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How the Body Positivity Movement Has Helped Me Accept My Chronic Illnesses

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I am a fat girl. Wait. Hear me out. I am also an outspoken member of the Body Positivity (BoPo) movement, and a firm believer in health at any size. I was an advocate of BoPo prior to my hEDS diagnosis, and took several lessons that I learned from the Body Positivity movement and applied them to fibromyalgia and hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome to learn to accept my diagnoses.

• What is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome?
• What Are Common Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Symptoms?

When I say “I’m fat,” that is not synonymous with “I hate my body,” “I am ugly” or anything of the sort. To paraphrase Jes “The Militant” Baker, the word fat is an adjective, nothing more, nothing less. It is the same thing as saying that the sky is blue, or a parrot is colorful. By appropriating the word “fat” for my own use, I am taking the negative connotations out of the word. In much the same way, when I refer to my body as “broken,” I am taking the negative connotations out of the word. Yes, my joints sublux and dislocate, so in essence, my body is broken. Does that mean I don’t love my body? Absolutely not. I can dislike hEDS and love my body at the same time. Those two things are not incompatible. 

Just by virtue of being fat, I am automatically expected to defend my body against any and all critics, including medical professionals. This has primed me for defending myself against people who expect me to lay out my entire medical history because they can’t “see” my disability. It has encouraged me to really learn about EDS, and educate people – especially the people who tell me I can’t have EDS because I am short and fat, and not tall and slender. I used to be slender, but I’ve never been tall – and you know what? It doesn’t matter. Genetics don’t discriminate.

Lessons I’ve learned from being fat especially come into play when dismissing hateful or hurtful criticisms. I’ve learned not to verbally joust with some people, because some people don’t want to learn. They are people who need to tear others down in order to make themselves feel better. Not every comment is worth my time. I have better things to do than silence every critic, like wash my hair, take a nap or best of all, write a piece centered around that criticism, for people who actually want to learn, and people who may find themselves walking a similar path to mine.

After gaining a great deal of weight in my late teen years due to hormonal-based treatments for endometriosis, I hated my body for a very long time. I hated that I was no longer thin. I hated that the clothes that were available in my size were so much less fashionable. I hated every single thing about my body, all of the time. Jes Baker, or “The Militant Baker,” has a fantastic blog, and has published an awesome book. I read both her blog, and the comments – where body policing is 100 percent not tolerated. I also read her book “Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Handbook For Unapologetic Living” when it was released. This slowly started to make me realize exactly what I was doing to myself with my self-loathing. I was my biggest critic. I was the only one tearing myself down every day. I was my own worst enemy. I eventually discovered just how much time and energy hating my body took.

If I have one regret about that realization, it’s that I understood this at 33, instead of at 23. When I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and later hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, I knew better than to get into that cycle of self-loathing again. I knew it would take all of my energy (and then some) to live my best life. Why waste that precious energy on self-loathing? I took all of the energy I would have spent on self-loathing, and instead spent that energy on self-care. Self-care has a much bigger, and better, pay-off than self-loathing.

I am glad I’ve gone through the experiences that I have. I am astoundingly kind of happy that I am fat and broken. I know there is a cognitive dissonance in that sentence, but that doesn’t make it less true. Being fat and disabled has made me a better person, a more compassionate human being, and has sparked my determination to live my best life.

Some people may see me as nothing more than “disgusting” because I am fat, and a “malingerer” because they can’t see any of my conditions; and that’s OK. It’s what I see that is important – and what I see is both inner and outer beauty, and more strength than they’ll ever know.

Getty Image by Staras

Originally published: February 19, 2018
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