When I was 18 and in college I had a terrific women’s studies teacher who was addressing media representations of women and the tyranny of thinness. In my reaction paper I wrote something about how every woman I knew wanted to lose weight and my professor wrote next to this in the margin, “Not me!” And I didn’t believe her because she was fat. Not just heavy (the euphemism my friends and I used to describe the not-skinny among us, which seems to have been replaced by “bigger girl” these days) but actually fat. Like the kind of fat we were scared of, the kind of fat we were all running from. I couldn’t think of anything worse than being that fat. But her words in the margin set me thinking. They came back to me through the years as my own body shifted and changed as I met other women who were able to accept their bodies and the bodies of the women around them.
Now I am fat myself, the kind of fat that used to scare me, and although I am sometimes a little thinner and sometimes a little heavier, I am pretty much fat no matter what I’m eating (or not eating) or how much I’m exercising (or not exercising). Which means that I am and will likely remain a fat therapist and in the same way that I assumed I knew something about my women’s studies professor just by looking at her so I know that my clients assume they know something about me just by looking at me.
I have talked to other fat therapists about this because we are all aware that there are some clients who quite simply won’t be comfortable having a therapist who is overweight. They may assume that I don’t know what I’m doing because they believe fat people couldn’t have it together (otherwise they wouldn’t be fat). They may assume that I myself have low self-esteem or cannot control my eating or don’t understand the value of exercise or a thousand other ideas that many of us have about fat people and these things may get in the way of them being able to feel comfortable working with me.
So what do I think about that?
Well, I don’t think anyone ought to work with a therapist who they cannot trust so I understand that I’m not everyone’s cup of tea (that’s why there are lots of different counselors in the world — to meet the needs of lots of different people). If someone comes to me and doesn’t feel comfortable with me for any reason (because I am fat or because they don’t like my office decor or because they don’t like the music I play in the waiting room) then I will help them find another therapist. It’s why I have a rolodex. If I can’t help someone who needs help, I don’t want to leave them hanging.
But I also think that there is a lot of opportunity in being a fat therapist. I think we need more fat role models who are happy and healthy and loved so I am proud to model the acceptance of bodily diversity in my acceptance of my own body. My personal and professional philosophy is one of Health at Every Size.
I’m writing about this because I think it’s important that we talk explicitly about our experiences in a world that has a limited view of how a woman (and increasingly how a man) should look and so I try to talk about my experience. I also bring it up as a way to let clients and potential clients know that this is a discussion we can have together. I am happily and willingly opening that door.