Because I have read at least three magazines and watched more than two rom-coms in my 20-plus years on Earth, I am aware that complaining about feeling fat is pretty much the biggest relationship "don't" there is. In fact, wheedling "I feel fat" to a dude is apparently the unsexiest thing a girl can do, aside from ordering a salad for dinner on a date (because men like a girl who eats, as long as she doesn't especially look like she eats) or not being cool about Sports Night. I know all of this, because it would be impossible, as a woman, not to know all of this. So your guess is as good as mine as to why I am always, always, always whining about my weight to my boyfriend.
Let's unpack this reflex. First, I shouldn't be complaining about feeling fat, as though "fat" equates to unspeakable, frumpy evil. We have our culture's troubling notions about health and desirability to thank for the icky emphasis assigned to weight and fatness (and, as with most things, it's an even thornier issue for women). Though the fat-positivity movement is hard at work trying to upend these problematic norms, this idea of fatness as the 21st-century's answer to bubonic plague still stands, and it's all very oppressive and gross. I don't want to further this shit, people!
And yet, I participate in this narrative, in my own small way. This is not because I buy that fat is the Voldemort of hotness, health, and happiness — not from an intellectual standpoint, anyway. But I can't speak for my screwy subconscious, riddled as it is with a lifetime of eating issues. (Specifically, I fall into the EDNOS category — Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified — for extreme restriction and compensatory behaviors, like over-exercising. It's basically the worst diagnosis ever; it feels like being told, "You're not even very good at anorexia.") Most days in my apartment, you can find me holding a phone to my ear with my left hand, babbling on about some feminist issue — or, you know, Veronica Mars — while using the right hand to hold the hem of my shirt above my ribcage as I swivel in front of the mirror, sucking in my stomach and evaluating.
I can and have educated myself on the societal factors that have impacted my eating disorder. I can and do practice cognitive behavioral therapy techniques when my brain starts to hiss vile criticisms at me. Some days, though, the disease wins, and I'm left feeling fat, and all of the things that fat (incorrectly) connotes to me — lazy, less-than, imperfect, a failure.
So, at this point, after all of this back-and-forth between the part of me that is academic and knows better, and the part of me that thoroughly and utterly believes that my self-worth is determined by numbers on scales and tags...After all of this, I am tired, and I want to eat three pizzas, and I also want to refuse food until my face starts to look gaunt, and stars burst in front of my line of vision when I try to stand up, and people tell me, "You look so thin lately," or maybe ask if I've been sick.
At this point, I am very tired, and what I am going to say to my boyfriend, who is often the person I'm talking to on the phone, is "I feel fat," knowing that he knows that "fat" is shorthand for "like a worthless disappointment — worse still, an average girl — who's taking up more space in this world than she's deserved or earned." I guess that it would be more emotionally honest to actually verbalize that long drag of a sentence than to cheat with "fat." I should stop reinforcing the stigmatization of fatness, in my life and more broadly. I can work on that.
But why should I, a seethingly insecure byproduct of insane cultural strictures about bodies, be expected to keep my mouth shut about my feeling of fatness-et-cetera around the person who I've chosen to share my body with? Is it because revealing feelings of insecurity undermines my status as the guardian and protector of capital-S Sexiness in the relationship (another fun thing about being a woman)?
Unfortunately, my real, authentic self isn't always cool and sexy and likable. I can be very insecure. In fact, I can also be sexy in spite of these insecurities. (I give a lot of blow jobs, yo.) Maybe I can even be sexy because of them? It's 2014, folks; anything is possible.