I think one of the most difficult barriers I’ve encountered on my journey towards self acceptance is the constant barrage of input telling me that people in larger bodies can’t really be “happy”. In stark contrast to the “fat and jolly” stereotype is the notion that all fat people are unhappy deep down. And this information is everywhere. From our television and magazine advertising to barroom pop psychology to well meaning friends and relatives, it seems like a lot of people are pretty sure I would be a lot happier if I would just lose weight.
“But I am pretty happy,” I tell folks. Their reply, “Not really. If you were really happy you wouldn’t be fat.” Sigh… One of the pieces of prejudice I find most daunting is the notion that all people who are fat are eating to compensate for some life deficiency. Either we were sexually abused as children, or didn’t get enough love at some stage or are facing some buried psychological trauma. “It’s not your fault you’re fat,” they state, while patting you on the head. “We just need to fix what is broken with you emotionally, and the weight will just flow off your body.”
Think I’m making this up? No lie, when I was getting one of my fitness certifications, one of the teachers pulled out a magic marker and headed towards the big paper pad she was using to sketch out the “fitness wisdom” she had to impart. She drew a picture of a fat person (small oval over big round body–it was no Monet). Then she drew another circle inside the fat tummy circle. “Fat people have a hole in their lives,” she stated. “There is something missing inside them that they attempt to stuff full with food.”
I was mortified. And I was pissed. This clearly wasn’t in any of the written materials that she or we had received with the course. This teacher was just making this stuff up and stating it as fact in a training course that is designed to train people to teach exercise to other people.
But most of the extremely thin people in the room simply nodded their heads knowingly and accepted it as fat fact. Along with this notion is the notion that if we lose weight, if we become visibly and socially acceptably skinny, all our problems will melt away and we will finally be happy. This idea is so pervasive that people spend billions of dollars in pursuit of the happiness level of thinness. I believed it. I got thin. For a little while after a ridiculous diet that made me very sick, I was thin. And I waited for the happy. And waited. And waited…
There was some euphoria over increased clothes shopping opportunities. There was some afterglow from the constant validation and encouragement I got about how much better I looked. (Although there was also frankly a lot of pissed off wondering what people thought about how I looked before.) But did I experience magical, mystical happy–smiling while eating a salad, orgasmic swooning over eating yogurt happy? I’d have to say that never arrived.
Oh God, I think I’m… AHHHHHHH!
And now that I’ve lived and loved in a fat body for a while, I can say I’ve found a modicum of relatively reliable happy. Am I happy all the time? Nope. Do I swoon over yogurt? What, are you kidding? But I’m pretty happy most of the time.
That is why I was so very, VERY excited to see this music video by Pharrell Williams and what seems to be half the population of Los Angeles. Take a look. I’ll wait…
Honestly, this music video is what got me on this whole subject with you in the first place. First of all, I have to apologize. This great song is likely to leave you with an earworm that lasts for days. Sorry about that. But on the upside here we have a video with lots and lots of people who are boogying down and singing about being happy. And remarkably none of these people look the same. There are kids, young people, middle aged people and old people. There are men and women. There are single people and families. There are people who are extremely mobile and some who are less mobile. There are people of all different colors. There are thin people, fat people and in-betweenies. They all look happy as hell, and there is not one single carton of yogurt or salad in the entire music video!
The video is actually compiled from a much bigger project called 24 Hours of Happy. Go check out the website. It’s the coolest! I’ll wait. The website contains a 24-hour long music video to this song compiled by Pharrell and his team. I have absolutely no idea how much raw footage they shot, but I imagine it must have been epic. The net result is a web-based clock. At any given moment, you can click in and watch Angelinos of all stripes shaking their thing.
Aside from being a super cool project, the thing I love about this is that it helps demonstrate an idea. Happy doesn’t look the same on everybody. You don’t have to be a particular color or size or shape to be happy. You don’t have to be young. You don’t have to be thin. You don’t have to eat dairy products of any kind. But it is still possible for you to be happy.
Now don’t get me wrong. Privilege and wealth and security and a lot of other things can certainly make happy easier. And there is absolutely no doubt that the rampant discrimination that accompany fat stigma can make it much harder to find happy. But I do know that I found it extremely helpful on my journey to learn that happy was at least possible at any size. It made it much easier for me to fight for happy for myself and for all my fat brothers and sisters.
So I will continue to blog, because, I’m happy…
Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)
P.S. If you like, you can join in the happy RIGHT HERE.