives.

Amanda – Right. A couple of spaces that Nicole and I have found to be helpful for grieving is one with close friends, where you feel safe, expressing that, even how your size plays into that. So Nicole and I might talk to each other, we grieve together a bit. And then we also have our group, All Bodies are Good Bodies and when you can come together under the premise that this body is good, no matter what size or condition it’s in, then there’s a freedom to talk about things that grieve you. And then Nicola Salmon has a group, Fat Fertility, I’m not sure the name of it, I can post it in the show notes. But finding a space of people who are like you in a similar struggle that you can commiserate is part of it, the commiseration, but also just a safe space to grieve.

Nicole – Yeah, and I think, I have a local friend group that I hang out with and just, we were, last time we got together we were chatting and somehow it got on the conversation of like, churches. And we were talking about visiting a local church and I made the comment that I had looked into visiting this particular one and then when I pulled up the website and I read the pastor’s bio, she had a fat joke in her bio. And you know, I was very thankful in that moment, we didn’t spend a lot of time on that topic, but that that the other people at the table with me, got why that was an issue. And there wasn’t this, oh well like, what’s the big deal, everyone does it. They are just like, oh, that’s awful, you know, like, they agreed with me. That that is just disappointing and disheartening, like when you’re excited about trying out this new thing and you think you’ve found the place. Like church hunting is hard and complicated and all kinds of crazy, there wasn’t like a moment of grief per se. But just kind of picture to me of what it looks like to make space for that type of, for the grief in your communities. Like they didn’t dismiss it or minimize it, and it wasn’t even a big deal, we spent like 2 seconds on the topic and then we moved on.

Amanda – How valuable, how valuable is that though. I mean it reminds me of the word compassion. So com means with, like con in Spanish. And then passion is suffering. And that, when we have compassion on someone, we sit there with them and we suffer with them, like our hearts connect in a way that binds us together. You know, we talk about that in Christian settings, but people of any faith or no faith can practice that, sitting with someone in grief. And how valuable that is. So I was thinking about one question that you and I get asked, Nicole, is if we’re on the journey to body positivity and fat acceptance, is it okay to grieve that we’re fat?

Nicole – Yeah, that’s a hard one. I mean, yeah, common.

Amanda – That we’re fat.

Nicole – Yes, I remember very early on in my journey and occasionally it will pop up, but I had to grieve the loss of the hope that I would one day be thin. Like and that’s part of this fat acceptance journey is letting go of this dream you have, or this idea that one day you’re gonna figure it out and your body is gonna look like the world tells you it’s supposed to look like. And it’s not, I don’t know people might take this out of context to say, oh see, she’s just saying you give in and you get as fat as you want to. That’s what I’m saying at all. I’m saying, you accept your body and you let your body be as it is. And you stop striving for, or believing that one day you’re going to actually be this completely other body. Yeah, there’s a grief process there.

Amanda – Right, and I think part of that is also grieving the reality of being fat, what it means for your body in society. That it’s hard, that makes life harder. That people feel free to comment on the space that you take up or the clothing that you have available to you. I mean people are not leaving their houses because they are grieving, they are afraid of being attacked for being fat, for being different, for having a body that doesn’t fit cultural standards. That brings me grief in thinking of the pain and the suffering that people are experiencing because of how absurd our culture is about bodies.

Nicole – Yeah, I remember writing in a journal, like back when I did hand written journals a million years ago. I was probably 6 months into me learning about fat acceptance. And I just, I wrote that I wanted to unlearn, like what I had seen. That I had started learning about the ways that fat bodies are systematically, institutionally, marginalized and discriminated against in healthcare and jobs and housing and access and accommodations. And I lived in a fat body my entire life before then, but I didn’t see all of that because I believed I deserved it, or a believed that it was my fault, and so any type of discrimination or just hate against my body, like I internalized and it was my problem, instead of the world’s problem. And so as I began to kind of see the way that the world was set up to discriminate against my body, I didn’t wanna know anymore. Because it was harder to know that then to just go with the flow. And be the person who was trying to lose weight and who knew I was bad and who knew I needed to fix it. Like, then it was just me instead of this entire world that was setup against me. And I wanted to unlearn that, it was so hard to have all that knowledge and to know that I was that hated by so many other people instead of just myself. That was a hard moment to push past. I read, for those of you listening who might like, some of the theory around this. Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed deals a lot with this like, internalized shame and stigma, where you take on society’s stigma against you and you internalize it and you believe it about yourself. And I think that book has been very influential for me in terms of kind of understanding how some of those dynamics work.

