Allies To Large Women

For more than ten years, I’ve taken on[1] being a visible ally to large women—leading workshops for them, raising their issues at other workshops, organizing counseling support for them, writing about the subject, and so on. Recently I’ve been leading a project with a small group of large women to figure out how to provide enough resource over time that more real movement can take place. The following is some of what I’ve learned.

It’s clear that we in the RC Community struggle with looking at this issue. One result is that there’s not a lot of aware resource available for large women to work on body size, weight, eating, health, exercise, and so on. We struggle with this issue partly because it’s so restimulating for every woman. The sexism that dictates which female body types are “attractive” is rampant in many societies, and so deeply internalized that women have a hard time challenging it. Men are conditioned to be attracted to a certain body shape and size, and a certain look, and women devote an enormous amount of time, attention, and money to attaining that desirable appearance. The slender body standard is in our faces,[2] restimulating us, dozens of times each day. Women may “know” that it’s irrational but still feel bad about themselves for not measuring up to it, and many women secretly starve themselves, exercise excessively, purge themselves of food, or have surgery to meet the standard.

As females we are hurt in the area of physical appearance from our earliest days. Being seen as beautiful and attractive becomes a huge part of our feeling good about ourselves. If we’re not slender, we don’t have a chance at being in the “attractive” category, and we hate ourselves for that. Our facial features, hair color, and so on, are also an important part of the standard, but because they are determined largely by genetics (though increasingly being changed by surgery and chemical alterations), not being “pretty” is not our “fault” in the same way that not being slender is. Because we’re supposedly in charge of how much we eat and exercise, we blame ourselves especially harshly when we’re not slender. And the bad feelings increase with the pounds.

I originally became interested in this issue because I had a close friendship with a large woman and decided to do the work necessary to be close to her. Through leading “women and physical power” work, I learned how big an issue body size is for all women; I saw that women were wanting to work out[3] in order to lose weight, not to combat sexism.

In being an ally to large women, I’ve needed to make clear that their oppression is important to me—that I will work for their liberation and to make their issues visible and important in the RC Community. I’m pulling my thinking together in this article in part because many large women feel so discouraged about having allies and getting real help that they find it hard to think and communicate about what assistance from outside could be useful.

Large women’s oppression

Here is some of what I’ve come to understand about large women’s oppression and how to fight it:

There is no basis in reality for any of the many ways large women feel bad about themselves. Society lambasts large women with blame for being large, and all of that blame is rooted in sexism and other oppressions, not in anything true about large women. There is an active oppression of large women that is mostly unquestioned. The internalization of it confuses large women about what is true about themselves, and pulls their attention to feeling bad about their body size and themselves, thus interfering with their battle for liberation.

The slender standard for a woman’s body is based in sexism. Without oppression, all women would be seen as attractive. That a woman’s patterns show doesn’t mean she’s not attractive. All women have patterns that show; society simply “likes” some of these patterns and disapproves of others.

This is every woman’s issue. All women are hurt by sexism into being preoccupied with their physical appearance and particularly their body size. Most women (on an increasingly worldwide scale) focus a tremendous amount of their attention on how they look and how “fat” they are. Until women challenge and discharge this preoccupation with their own body size, they won’t be able to think well about large women.

It makes sense for us to have our bodies within a size and at a level of conditioning that is healthy and supports long-term mobility and longevity. A wide variety of women’s bodies fall within this range, including the bodies of a lot of women who are targeted as large.

Apart from rare medical conditions, it is undischarged distress that makes women gain or retain excess body weight (more than is healthy or compatible with an active and rational lifestyle). All people in our societies have been hurt, through no fault of their own, in many ways that leave them with distress recordings. No one escapes this. The distresses that lead to women being large aren’t worse than other distresses, but they are visible, and women are heavily targeted for having them. Blaming women for these distresses is irrational and oppressive and leaves the women feeling ashamed about their weight and vulnerable to self-blame. This makes it harder for them to be open and honest about the particular aspects of their struggles.

Society blames people for having these distresses but sets people up[4] to have them. In order to make profits, the food industry fosters and caters to people’s addictions (which are more and more widespread, as people struggle with our increasingly irrational and oppressive society), rather than encouraging consumption of nourishing food. Increasing numbers of women have food addictions, but rather than letting them show as body fat, they binge and purge, diet and exercise excessively, or in other ways do great harm to their bodies. Because they are able to keep their struggles hidden, they aren’t invalidated for having them—and, of course, they are not actually seen or thought about either.

Isolation is a big component of large women’s oppression. Many large women have distress recordings of being on their own, which leave them more vulnerable to addictions and interfere with their ability to set up the counseling and other resource they need in order to battle their distresses. Many large women survived childhood without much adult help, figured out how to handle things alone, and now struggle with all the ramifications of having lacked early connection. It’s important for large women to have other people close in, aware of their struggles and triumphs on a daily basis, cheering them on, and not believing that any setback is permanent.

