Sunday, November 6, 2011

Coming Out as Fat

I've been afraid of writing this post for some weeks now - if not months or years. I know it might seem odd to claim that I'm a closeted fat person since I have published two books describing myself as a "Slow Fat Triathlete." But this year of injuries, setbacks, and introductions to some very fun, feisty, smart, fat women has made me realize a few things.

Even in the midst of all my writing: "Live your athletic dreams in the body you have now"; "Abandon self-consciousness"; "Be slow, be proud, have fun" and all the rest, I never truly, deep down, down in my deepest heart of hearts, was able to accept that I was a fat person. I always looked at myself as a person on
the way to, well, if not thinness, then at least Not Real Fatness. Somehow I was going to find a way to balance my food intake with my caloric output and get back into the land of regular-person-clothing and "normal' weight.

Even though I wouldn't shy away from wearing triathlon clothes, bike shorts, or a one-piece swimsuit in public, I did believe deep down that my fat was disgusting - just like the vast majority of Americans do. I may not have thought it was as disgusting as they did, but I didn't embrace it. Even though my blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart rate are all well within "normal ranges," I worried that my fat body was more likely to be or become unhealthy than a thinner one. I wondered if my weight contributed to my chronic fatigue syndrome, even though I had shown the first signs of that syndrome when I was much, much thinner.

I don't remember the age I was when I went on my first of many, many diets. Maybe 11 or 12. I know that I dieted on and off all through high school, just when my growing body's metabolism was most vulnerable to that craziness. I did Atkins (the first time); cabbage soup; Weight Watchers with my mom; an endless procession of 10-day and 14-day diets from magazines; and finally in high school I fasted for up to three days at a time with nothing but diet soda and water to nourish me.

As a young adult, I went for longer between diets. Some kernel of my soul protested being forced into a template body that was clearly extremely difficult for me to attain and, based on evidence to date, impossible for me to maintain. I played rugby and ultimate frisbee and basketball, I went dancing, I went to the beach. I had dates and relationships. But ultimately I would get sucked back into the trap. NutriSystems - just eat all this food in little packets, and I'll be thin! Thin! And then - you know this drill? Raise your hand if you do. You lose the weight, people get excited and tell you how great you look (and you smush down the little voice in your head that says, oh, so you think I looked crappy before, huh?), you buy new clothes, and then... you "slip." You "backslide." You stop starving yourself and obsessing over each bite. I stopped starving myself. I felt hungry all the time. I craved bacon and cheeseburgers and fries and cookies. Crave them crave them crave them.

And I thought that that was my fault. That my lack of willpower and discipline, my weakness, my insufficient self-love and self-respect were causing me to eat that way in reaction to my dieting. Because I must have hated myself and wanted myself to look bad. Somehow.

As I became older still, it became clear to me that I actually had a lot of willpower and discipline, and even that I did love and respect myself. So how could I still be fat? It turned out that I could easily gain weight while training for a half-Ironman or a marathon, and not because I was stuffing my face with pure butter after every training session. My body is made that way.

