I attended a yoga and creative writing workshop in Nottingham last week. It was the first time I’d done anything like this and when I booked I remember thinking ‘why not?’. As the day got nearer I was thinking more along the lines of ‘should I?’ and for a split second considered bailing out and not going. But since I’d booked a hotel for the night…
It was a small group. The woman leading the workshop was fat, as were most of the others in the room. Including me. I remember thinking that this was probably the first time in my life that I was not the odd one out, not the fat woman sticking out like a sore thumb. Not just in the exercise class scenario but generally in life, in my life, with my friends and family.
It was a peculiar sensation.
I don’t like to think of myself as an oddity, as someone who is dependent on the good will and toleration of others. I prefer to think of myself as a force to be reckoned with, someone with the confidence to live a life well. Who wouldn’t? Unfortunately the truth is that for most of the time I am ashamed and embarrassed by my size and therefore at the mercy of the (negative) opinions of others – real or imagined.
And all this was brought into sharp relief by its absence. Experiencing what it was like not to be the anomaly was when I really experienced how acutely aware I am, always, every day, every minute, that I am the odd one out, that I am that sore thumb, that I am usually the fattest person in the room. Sadness came when I acknowledged how wearing all this is and how tense it makes me. In that room in Nottingham just for a few hours I was the same. That was wonderful.
In that workshop I really didn’t have to worry, on any level, about being fat and practising yoga. I did not feel defensive or threatened. I did not feel less than, unworthy or embarrassed. I was able to relax.
So a positive experience which fuelled my sense of well-being. However lurking in the wings, and forever in my sights, is the time bomb of obesity and the fear of fat. It seems a day doesn’t go by without some research conclusion highlighting the links between fat and every possible way there is to die – cancer, dementia, heart failure – the list goes on. As if skinny people are immortal. On my way to an early death I will have to contend with diabetes, sleep apnoea and shattered joints. Might as well shoot me now. I’m fat and am going to die soon anyway. And yet I thrive. Like a weed.
The relentless commentary about obesity and the need to eradicate it (and therefore me!) takes its toll. I am tempted to try to manipulate my weight (again), even though I know it is pointless, unsustainable and potentially damaging. I resurrect feelings of despair about being alive in this fat body, about being that aberration draining the resources of the NHS.
So perhaps it is understandable I should be so excited that for a few hours in a room in Nottingham I felt safe, welcomed and respected.
But also how sad.