Most large women have already fought many big battles against their distresses. They are not large because they haven’t taken the distresses on[5] but because they haven’t had adequate resource to battle them effectively. The distress recordings do yield to discharge. One stumbling block for many large women is how women’s internalized oppression keeps them focused on caring for other people to the extent that they can’t think about themselves, or has them repeatedly setting their own needs aside and prioritizing the needs of others. Goals are set and decisions are made, and then they are abandoned, over and over, as others’ needs present themselves as more important.

Many women are “waiting to lose weight” before they go after[6] something they want. It doesn’t make sense for women to postpone, until they’ve lost weight, any part of living. Life is good now, and it makes sense to live it fully today.

Rape, early sexual abuse, and unwanted sexual attention from men have led some women to make a decision to be large in order to escape such treatment.

Racism, classism, and other oppressions add layers of hurt. In addition to facing the other harsh effects of these oppressions, people struggle with hunger and deprivation, limited types of foods, poor quality food, lack of health care, and lack of information about nutrition and exercise.

The oppression of large women is an active oppression. To discharge it, large women have to fight hard against it in their sessions and in their lives. They have to actively take a stand against believing the content of the oppressive messages. They also have to do consistent work on the underlying distresses that keep them large—to get their minds back from the distresses so that they can think about what makes sense for themselves, and follow their own thoughts about themselves and their bodies.

Struggles against oppression and chronic distresses are long-term. It’s a mistake to look for quick fixes; there will be gains and losses. But if we stick with using the discharge process, we will make huge gains and eventually free ourselves from even our biggest hurts.

What to do as an ally

The following is some of what I’ve figured out to do as an ally.

I’ve had to understand that my role is being a counselor and helping large women to remember to fully apply the discharge process—that the big goal is not weight loss but the women freeing themselves from distress recordings so that they can take charge of their lives, including their bodies. It’s been important that I trust the discharge process and know that as women work on the hurts connected with being large, those hurts will discharge and the women will have a chance to use their flexible intelligence to plot their own next steps.

I demonstrate hopefulness and confidence that discharge works with large women’s hurts; that the women can stick with discharging no matter how hard it feels; that by doing so things will change, and change permanently; and that the women will figure out what steps to take and what resource to go after to reach their goals.

Large women need reminders that their discharging together is important, whether it’s in their local Communities, at workshops, or in occasional workshops for large women. Though it’s good to have allies from outside the oppression, most people are still so steeped in oppressor material[7] that large women find it a great relief to be free of the unawareness and negative judgments, and to work with other women who have lived the issues. It’s been important that each woman have at least one buddy who knows her well and with whom she checks in at least weekly.

Many large women have distress recordings related to enforced diets, restrictions on types of food, diet drugs, and so on, often as a result of family members’ “concern.” Many have spent decades trying to exercise and lose weight, have “white-knuckled” it[8] through various programs, and have then gained weight again—cycling through hopefulness and discouragement. It has been important that I not have an agenda for how or when large women lose weight, or how much they exercise. (Everyone has many “ideas” for what could “work” for someone else.)

I’ve listened to women about their histories with exercise, helped them think about and follow through on getting “professional” help with medical conditions and exercise programs, and been with them as they’ve tried things, including going to the gym. Rather than having my own agenda, I’ve supported them to look at the issues, discharge on what comes up, and keep taking the next steps that make sense to them.

It’s also been important not to go “liberal.” With enough excess body fat, a person has an increased risk of many dangerous physical conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer. My attitude has been, “There is an issue here, and it can be addressed. I will help you figure out how to counsel on it and how to build enough resource into your life that you can begin moving on it.” To lose weight, women have to, at some point, put direct attention on food consumption and exercise, but when and how is different for each person.

I care about each woman. I get to know her and love her. I enjoy her, and openly appreciate her and her body. I care about her liberation enough to keep thinking about these issues, talking about them, and getting other women to think about them. I like doing this work together with large women.

I don’t think we know much yet about becoming allies for large women. I’ve tried convening groups of women who aren’t large, but are preoccupied with body size, and getting them discharging about their pulls to make themselves “attractive,” and their fears of gaining weight. I’ve urged women to stop being secretive about the irrational practices they use to stay slim. I’ve tried to get women to make a commitment not to diet or exercise for the purpose of losing weight but instead to focus on eating nourishing food and conditioning their bodies for health.

Diane Shisk
Alternate International Reference Person
Seattle, Washington, USA

1] In this context, taken on means undertaken.
[2] In our faces means forced upon our attention.
[3] Work out means exercise to improve fitness
[4] Sets people up means predisposes people.
[5] Taken the distresses on means confronted and tried to do something about the distresses.
[6] Go after means pursue.
[7] Material means distress.
[8] “White-knuckled” it means forced themselves under great duress.

Last modified: 2015-10-05 21:37:34+00