“I feel fat.”
This is something I hear allll the time from clients (and friends and strangers and pretty much everywhere, frankly). Women tell me they feel “big” or “huge” or “gigantic.”
Note here that “feeling fat” and actually being fat are completely separate and unrelated experiences— most of my clients feel fat despite being in a completely healthy and normal weight range.
It is assumed of course, that feeling fat is HORRIBLE. Nevermind the super gross and fatphobic implications that assuming it’s horrible to feel fat also assumes that it’s horrible to be fat. (Yes, saying you “feel fat” when you’re not fat is fatphobic, and oppressive to people who actually are fat.)
People make the same assumption about feeling ugly or unattractive. As a woman, feeling like you’re not pretty enough is often the same as feeling like you suck and are basically just worthless as a person.
But have you ever stopped to think about why that is, and what it means?
My clients are often surprised when I ask them to question the idea that feeling (or being!) fat or unattractive is such a problem. I ask them what fat feels like, and challenge them to put into words why that’s such a negative thing.
They often struggle to answer, because “feeling huge” is a common umbrella term for feeling a variety of negative things they don’t actually want to identify, talk about, or deal with, such as feeling isolated, lonely, guilty, ashamed, disconnected, sad, or overwhelmed.
Here’s the thing: fat and ugly are not feelings.
They are descriptions, like “tall” or “blue,” and they are completely subjective. They’re not inherently good or bad, they’re kind of just neutral observations that are designed to help us navigate between relative objects and people.
But the meaning we attach to these words… hoo, boy. That’s where nastiness comes in. We use words like “fat” and “ugly” as elaborate stand-ins; symbols of complex experiences of personal failure and shame
If you think back to childhood, fat and ugly were the two most hurtful insults lobbed at girls. Why? Because we knew even at a tender age that it is very, very important for girls to be small and beautiful.
It was unclear exactly why this was so important, but that didn’t matter. Being called “big” or “fat” or “ugly” was excruciating and everyone knew it, so if someone really wanted to hurt you, those were the insults they hurled at you.
The problematic subtext of these insults is that if a girl has failed to be thin and beautiful then she has failed at her most important job in life, which is to be thin, and beautiful, and to be looked at by other people.
If a girl’s most important role in life was to be innovative, create positive change, follow our passions, connect with people, or something else unrelated to how we looked, then these insults wouldn’t hurt us so deeply. I mean, it might not feel awesome to be fat or ugly (just like it doesn’t feel awesome to suck at math or be clumsy) but they wouldn’t cut us to our cores. They would just be somewhat boring facts about us.
Any woman who struggles with feeling fat or unattractive is really struggling with something else entirely, and no amount of trying to convince the woman she’s thin or beautiful will help her with her struggle.
Maybe she feels like a failure because she has internalized this idea that women exist to be looked at, so she feels guilty that she is subjecting the people around her to her ugly hugeness. This is worth exploring though– do the people in your life really expect you to be small and beautiful as if your job is to decorate the world for them? If so, that is majorly fucked up and you need those people out of your life stat.
This is the kind of exploration I help my clients do, getting to the actual heart of their struggles and helping dissolve the blocks to self-love and self-acceptance that reside there.
Often what sits underneath the surface of “feeling fat” or “feeling ugly” is belief that your job is to be living earth decor, or that your worth comes from how pleasant you are to look at. Sometimes it comes from trauma, shame, fear of being looked at or violated, or a deep belief that you would be happy and fulfilled if only you looked different.
Other times, feeling fat is just a big cover-up for feeling sad, or angry. Feeling unattractive is often just a big distraction from feeling insecure about your relationship, or your social skills.
We will never make any headway on body image or self-acceptance if we continue to buy into the lie that a person can “feel” fat or ugly.
I, for one, am tired of the lie.
I want to talk about what’s real. I want to talk about your internalized beliefs, and your feelings, and your trauma. I want to help you discover what thinness and beauty represent to you, and what you think would happen if you accomplished them.
Everyone wants to learn how to “love your body,” but what they really want to know is how to “feel thin” or “feel beautiful.” They want to know how to stop feeling inferior, when the real issues is the paradigm that says being fat or ugly makes a person inferior in the first place.
Body love and acceptance are about something way more important than reframing your flaws, or deciding that you’re beautiful just the way you are.
Only loving your body when you find it beautiful enough is like only loving your children when they’re well behaved– that is not real love.
Real love is about recognizing that your body doesn’t need to be thin or beautiful in order to be worthy of of your love, respect, or care.
Real love is about letting go of the belief that other people have the ability (or the right) to determine if you’re “good enough” just by looking at you, and to let go of the idea that your life would be better if you looked different.
Real love is about basing your self-worth on something other than being looked at.
If you’re ready to learn how to love your body (and I mean really love it, not just “feel thin/pretty enough”) then I created the 12 week online group coaching program Authentic Body Confidence for you.
Enrollment for our fall session (we start August 28th!) is now open– find out all the details and enroll now by checking out the website here!
Hit reply to book a free 20 minute coaching call to pick my brain about the course, and decide if it’s the right fit for you!
Yours in body love, <3 Jessi
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