Dear Virgie: I Feel Embarrassed When I Eat in Public
You have the right to exist in your body, no matter your size or shape or heath status. You have the right to eat whatever the fuck you want.
I feel embarrassed or self-conscious when I eat in public. I feel like everyone is watching me. I can’t tell if I’m being paranoid or people really are noticing me more because I am fat. I want to be a bad-ass fat girl who doesn’t care. Do you have any advice on how to deal with this?
First of all, what you’re experiencing is not paranoia. Paranoia refers to an illogical fixation on a highly improbable outcome. What fat people — and other acutely marginalized people — experience is hyper-vigilance. Hyper-vigilance is a manifestation of minority stress — the heightened stress levels that occur from ongoing experiences of discrimination. Hyper-vigilance is not illogical; it is a product of having been stigmatized over and over and over again until you start to anticipate stigma, and this leads to a heightened sense of awareness. Almost like wearing armor all the time.
People with privilege can just walk around without the sense that there is emotional or physical danger lurking around every corner. Fat people — especially fat women/femmes — don’t get to have that in this culture.
Second, considering how much aggression this culture has toward fat people (and how open people are about that aggression) it seems pretty normal (UNFORTUNATELY) that you’d feel self-conscious. Again, you have been taught that people think poorly of fat people and feel they have the right to surveil and police our bodies and our consumption. You are a smart person who has picked up on this, and so naturally this would be something you think about when you’re in public space.
It’s important for you to know that you have the right to exist in your body, no matter your size or shape or heath status. You have the right to eat whatever the fuck you want. Other people’s bigotry is THEIR problem and THEIR fault, not yours. You never, ever have to alter your behavior to bow to bigoted ideologies or behaviors.
As far as being a bad-ass, remember Bad-Ass-Fat-Babe-Landia wasn’t built in a day.
I recommend reminding yourself: “I have the right to exist in my body no matter what size or shape or health status. I have the right to eat whatever the fuck I want. Other people’s bigotry is THEIR problem and THEIR fault, not mine. I never, ever have to alter my behavior to bow to bigoted ideologies or behaviors.”
It’s important to be gentle with yourself and not victim-blame yourself. It’s OK to feel hurt and it’s OK to feel self-conscious.
A real emotional shift occurs when we stop blaming ourselves for fatphobia and we start recognizing that the problem lies within the culture.
Begin to witness your feelings and, rather than acting on them immediately, sit with them. Take as much time as you need. On the days when you feel like a brazen babe who gives no fucks, then practice living and enjoying that; and on the days when you just can’t muster that, it’s also OK to take care of yourself — whatever that means. These are BOTH manifestations of being a bad-ass.
What makes someone a bad-ass is that they can access what they need and they honor those desires without apology. There is not one single way that this looks. It looks different for each person.
I hope this helps!
Virgie Tovar is an author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp, a 4-week online course designed to help those who are ready to break up with diet culture, and started the hashtag campaign #LoseHateNotWeight.