Can I be fat and confident?

Last week I read the excerpt from Mindy Kaling’s upcoming book Why not me?  I found her idea about what it means to be confident very powerful and motivating (particularly when you’ve just started a blog and you’re a little bit insecure about it). But, being Fat in the Head and all, I then wondered about the ‘me’ of some years ago: would I be inspired to get off my ass and lose weight or would I see in it yet another reason to stay in bed and eat deserts all day?

One of the motivations behind Fat in Head is that I think that being fat is seen too much as a physical problem and too little as a psychological one. More precisely, I see being fat as an intricate web of problems that all influence and amplify each other. Problems that might affect your physical health, but are mostly related to your psychological wellbeing.

Confidence, or lack thereof, is one of those tricky issues when you’re fat. Sometimes it feels as if the whole world is telling you that you’re getting it all wrong. Everything. You shop for clothes, the world tells you you’re too big. You watch a sitcom, the world tells you you’re a punchline. You read a newspaper, the world tells you you’re a global epidemic. Closer to home, it can be your own mother or father asking “should you be eating that?” Telling you you’re too stupid to even know what’s good for you.

No wonder your confidence levels are low to zero. So how can you raise them? Let’s start by giving a short recap of Kaling’s idea about confidence (I’m not doing her writing justice here, so please check out her whole essay. It’s a good and fun read):

Confidence is just entitlement. […] Entitlement is simply the belief that you deserve something. Which is great. The hard part is, you’d better make sure you deserve it.

She then goes on to say that to make sure you deserve something, you need to work for it. I like this idea, because it puts the key to confidence in your own hands. You don’t have to wait or hope for others to tell you that you deserve something. You get to tell others ‘I think I deserve this.’ And you back up your claim by working for it. On a very practical level, working for something gives you hands-on experience. So you know what you are talking about, and you can talk about it with confidence. On a more abstract level, when you work for something, you learn what you are capable of (and you can be pleasantly surprised). ‘Knowing what your qualities are’ is, I think, another synonym for confidence.

Now, you could be thinking: “Aha! So when I start working to lose weight, my confidence will grow! I’ll get right on it.” Or, if you are in another mindset, you could see in it yet another instance of the world telling you you’re getting it all wrong. This time, apparently, you are ‘not doing the work of not being fat’ and therefore, how could you possibly be confident? In both cases you would be making a mistake.

In the first instance, you’ve fallen in the trap of making confidence contingent upon weight. Lacking confidence is one of those self-perpetuating problems when you are Fat in the Head. After a while, it’s difficult to know what came first: being fat or being insecure. And then it makes sense to think you need to solve the ‘being fat’ problem in order to solve the ‘being insecure’ problem. And as you start to do so, it appears to work. You’re losing weight, clothes you had outgrown suddenly fit, people start noticing and making compliments (apparently you are getting some things right for a change) and indeed, your confidence starts to grow.

But then: life happens. Weight goes up, confidence goes down. Because you’ve made your confidence dependent on your weight. And you haven’t addressed the whole web of problems of being fat, you only addressed the ‘excess body weight’ problem. Which is purely physical.

When you tell yourself (or when you allow the world to tell you) that you are getting it all wrong because you are not doing the work of not being fat, you – too – are making the mistake of equating the work of not being fat with losing weight.

So in any case, you need to address your lack of confidence separately and regardless of whether you solve your problem with excess weight. The upside of this is that: yes, you can be fat and confident. In fact, I think you need to be fat and confident, because losing weight (should you choose to do so) takes time and you owe it to yourself not to wait that long with building your confidence.

But how then, if not by losing weight? By figuring out what being fat is for you. By starting to untangle that web of problems. By getting out of bed today and maybe eating an apple instead of a chocolate pudding. By coming to terms with the fact that this is your body and this is who you are. By trying out new routines and phasing out bad habits. By deciding if losing weight is even something you need or want to focus your energy on right now. If ever. All of that is work. Work that takes time. Work that you cannot do all at once.

And in the meantime, you deserve what everybody deserves: to not feel like shit about yourself. So when the world tells you you’re getting it all wrong, you respond by telling the world what I told my own mother two years ago: “Back off. I’m working on it.”