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Sex work was the first time my fat body felt powerful

Kitty Stryker is a writer, activist, and authority on developing a consent culture in alternative communities. She was the founder of ConsentCulture.com, a website that ran for 4 years as a hub for LGBT/kinky/poly folks looking for a sex...

I thought I was lucky to be fat and desired - I was wrong

I’m usually fairly secure in my fat body. Most days I love my round tummy, and my stretch-marked breasts, and my thick thighs, and even my jiggly upper arms. I perform in pornography, have modeled nude since I was 19, and I don’t feel awkward when taking my towel off at a hot tub establishment. I have a closet full of costumes and clothes that I’ve cultivated over multiple years that make me feel fierce and femme.

More: 16 Women share the body image issues they've always struggled with

But it’s not easy. And, frankly, it doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s a constant effort to care about my body, which is pretty sad. I, like many others, been taught to hate myself.

The times that I become insecure, uncomfortable, ashamed of my body are often when I slam against the fat phobic culture in which I live. It happens when I shop for clothes and I have to choose between stylish and comfortable fit. It happens when I go to the doctor and she tells me that any pain I have is simply due to being fat, rather than looking into it. It happens when I go to a sexy party and realize that other women who look like me also aren’t having sex, or being flirted with. It happened when I turned an offer for sex work down and was insulted or threatened, using my weight as a weapon. It of course happens when people seek to ignore the things I say by saying my fatness overrides my intelligence.

When I was a teenager I struggled with my expanding, softening body. My breasts were accompanied by a belly, which made me incredibly self-conscious. I was on medication that made me gain water weight, and went from the high end of normal into overweight, and then obese, over about two years. I had to eat in order to take the medication, but the medication made me fat, so I didn’t want to take it.

My first experiences with severe control over my food intake started then, along with an ongoing fight with bulimia. I struggled with eating disorders off and on for multiple years, well into my mid-twenties, figuring that if only I was skinnier, people would love me more, I would have more success at work, I’d enjoy clothes shopping. I would limit my caloric intake to a third of what was the recommended amount in an attempt to shock my body into submission. Everything I wanted in my life was put off until I lost weight, because then, I thought, I would be valued in society, by lovers, and by clothing companies.

Unfortunately, I’ve grown up to think that some of those things very well might be true. F***** up, but true.

Dieting wasn’t particularly effective, especially as I was poor and couldn’t afford the fruit, veg, unprocessed meat and whole grains recommended. I could starve myself easily enough but figuring out how to have balanced meals every day for a week on about $20 at the most was pretty impossible (and still is, by the way). I lived in Massachusetts and depended on public transport so didn’t tend to go out or socialize much, just to and from work and long evenings in front of my laptop, flirting with a guy in the UK (because honestly dating men here has always been rough). That guy made me feel better about my body by desiring me, something I wasn’t sure would happen, but I still wondered if he would want me more and invest more in us if I was slimmer.

More: Don't let an unhealthy body image push you into exercising dangerously

I already walked 6 1/2 miles a day every day I went to work and it wasn’t making a difference so I started exercise regimens that, on the low nutrition I was getting, made me feel tired all the time. I thought that working out until I was exhausted was the goal, so I overworked my body into the ground. Now I wonder how badly I damaged myself during that time in my need to be accepted. And the irony is that when my BMI was technically “normal,” I was so weak I had to go to the ER. And yet the doctors told me how my body was healthy, because, well, my weight was finally “right,” even if I shook when I walked and struggled to keep food down.

Looking back I also wonder how much bullshit I took from boyfriends and girlfriends because I thought I should feel lucky to have a lover at all. I did threesomes I didn’t want to do because I wanted to keep my lover. I put up with a partner who didn’t use protection with me or his other girlfriend, because I didn’t think I’d find someone else who would care for me. After a life of being told that only slender, pretty women were lovable, I really truly believed it. I tried to be submissive, tried to be pleasing to people who were cruel to me, because I thought it was better to have a slice of attention once in a while than be alone.

In some ways I wonder if I entered sex work so willingly because it offered the sex and affection I craved. I know for some people sex work drains them and makes them feel shitty, but it was the first place I felt I had sexual power and value. But for every client who kissed my tummy and my stretch marks, I had several who would call me to tell me how hideous I was, how I should just kill myself. I had a reputation for being confident in myself, while at home I would sob and cut my breasts and thighs, wishing I could destroy myself and rise up from the ashes.

So here I am now, trying to exercise on a regular basis. I’ve had two weeks of 30 minute a day workouts, and am starting to calorie count as well to try and have better nutrition. But I can already sense myself falling into the same traps, worrying that it won’t make any difference, that no matter what I do I’ll always be fat and always have to deal with fat phobia. I get frustrated with my partner, who eats whatever he likes and doesn’t gain. He’s not terribly fit, but people don’t comment on his body the way they do on mine. These aren’t concerns for him, but they’re the difference between being respected or not for me. And that kills me.

In order to feel comfortable while exercising, I sought out exercise clothes. I couldn’t find a sports bra that fit me, never mind workout pants. I make do with a sports bra that’s too big and leggings from Forever 21 that aren’t really made for the kind of activity I’m wearing them for. It’s incredibly disheartening to be constantly told to work out and exercise more while also making it impossible to find workout clothes for fat bodies.

I've been fighting against fat phobia stripping away my identity and sexuality all my life

Exercise classes have traditionally been equally scary and uncomfortable. I’ve been shamed at multiple classes for not being as flexible or quick on my feet, especially when learning new moves or techniques. It’s humiliating to be picked on by an instructor when you just want so desperately to work out and fit in. I’ve decided that for now I’ll stick to Wii Fit, which I can do at home and not worry about being judged.

To be honest, I’m also worried about my identity – I’ve been fat and tried to be fierce about it for so long that I worry if I do lose weight I’ll be admitting that being fat is bad or something. I have a hard time figuring out how to be fat positive while also admitting that I feel like I’m giving up, putting myself back under the pressure to lose weight because I’m tired of feeling undesirable. I feel stupid and weak and vain for wanting to lose a couple dress sizes simply because I want to be able to shop at H&M. And yet, here I am.

It’s certainly a journey of self-discovery. I want to work hard not to go to extremes like I have in the past, to be self-destructive in that fashion but to go slowly, steadily, and try to care more about fitness and consistency than the weight loss. I’m trying to be disciplined in listing all the food and drinks I have every day, and so far I’m doing all right.

But it’s really f****** hard, and its thankless, and I resent feeling like a loss of 30 pounds will change how people interact with me. I mean, f***, I resent the Wii Fit telling me I’m obese every time I weigh in. I work really hard and yet it feels like things won’t get better. I hate how disappointed in myself I feel when the three pounds I lost gets gained right back.

I just want to get health care, and be flirted with, and treated like a person.

It sucks that I have to lose weight for that.

I just also feel exhausted and tired of fighting to feel loved.

Originally posted on BlogHer

More: 6 body image issues I don't want my daughter to inherit from her beauty queen grandmother

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