The most marginalized fat folks deserve access to care & rest (and this should not be controversial!
New guest post by Angel Austin
Today I’d like to introduce you to my new January guest author, Angel Austin. Angel’s focus is on creating sacred spaces for the most marginalized fat folks (fuck yes), and I am honored to have her share her story with us today. Let me know what you think after you read it!
Big hug, Jessi
How Weight Stigma Literally Broke My Heart
By Angel Austin, Creator – Sacred Space for Fat Bodies
My name is Angel, and I’m a fat Black activist and writer on a mission to increase access to self-care for folks in bodies large enough to be classified as “superfat” and “infinifat.” (In other words: the most marginalized fat folks.)
Why? Because a lifetime of dealing with the stress and trauma of weight stigma finally caught up with me, when I was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.
I’m genetically predisposed. My mom’s heart failed. It was her cause of death in November 2020, and she lived with the same disease I have for many years. My mother was also a fat Black woman, which means she also experienced years of stress and trauma at the hands of racism and weight stigma. She lived to almost 70, and I'll be 50 next year.
In order to avoid weight stigma, I’ve augmented and brutalized my body (including by over-exercising). Nonetheless, my fat body has seemed to attract snickers and oppression my entire life.
It started early. There are two experiences I can remember that signaled the beginning of my own fat oppression. The first one I remember is being so excited to learn that a pony was being brought to our daycare. I had sweet memories of seeing a donkey and a sheep in a live Nativity scene where we used to take pictures every Christmas when I was very small. You can probably imagine how excited I was to be able to ride an actual pony! When the pony arrived, it was determined that I was too heavy to ride it. To add insult to injury, I was told I could lead the pony around while other children rode it, as if this was a worthwhile concession.
I was so hurt, and beyond disappointed.
The second vivid memory involves my father. In the late 80s, there were laundromats that had sections set aside with big screen TVs and food counters that served heat-and-eat items like pizza and hot dogs. At the age of 11, I looked like I could have been 20. I was tall for my age, extremely developed, and very obviously fat.
My father had recently lost about 150 lbs. He hated being fat. He pressured my mom to lose weight. He made us both know we weren’t acceptable. When he and I went one Saturday to do our laundry at one of these laundromats, after putting everything in the washers, we approached the counter and sat down. My dad immediately struck up a conversation with the young Black man running it.
There was some pizza turning under a heat lamp. Because of food service rules, it was time to dispose of it, but he looked at me and asked if I wanted it, just to have it, at no charge. I didn’t look like it, but I was just a kid. Kids generally love pizza. I was so happy! Before I could answer, my father said these words:
“She don’t need no pizza, man. If you ever have a daughter, never let her look like this.”
I don’t remember crying that day. I remember feeling empty and gutted, but not sad. The sadness has only come in recent years, along with the anger and the grief. As I grew older, I would abuse my body with diets, fasting, over-exercise, and even surgery to remove 85% of my stomach, and guess what?
I’m. Still. Fat.
The years of severe pain and trauma for the size and shape of my body eventually wore my body down, and manifested myriad ways – including damage to my heart, both figuratively and literally.
People always tell me “You’ve got a lot going on” in relation to my activism, and it’s true. I do, but it’s because I’m realistic. There's so much I want to do to help others realize that they’re who they need to be, just as they are. There’s so much to do, and I have so little help… and so little time.
For the rest of the life I have left, my purpose is to make the world know that fat people, especially those of us forgotten and who are “othered” the most, the fattest and/or darkest of us, deserve rest, access, and inclusion.
I want to help little fat girls know how to stand strong when people they love spew hatred at them. I want to help undo all the messaging that says we’re invalid and unacceptable. I feel strongly that I was “unsuccessful” at weight loss so that I could be right here, right now, standing in strength that supersedes ability, wealth, and prestige, on behalf of those who don’t know that they’re just as strong.
It's so easy to make assumptions about fat people, then use those assumptions to make judgments about us. The Weight Loss Services industry perpetuates the weight stigma fat people have endured for decades to the tune of billions per year.
If you're reading this, think about it. Share it and talk about it with your friends. Consider the pressure the fattest people endure all of their lives, and the toll that stress and oppression take on any human being, no matter their size.
Empathy is a superpower. You can create real change. You can save a heart.