On Being Fat

I am told that I am fat.

Now before you go reacting, stop and think.  Really, you are probably told this routinely, as well.  The world is constantly sending you messages that you are not as skinny as you should be.  Now, I don’t want to beat this to death, because many things have been discussed, written, and overall communicated about this topic.

You know that media portrays an unrealistic goal for the human body.  You know that porn is damaging.  You know that Barbie dolls are unrealistic (and would have to walk on all fours if they were real people).  You know that models are airbrushed and the mannequins adorning the giant windows of clothing stores are not proportionate to the average – or healthy – human’s body.

But, even though you know these things, you still allow society and media and whoever else to start to shape your perception of self.  Even if you don’t believe that a runway model’s structure is an appropriate goal, you let the message seep in that your body is not what society holds as a standard of beauty.

I say this because, even as a rather confident 20-something, I let the barrage of images thrown at me begin to write my definition of “skinny”.  I knew that, with my naturally big-ole’-German-boned body, I would never be the stick-thin model I saw in catalogs.  And that was okay with me.  I didn’t let society convince me that I was fat, but I did believe that I was less than ideal.

And then I moved to Asia.

There is a cultural duo here that is dangerous to one’s perception of self. First of all, there is a very narrow (no pun intended) version of “skinny” that is held to by basically the entire population of SouthEast Asia.  Which is a lot of people.  Secondly, people say aloud everything that they are thinking.

So, since I moved, here, I have been told on a rather regular basis that I am fat.

And it doesn’t bother me.  Which is weird.

It’s interesting that this stands out because, really, society has been screaming that at me for quite a while.  And those messages didn’t bother me.  They were normal and daily and went unnoticed.  I didn’t think about them.  Instead, I allowed those definitions of beauty to shape how I saw myself and how I saw others.

The Butterfly Circus is a short film which I have come to love. It’s excellent, and you should go watch it now – it’s only 20 minutes, and you can watch it here for free. Nick Vujicic stars brilliantly in the film, portraying a limbless man that had worked his whole life for a freak show at a circus.  A few minutes into the movie, he begins to work for a kind-hearted circus director who sees past people’s issues to who they really are.  Nick is beginning to see value in himself, to see more than others’ understanding of him, when, one day, this new boss begins to berate him.  He tells him that he is worthless, that God himself has turned away from him.  Nick responds vehemently, “Why would you say that!?”  The director pauses, looks at him, and slowly responds, “Because you believe it.”  And in these redemptive words from the director, I gained major insight into the way that I perceived myself.

Isn’t this the truth?  We let others define us.  We listen to their subtle clues about who we are and who we should be.  But if someone comes out and directly says the same to us – or to someone we care about – we react strongly against it.

Living here, I am accepted as fat.  Logically, this seems like it should have a negative effect on my self-esteem and perception of self.  In reality, though, it has had the opposite impact. Because people tell me that I’m fat – because they actually voice the unspoken messages of society – I have stepped away from their standards.  It’s not that I don’t care what others think, but I have realized that the expectation for our bodies is, in many ways, unattainable.  “Skinny” is not a valid way to measure our self-worth. “Skinny” is not something that I am going to spend all of my time striving for and worrying about.

Now, I don’t want to deny that America is struggling with obesity, and that it is a problem that is wise to address.  But, that said, how often do we allow the pendulum to swing too far the other direction, defining the perfect body as overly thin and telling people that they are not ‘good enough’ if they do not reach that standard?  How often do we criticize ourselves, choosing to believe things that we would never think of saying about other people?  Things that would infuriate us if they were said to the people that we love?

This is a topic often explored that rarely includes new ideas.  And I don’t really have any mind-blowing information to share with you here.   However, I did want to share my experience, because in this reveal of the world’s messages, I have found a beautiful freedom from the very standards that used to bind me unnoticed.

I’d like to add a big thank you to my parents – not only for always being willing to edit my writing, but also for pushing me to think deeper, for encouragement of a healthy standard of true beauty, and for instilling in me that it is beautiful to be unique.


4 thoughts on “On Being Fat

  1. Ron Rogers says:

    You are so “right on”…awesome! In many ways I’ve battled this (not weight) in the religious realm…very opinionated “hero” worshippers, rather than Jesus worshippers. A bad trip. Key for me is : “What does Jesus think of me?” That’s all that matters.

  2. Linda Chae says:

    Good words Lauren! We German women just cannot compete with the Asian ladies! There is a place where we can compete though, in having an appropriate attitude. I find the Korean women I know to be rather manipulative, even as many see them as deferential. They are “busy” behind the scenes. I don’t know if you are finding this in Indonesia or if it’s just the women in my in-law family. But I am working to have the right attitude, to truly be submissive to the authorities God has placed in my life, to let my yes be yes and my no be no. I don’t want to be “busy” behind the scenes, manipulating situations and people to my advantage.

    Love the blog, Linda

    PS-You scared me a little with the catastrophe stuff. Glad it was just the airline going out of business!


    • Mrs. Chae –

      Thank you for the healthy reminder and encouragement! Culture is so fascinating to me, and I love the blend that we have here – good and bad! The things you mentioned are definitely things that I notice here, though.

      See you guys this summer!


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