You’ve never been obese so you wouldn’t understand

Q: Intellectually I understand the HAES paradigm and would love to live by it. But have you ever been obese? Like over 200 pounds and you can *feel* the weight of it? If you haven’t, maybe you can’t understand that burden. You might know what body hatred feels like, but being truly overweight is something else. Or is it?


I appreciate the meat of this question, and I am going to respond with both compassion and tough love.

No, I haven’t been over 200 lbs. My experience with weight yo-yo-ing has been about 35 lbs up and down.

I also happen to know that the person who sent this question knows that answer already, that I’ve never been 200 lbs. So what they’re really saying is: Normal eating and body acceptance? It can work for you but not for me. I have a burden you can’t understand.

I get that to some of my readers it might feel alienating when I talk about body acceptance, especially if they feel like I can’t understand what it’s like to be in their bodies. I get it. All I can do about it is remind you that there are women out there who are living, breathing, badass examples of the confident woman you don’t believe you can be at xxx lbs.

Virgie Tovar, Ragen Chastain, Jes Baker, and Tess Holiday are some examples. They are big, they are beautiful, they are confident, they are unapologetic. At least one is very active. One is a model. One is a writer ‘anti-assimilationist’ badass, among other things. I’m sure they ‘*feel* the weight of it’ (yes, the actual weight), and the difference is that they’ve learned to feel that weight and not see it as a burden, or at least not use that excuse as a reason to stay hating themselves. But honestly, I shouldn’t speak for them. They will say it all better than me.

I also have to say, we all have burdens that feel like they are *the worst burdens*, burdens that other people can’t understand. For instance, I have both genetic and hormonal excess hair that makes me feel culturally and aesthetically unacceptable. I will look at a woman who is 200+ lbs with smooth skin and I easily envy them, assuming they are healthier than me, and that they might even have an easier, better life than me. I now know enough about envy and happiness and body shame to snap out of it, but it happens. I’ve also had chronic cystic acne. And I was missing 9 adult teeth and looked like a gremlin in high school before I had major teeth work done. I could choose to compare myself to everyone else for the rest of my life, and sometimes I’m tempted to, and then I remember how that is actively choosing my misery.

I stand by the advice that it is our feelings and beliefs about the weight on our bodies that actually make the difference. That’s the part that actually causes the self-hatred. You feel weight, which is actually neutral, but still have attached a million other connotations to the weight, and those are the real burdens.

I really do feel for you. This world is still absolutely unfair and cruel to fat people. That is a legitimate burden. It takes bravery. It takes confidence. It takes a lot of letting go. Have I experienced fat prejudice first hand? No. I really haven’t. I can only empathize and do the work I am doing for the benefit of people of all sizes.

And when people ask questions like this, as if to say: “Just admit it, body acceptance isn’t gonna work, is it?” I am also here to remind you that at the end of the day, all we can do is care a little less about the bullshit, and care a little more about your precious life, and the sunshine, and the laughs to be had, cause it’s all going quicker by the day. Don’t waste it all by thinking you’re not allowed to like yourself just because you feel weight on your body.

And as much as I understand the sentiment and frustration behind this question, my response will never be: You know, you’re right. Ignore me. Keep dieting. I don’t understand what it’s like, so it’s probably impossible to love your body if you’re fat after all. Being skinny is the only answer. Only then will you be truly free and truly happy.

And I have to guess, that by the way you worded the end of your question, you know that’s not true either.

Check out those ladies I mentioned 😉 And anyone who wants to share more fat role models, share in the comments.


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