Amanda – Thank you for sharing that recommendation. Can you repeat the name of the book and the author?

Nicole – Paolo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

Amanda – You know, you mentioned what you deserve as internalized. And  a lot of research is coming out now that, number one dieting doesn’t work for most people. 90% of people who go on diets fail. But also that children as young as 8 are expected to diet and have body conformity. And how that influences the way that children see themselves. Around the age where they’re starting to develop self-identity, they’re being told you take up too much space. You’re too big. And then it creates this culture of, “I deserve any bad treatment I get because I’m not conforming.” And that doesn’t just affect self-esteem, that affects how peers treat them, and also how adults treat children.

Nicole – Yeah.

Amanda – In a way that, we’re about to share something that’s pretty intense, so just wanna, to give you a content warning, we’re gonna talk about child abuse related to a child’s body size. So if you don’t feel like you can handle that, then maybe leave off the episode right now. So we’re gonna talk about the story of La’Ravah Davis. She was —

Nicole – 5.

Amanda – She was 5. And she was a little girl who did not fit the cultural standard of small which is kind of the expectation for little girls. And her mother and her mother’s boyfriend who was a former professional football player, her mother’s name was Amy Taylor. And the boyfriend’s name was Cierre Woods. And they were accused of the murder of this little girl because of the size of her body. Nicole, if you wanna share.

Nicole – Yeah. So I just, this was a Tweet that I saw and then I texted it to Amanda and just talking about like Twitter as a space to share grief. Like I didn’t even retweet it because I was just so sad and outraged. That I was like, I don’t even know, Twitter wasn’t the place for me to express my grief about it. But reading some articles on it, it seems like that there was some abuse going on outside of this incident that we’re gonna talk about. But the boyfriend was trying to find ways to discipline the 5 year old girl and he says in some of the interviews that we read that he didn’t feel like he could spank her. So he would have her exercise because, and he said, she was chunky. And that it would be good for her and it would help her on her life. And then this girl, this 5 year old child died as a result of the abuse. And part of that was that he had her running and doing sit-ups and she went into cardiac arrest. And just the fact that this 5 year old child was exercised to the point of death, along with the other abuse, that it’s all tragically mixed up there together. But that this was, you’re disciplining a 5 year old child and you’re calling her chunky and saying that she needs to do this extreme exercise in order to get onto a better path in life. And just that, that grief reminded me a lot about, 2012 I believe, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta did a campaign against childhood obesity that was just abhorrent. Where they stigmatized fat children. And bullied fat children publicly. And it made me think of that, and how this, this case of this young girl dying is tragic and everyone will call it evil. But it shows up from official people who are supposed to care about the health of children and everyone calls it good. And just that grief.

Amanda – It’s really an indictment against diet culture and our obsession with thinness. That if you’re thin you are saved from a lot of pain, of the experience of fat people. You know the campaign had a billboard that said, it’s hard to be a little girl if you’re not a little girl. And oh my goodness, to define someone’s childhood as good or bad based on the size of their body is awful. I can’t even express, you know and I, in some of the other groups I’m in on Facebook, when dieting about children comes up, I try to offer some input. You know, one of the biggest reasons that I know that I have to keep doing the work that I’m doing and that I’m so thankful for the work that you’re doing, Nicole, is that I want to leave a legacy of body love. Because it’s rooted, so much of, so many problems are rooted in the self-hatred and the self-loathing. And I want my children and their children and their children to know, that all bodies are good bodies. My body is good. And I don’t have to change to be loved.

Nicole – Amen.

Amanda – If you are needing a place to grieve about your body, if you are experiencing isolation in your body because you don’t fit into society’s standards, we very much welcome into our group, All Bodies are Good Bodies, on Facebook. You can get there by going to Facebook.com/groups/allbodiesaregoodbodies. And please know that you have a place that’s safe to grieve. You don’t have to grieve alone.

Nicole – Yeah. We’d love for you to join us there if that’s something you would like to do. You can also join in on discussions on Twitter, you can find me at @jnicolemorgan there, Amanda is @amandambeck on twitter. And then on Instagram, I am @Jnicolemorgan there as well and Amanda is @your_body_is_good with underscores between each word. We’d love to have these conversations with you and hear what you’re thinking.

Amanda – Well much love to you guys, and if you have a topic you’d like us to discuss on the podcast, get in touch with us, we would love to have that conversation.

Nicole – And as always, if you enjoy the podcast, we’d love if you would like, review, share our podcast with your friends. That helps us to reach more people with our mission to love God incarnate and our neighbor’s bodies as our own.

Amanda – Thanks y’all.

(exit music)

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