How I Made Peace With My Fat Body and Disappointed My Parents

To find self-love, I had to reject their toxic ideals of good health.

In the body image workshops I run as a trauma therapist, I teach the concept of understanding our bodies as heirlooms. If we think about the purpose of an heirloom, it's a symbolic representation of resilience. 

We do not criticize an heirloom. We do not devalue it for its flaws and imperfections. We see heirlooms as tangible evidence of the existence of our ancestors.

I want fat folks of color to see our bodies as essential and necessary in the context of survival. I want us to remember to write ourselves into existence at the expense of diet culture and fatphobia.

I've worked with clients fearful of going grocery shopping because strangers have pulled food out of their carts or made snide fat-shaming comments about their bodies. I've met with clients who were denied sex and affection by their partners unless they lost weight. I had a client who was told by a fertility specialist that it was good she had a miscarriage because her infant would've been fat.

Fat people are also subject to medical fatphobia, the practice of discrimination by healthcare providers based on metrics like body mass index (BMI). Moreover, insurance companies can deny people who are fat coverage for medical procedures like in vitro fertilization (IVF), joint replacement surgery, and gender-affirming top surgery.

Standard Disclaimer

Body Mass Index, or BMI, is a biased and outdated metric that uses

weight and height to make assumptions about body fat and, by

extension, your health. This metric is flawed in many ways and does

not factor in your body composition, ethnicity, sex, race, and age.

Despite its flaws, the medical community still uses BMI because it’s

an inexpensive and quick way to analyze health data.

sonalee rashatwar quote
Stephanie Chinn

What Is Health at Every Size?

Health at Every Size (HAES) is a series of principles developed by the Association for Size Diversity and Health aiming to decouple thinness and health. HAES helps eradicate fatphobic bias by providing healthcare providers with weight-neutral principles to guide their practices. Also, HAES highlights evidence that suggests weight loss is a faulty mass prescription.

A review examining the health outcomes of long-term, randomized controlled diet studies found losing weight didn't improve health biomarkers like blood pressure, fasting glucose, or triglyceride levels for most people.

Research like that adds credence to what I've seen firsthand in my work. I've had clients tell me they've felt too ashamed to schedule follow-up appointments with a healthcare provider because they had not lost the weight they'd been asked to lose. They felt discouraged from seeking future healthcare until their conditions became too severe for early intervention.

HAES empowers fat folks with the audacious idea that our bodies are allowed to exist and be taken care of just as they are without any regard to the scale. That entitlement has saved my life.

Learning to Love My Body

As the child of immigrant parents, I've had to accept that their hopes for me to lose weight—though rooted in love and a desire to assimilate—are toxic.

I was first encouraged to restrict my food intake at age 9. My childhood feels sad when I think back to how disobedient I felt as a fat kid who couldn't stop eating. My parents placed me on non-consensual diets until I was in college. Their efforts to pressure me into attending Jenny Craig meetings and trying meal replacement foods taught me to loathe myself. I learned to hide my food consumption out of shame.

Part of coming back home to my body focused on learning to trust it. That means not using a scale to measure my health. Instead, I ask myself how I'm feeling: Have I moved my bladder or bowel? Am I experiencing hunger, thirst, libido, or sleep in ways that feel good to me? How is my pain? Are there things weighing on my mental health? I try to carry a holistic understanding of what my body needs.

When it's hard to find love for the body, I like to imagine that there must be a good reason why I am fat. So, if I place my fatness into the context of my Indian mixed-caste lineage, my fat body might be likely to survive another famine, genocide, or revolution.

After all, there are evolutionary reasons why some of us are as large as Vikings or broad as Samoans. Valuing a single size of health does not respect or appreciate the ways we are meant to be different and why we all deserve to exist.

That understanding has been a key aspect of my fat acceptance journey. There's been relief in this process, and grief, too. Having fat—and queer—role models like Lindy WestSamantha IrbyCaleb Luna, and Ashleigh Shackelford has been critical.

Becoming The Fat Sex Therapist

It's only been five years since I promised myself I would never go back to intentional weight loss. It was the second and final time I would be pressured to lose weight by my parents. At one point, they had convinced me to consider weight-loss surgery. I got pretty far into the insurance approval process before I backed out.

It was 2015, and the procedure would have removed healthy gut tissue from my body to induce permanent malnutrition. I would have had to augment my diet with vitamins, supplements, and protein powder for the rest of my life. Without that gut tissue, there would be no comfortable way for me to consume the number of nutrients my body would need.

I wanted so badly to make my parents happy, to fulfill their dream of finally having a beautiful, brilliant daughter who was also thin. I still do. However, that metaphorical death was also my rebirth.

Choosing myself five years ago, I became The Fat Sex Therapist, an Instagram influencer with almost 100K followers. My platform allows me to travel internationally to teach the world about the harms of dieting and fatphobia. I could never sign up for a life where every decision I made about my day would come down to food. I needed all that time and brain space to become the role model I was meant to be, to become the role model I needed when I was a teenager.

Implementing Pleasure Practice

I'm uninterested in a narrative that questions the legitimacy of HAES by asking if it's possible. To me, that's like asking if there is some loophole that, in matters of health, it's still OK to fat shame your parent, partner, friend, or child.

I am only interested in a conversation where we acknowledge that fat stigma deeply harms fat people, maybe even so much so that it can help explain the elevated negative health outcomes we see in fat people who have tried to lose weight by dieting. Those who write off HAES often don't have empathy for what fat people experience.

I wanted so badly to make my parents happy, to fulfill their dream of finally having a beautiful, brilliant daughter who was also thin.

I've learned to make what Adrienne Marie Brown calls a "pleasure practice" for myself, which includes learning to cook for my body in a way that makes me feel loved and considered. 

I enjoy weaving abundant food and sexual pleasure into my weekly routine. I enjoy the work of forgiving my past selves for feeling the pressure to diet, shrink, and self-betray. Along with many other health-sustaining practices, those new habits come from a long-term investment in myself.

A Quick Review

Understanding my body as an heirloom helps me to wonder why my fat body deserves to stay. If I trust my body and its genetic code, which determines my body shape, I might see my fat body as one of wisdom and survival. My ancestors survived British colonialism, partition, and migration for me to exist. 

So, I often think about what Lindy says in the first article I ever read in 2011 titled, "Hello I am Fat":

"Do you really want millions of teenage girls to feel like they're trapped in unsightly lard prisons that are ruining their lives, and on top of that it's because of their own moral failure, and on top of that they are ruining America with the terribly expensive diabetes that they don't even have yet? You know what's shameful? A complete lack of empathy."

Sonalee Rashatwar (they/he) is an award-winning clinical social worker, sex therapist, and grassroots organizer. Based in Philadelphia, they are a superfat queer bisexual non-binary therapist and co-owner of Radical Therapy CenterPopularly known as The Fat Sex Therapist on Instagram, Sonalee specializes in treating sexual trauma, internalized fatphobia, immigrant kid guilt, and South Asian family systems while offering fat-positive sexual healthcare.

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  1. Ives GC, Fein LA, Finch L, et al. Evaluation of BMI as a risk factor for complications following gender-affirming penile inversion vaginoplastyPlastic and Reconstructive Surgery - Global Open. 2019;7(3):e2097. doi:10.1097/GOX.0000000000002097

  2. Association for Size Diversity and Health. About Health at Every Size® (HAES®).

  3. Tomiyama AJ, Ahlstrom B, Mann T. Long-term effects of dieting: is weight loss related to health? : weight-loss diets and healthSocial and Personality Psychology Compass. 2013;7(12):861-877. doi:10.1111/spc3.12076

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