Here's what I think now:
  1. Life is too short for dieting. Dieting doesn't work for 95% of the people who engage in it, and it hasn't worked for me in any of its forms.
  2. My body is awesome. It does some extremely cool things. It has had its issues, too, but I'm no longer blaming my weight for them. If my thin friends can have back problems and chronic fatigue, then I can too. Some of my thin friends have had knee surgeries, stress fractures, overuse injuries, migraines, ulcers, pneumonia, annoying skin conditions, debilitating allergies, chronic internal organ pain that medical science has failed to identify or fix, fallen arches, weak ankles, and gum disease, none of which had anything to do with their weight.
  3. I am no longer accepting the cultural biases that thin = health, that thin = good, or that fat = bad, sick, unhealthy, ugly, lazy, dirty, smelly, sloppy, or undisciplined. Where I see these prejudices and stereotypes, I will fight them with devastating wit or nuclear sarcasm.
  4. I'm going to rebuild my activity level, strengthen my back, and regain the joy of physical activity while focusing on all the positives my body has to offer and caring for it like the finely-honed work of art that it is. I'm going to try new things - maybe even dance!
  5. I'm not going to judge other people's diets, exercise patterns, or weight-loss surgeries. I don't know what works for other people, just as they don't know what works for me. I have friends who have had the surgeries and have written and spoken about their journeys in inspiring ways. I know people who have beaten the odds and become Weight Watchers success stories. I know fantastic, talented, and dedicated athletes who are fat.
  6. I'm not perfect, and there is nothing wrong with me.
  7. I am out.
  8. I am a fat activist. That doesn't mean advocating that everyone become fat. It means that I don't think that people should judge others' intelligence/health/self-respect/discipline/productivity/right to live/beauty/athleticism/worth based on the size of their bodies.
Live long and prosper.
(Photo: "
Matisse Circle" - Leonard Nimoy)


  1. Awesome Jayne! This is pretty much the conclusion I've come to. In fact, I tell people that it is my mission in life, to prove that you don't have to be thin to be fit.

    Now we must force the apparel world to make clothes to fit us properly.

  2. Outstanding! I know I have quieted my voices by accepting my size and race speeds!

  3. Brimming right over with love for you, Jayne!

    your fan always,

  4. Mwah! <-- big happy kisses to all y'all!

  5. This is such an amazing post (and such a fantastic picture)! Thank you for your bravery and your activism and your general and specific awesomeness!!!!! You are such an inspiration :)


  6. This post makes me so happy. You are absolutely one of my heroes. (Now that I'm in Reno, one of my ambitions in life is to do some race in the Sacramento area that you might be at!) Reading your book was the first time it had ever occurred to me that I could be both fat and an athlete. This is such a huge, hard leap, and you're so brave for taking it.

    XOXOX Shaunta (

  7. Wonderful post! And the picture is perfect. You're a role model.

  8. As a thin person, I've never experienced body hatred (not at the level you have) but love, love, love your honesty and courage to write this. I'm also a triathlete and I've always thought it was cool to see larger-sized people out there on the same course with us skinny-minnies. More power to you and good luck in all your future races!

  9. I really am touched by these responses - I've put myself out there in various ways over the years, but never to this extent. Expect more posts that are less triathletic - or obviously triathletic - and more that are about the strange journey of being fat without apology.

  10. Thank you, Jayne, for this post & for your brave honesty! You have been & continue to be an inspiration to me. I am getting better focusing more on what my body can do & how it feels instead of how it looks or how much it weighs, but I still have much work to do.

  11. Jayne, you are awesome. I knew it a couple years ago when my mom gave me your book, and it was reinforced last year when I joined the world of triathletes because you told me I could. Thank you for sending the message that it's okay to be who you are however you are. You really have inspired me, and I'm sure many, many other people can say the same!

  12. Bravo my dear friend! It's so hard to admit that we're not perfect but it is so important and so brave, and so honest to do that. YOU TOTALLY ROCK!
    (The Fat Chick)

  13. Aaaaaah, Jayne, am I the only one here who is sad for you? Empathetic, for sure, but also sad? I for one don't believe that people can live their healthiest and happiest lives when they're carrying around a lot of excess poundage. Fat to me is like a prison, it confines me but it also offers refuge from the world. I'm choosing my own personal freedom to run, to bike, to swim. Have you heard of Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn? You might want to give him a google. He saved my husband's life, and he's made me a far better athlete than I ever could have been without his program.

    In any event, Jayne, I wish you all the best, fat person or thin person or any kind of person you choose yourself to be, you are remarkable!!


    ~~ kate

  14. I think I need some time to consider this post. This is all so interesting to me, being a food junkie myself (the term I prefer). Whatever you choose to do, I hope you regain that joy of physical activity you mentioned.

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