By Jill Hollifield
Reprinted from the Spring 1996 issue of Radiance
In my life as a fat woman, I've been told again and again about the
things I cannot do because of my body. I've been told by society, "You're fat, you
can't be successful, you can't make a good impression, you can't win a lover or be
attractive." I've been told by family and friends, "You're fat, you can't be
happy, you can't be healthy, you can't really care about yourself and let yourself look
like that." And I constructed my own long list of can'ts that I continually recited
to myself: I'm fat, I can't wear a bathing suit, I can't dance in front of strangers at a
club, I can't go to an exercise class with all the normal' size people, I can't eat in
public, fly in an airplane without embarrassment, leave the lights on when I make
love." And on and on and on. Whether it was a rude remark from a passing stranger, a
"for-your-own-good" remark from someone who cared about me, or a self-defeating
remark from the obnoxious but persistent little voice in my head, the message was clear:
there are a million things you can't do because of your fat body. And I believed it,
believed that my big body was one big negative, one big "can't." So I didn't.
But I'm finding, as my mind and spirit grow in size to match the rest of
me, that my fat body is a miracle, a blessing, a long list of "cans" and
"yesses" and "of courses." The things my body can do are so
complex, so delightful, that the can'ts pale in comparison. So I'm tucking my list of
limiting can'ts away and deciding, instead, to celebrate my fat body's capabilities, the
wonderful, unique abilities that make it truly marvelous, truly me.
My fat body has the extraordinary ability to sing. Singing is a gift
without measure, a pleasure I can share with others while it feeds my soul. My thick,
powerful legs provide a firm foundation for the sound. My full, round belly houses my
diaphragm, that miraculous muscle that lets me fill my lungs with air and control my
breath. In my plump neck reside the tiny muscles of my larynx, which produce thrilling
sounds, soulful sounds, moving sounds. My fleshy arms embrace the emotion of the music
with graceful gestures, and my round face expresses the hidden meaning of the song behind
the words. Not every body can do that. My fat body can.
My fat body can move with the majestic grace of the ocean. In action, it
is rippling, flowing, circular, and beautiful. My moving body is all that is feminine
personified. Soft roundness concealing strength, wide curves and planes moving together in
harmony, a large, regal presence that dances in its rightful space with light and life,
that gets noticed, commands attention, sweeps into a room with dignity and style. My fat
body in motion deserves to be recognized as artful. My fat body in motion deserves praise.
My fat body can give great hugs. The wide, encompassing span of my
pillowy arms, the generous expanse of my breasts, receive and embrace others willingly and
fully. I know a young girl, gawky and beautiful in the way of preadolescents, who has a
shy crush on me that I find endearing. One day, in a burst of excitement and enthusiasm
about something we were discussing, she spontaneously wrapped her arms around my waist,
and I returned her hug warmly. "Oh!" she said in surprise, pulling away slightly
and looking up at my face with a wondrous smile on hers. "You're so soft!" I
gathered her even closer, rejoicing in the fact that my body can give comfort and nurture.
My fat body is a harbor. My fat body is a safe haven.
My fat body can receive and respond joyously to a lover. It offers a
lush landscape of sensual ripeness, curves and bends and nooks and crannies that beg to be
explored and adored. Because of its abundance, there are more textures to savor, and more
areas to caress and receive caresses, and there is a more exquisitely sensitive expanse to
react to a lover's touch. My wide hips buoy and support a partner. My soft thighs hold my
partner close to my heat. My pliant, satiny, sweetly cushioned body arouses and is
delightfully, fiercely aroused. While making love, so many of the things my body can do
come together. In love, as in life, my fat body moves, sings, embraces.
But most important, my fat body can laugh. Truly laugh, from the inside
out. I bounce on my big buttocks, my squishy stomach jiggles, my full breasts jangle, my
soft shoulders heave, a double, and sometimes even a triple chin waggles in time to my
guffaws, and riotous tears roll down my full, red cheeks. How can a body laughing be
anything but beautiful?
There are, of course, hundreds and hundreds of other things my fat body
can do, from the grand (my ability to command attention from an audience simply by walking
straight and proud and tall) to the humorously banal (my ability to sit on a hard chair
for prolonged periods of time without getting uncomfortable bone bruises). Maybe my fat
body will never be able to do a cartwheel, squeeze into a straight skirt, or fit into some
of the tighter spaces society offers it. I know there will always be some can'ts for my
fat body, just as there are some can'ts for every body. However, I've made the choice to
rejoice in the things my fat body can do, rather than dwell on the inconsequential can'ts,
and I am dedicated to discovering and recognizing more of my body's special gifts, large
and small, each and every day. My fat body can be a source of strength, of delight, of
wonderment, merriment, excitement, and awe. My fat body already is all of these things. My
fat body is me.
© JILL HOLLIFIELD is a musician, actor, and freelance writer. She is
currently a "nontraditional" student studying church music, voice, and piano.
A transplanted Minneapolitan, she resides in New Jersey with her cat,
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