Take The Cake: Is Empowerment, Like, Victim Blaming's Cousin?

When I realized I wanted to take on fat shaming and diet culture, my intuitive response was to start with me.

Take the Cake: Stories of a Fat Girl in a Skinny World is a new, ongoing series about living, well, as a fat girl in a skinny world.

The other day I was sitting on the balcony of the Royal Sun Inn in Palm Springs on a group call with my new Babecamp students.

I had just made myself a waffle downstairs with some magical breakfast technology that only hotels in the $79—$111 range seem to have: I pushed the button on the batter-administering machine, filled my Styrofoam cup, poured the cup into the waffle iron, flipped it to start the 2-minute timer. I cut some banana, procured the syrup, opened up the tiny ¼-tablespoon containers of hermetically-sealed butter product.

I sat looking over the cactarium, tiny cactus heads unaware of my observation. God, I really wanted to go to that cactarium. I’d been talking about it non-stop for like a week. For a while, Jacob thought I was saying “cat-arium” like a garden full of cats (goals).

He had a negative experience the last time I took him to a cat thing — a cat show on the edge of a tiny town that only had a fudge shop and a cemetery, down a small road in former Gold Rush country. He asked if we could leave 15 minutes into the cat pageant because he felt “judged” by the cat enthusiasts. Also, he’s allergic to cats — but grew up around them.

In short, he has some cat trauma.

“No, cac-tarium,” I told him. “It’s like an outdoor palace for cacti.”

As the women on the call share and ask questions, we land on the subject of dealing with experiences where your body doesn’t “fit” into something — a chair, a desk, an airplane seat, a pair of jeans.

How do we deal with these moments?

I know how I used to deal with them: Complete. Meltdown.

I felt a combination of rage, impotence and shame. Each of those moments carried with them the impact of all the dehumanizing moments that had preceded it. Even though fatphobia is a problem that our culture created, somehow the blame always seemed to land on me and my body’s inability to conform.

Years later, I deal with these moments differently. I talk myself through them. I know how to stand at the edge of a shame spiral and not fall down the rabbit hole. I remind myself that size discrimination isn’t my fault. I remind myself that this thing that doesn’t suit me is a thing, and I’m a person.

All of this is a skill I have taught myself and practiced over and over; it feels mostly intuitive now.

I share this with my babes. And then I feel that twinge.

It’s the tension between something I truly believe in — individual resilience and resistance — and the sense that this thing I believe in has serious shortcomings.

In short, there are moments when I ask myself, “What’s the difference between empowerment and boot-strapping — the very ideology upon which dieting is premised?”

When I offer tools to people who are recovering from diet culture, am I also secretly confirming the idea that this is their problem to fix all over again?

There’s no easy answer to this question. I grew up learning resiliency from my immigrant grandparents. I have never been a stranger to the sense that there’s a bigger problem I’m in the middle of, and that experience has given me what some people might call grit.

Because of that, I love finding hacks.

To me, the individual who has experienced struggle is a powerful and agile entity with unlimited resources, unencumbered by the machinations of bureaucracy or the myopia of privilege.

So, of course, when I realized I wanted to take on fat shaming and diet culture, my intuitive response was to start with me.

As I’ve begun to teach other people about how to break up with diet culture, I offer everything in my personal artillery. And I’m proud of that. I love that.

However, I’m always quick to remind them that fatphobia isn’t their problem to fix because they — we — didn’t create it.

Our job is to heal ourselves and to live life on our own terms. If we change some minds or the whole goddamn culture in the process, then awesome.

I finish the call, put on my ice cream cone-covered fatkini, and head downstairs to meet my friend Joy, my date to this fat girl pool party. I imagine my little fat girl self who never could have dreamed a day like this would come, and I remind her that this is just the beginning. 

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