Today I am “Okay”

In Columns, Life With Laura by Laura Stinson

If you haven’t read Wendy Shanker’s “The Fat Girl’s Guide to Life” yet, then get thee to a Barnes and Noble. I don’t care if you’re not a girl. It doesn’t matter if you’re not “fat”. This book holds some serious truths for everyone, whatever your size, shape or gender.

As I was reading it, I drew a lot of parallels between being “overweight” and having a disability. They aren’t the same, certainly, but the points Shanker makes about the way overweight people feel about their bodies made a lot of sense to me: not just because I’m thicker than I’d prefer, but because I’m disabled.

You may not agree, but there have been many times in my life where I have felt guilty over my disability. It’s not a guilt I earned, and it’s certainly not a guilt I deserve, but it’s guilt nonetheless. I feel guilty because, if I didn’t have OI, maybe my parents would have more money without all my medical bills to have worried about. If I didn’t have OI, my friends wouldn’t have to worry about whether or not I can do a selected activity, or if I would feel left out if I couldn’t participate. And so forth, and so on.

There’s nothing I can do about any of the above situations. But don’t we all, even when something is out of our control (i.e., someone is sick) apologize for her condition? “I’m sorry you’re sick”. I had nothing to do with her being sick. I didn’t make her sick. But, I’m taking responsibility for it. I had no choice in the matter of having OI. I can’t make it go away no matter how much I may want it to. Yet, I take responsibility for it.

For many people with weight issues, it’s the same thing. Being one of those people, I’ll again use myself as an example. I can exercise (and I do sometimes), but I think I’m just destined to have a gut. If you’re in a wheelchair, you can probably relate. After all, we’re relatively sedentary, and the way we sit (day in and day out), most of our fat gathers in the abdomen. It’s just not easy to lose weight.

Some people simply can’t lose weight. Shanker is one of those people. She’s overweight, but her numbers, her cholesterol, her heart: perfect condition! Yet, society still demands that she and others like her feel guilty for not conforming to this ideal of beauty.

As individuals with disabilities, we don’t conform to this standard either! And even if there is nothing we can do about it, we (or at least, I) feel guilty about it! Shanker got tired of feeling guilty over something she had very little control over. So, she continues to make a concentrated effort to come to peace with her body.

That doesn’t mean she likes it. That doesn’t mean she always feels beautiful. And it certainly doesn’t give her license to simply “let herself go”. Shanker makes certain to point out in her book that she consumes healthy foods and exercises several times a week. What she doesn’t do is allow her feelings of guilt or anger to override her feelings of worth.

As a part of the disabled community, we must do the same. Let’s stop allowing other’s perceptions of us to change the way we feel about ourselves. I know it’s not easy. When I’m in my room, with no one to judge me but stuffed animals and fairy figurines, I am beautiful, smart, creative, funny; everything anyone could ask me to be. But, when I emerge into the world, my beautiful, smart, creative, funny self shrinks away into this shell that I don’t even identify with. People judge me, and I know it, and I sometimes let their judgments rule me.

You don’t have to feel confident to be confident. Just fake it! Nine times out of 10, anyone you asked would describe me as confident. It blows my mind, because inside I’m quaking. You don’t have to believe the vibes you’re putting out. But if you pretend long enough, you will believe them!

Don’t read The Fat Girl’s Guide to Life just for the parallels between being overweight and being disabled. Read it because, as a woman, you want to be empowered. Read it because you want to hear someone else say what you’ve known all along: big is beautiful! Women aren’t supposed to be “hard”, or “chiseled”, or “cut”. We’re supposed to be soft, supple, comforting. Our breasts are meant to be pliable, not rock-like. Our stomachs are meant to be cozy housing for future generations, not something you can bounce a quarter off of.

Do I wish

I was slimmer? Yes. Do I wish I had more muscle tone? Of course. Can I achieve these things? Absolutely. However, what I wish most is to achieve peace with my body. Not contentment: human beings are never content. All I want is to reach a place where I can look at myself in the mirror and say, “Okay”.