Tuesday, June 1, 2010


In the recent past, I’ve come across the term “fatorexia” several times. It’s a new word made up to explain a (almost certainly imaginary) concept that people who are not overweight believe exists. This term is supposed to describe fat people who look in a mirror and don’t see that they are fat. It’s the opposite of the (almost certainly imaginary) notion that anorexics look in a mirror at their bony frames and believe they are fat.

In both the cases of fat people and extremely thin people, they see their true image in the mirror. They are not having some sort of hallucination that they see something that is not there. It is their evaluation of the image which is different than that of people who are not dealing with their body image issues. That is, a very thin person sees a very thin person, but still finds the image inadequate. A very fat person still sees a very fat person, but doesn’t find the image repulsively inadequate.

“Fatorexia” has been concocted as a way of rationalizing the fact that some fat people do not engage in the “proper” level of self-loathing that average weight or thin people believe we should be feeling. If we don’t absolutely hate our bodily image as much as they believe we should (which is to say as much as they hate our bodies), then clearly we are experiencing some sort of delusion when we look in the mirror.

Of course, this concept has worked all too well on most fat people, including me. Except for the scraps of time in my life when I am alone and in the peace of my own home with my loving husband and have been able to forget the cruel eye of every other person in the world, I have never known anything but self-hatred because of the constant judgment, abuse and scrutiny applied to me, and it is clear that applying the values of those who find me disgusting has done nothing to help me lose weight throughout my life. Accepting their vision of me and incorporating it deeply into my psyche has only made me feel powerless, inadequate, and hopeless in many areas of my life, including my eating habits. I am expected to have the strength to make major changes in my life, while being showered with belittlement and dealing with the resulting emotional pain and stress. It shouldn't surprise people that making someone feel worthless day-in and day-out affects their ability to function, but somehow it escapes them when it comes to judging people based on their weight. At this point in time, I succeed in spite of the judgment and abuse, not because of it. I think I manage this now only because of my husband's unconditional love, a strong motivation to change due to future life change that is coming in 2012, and because I've gotten old enough to be far more dismissive of others opinions of me.

This new concept of "fatorexia" is borne of the same self-centered mindset that has everyone making other people’s weight their business. They are the center of all things and their judgment and values are paramount. You must hate yourself when you look in the mirror because they hate the way you look and would hate themselves if they looked like you. They can’t even begin to conceptualize that you may see any sort of appeal in the way you look so you must be seeing a distorted vision of yourself. It’s the only explanation for your inability to see yourself through their eyes and to apply their values to your appearance. Yes, you must be fatorexic if your image of yourself doesn’t jive with that of those who judge you by your appearance and find you wanting in every conceivable manner. If "fatorexia" actually existed, I think I'd be better off if I experienced it. It'd be nice to be "delusional" enough to not feel self-loathing at my appearance for once in my life.


Anonymous said...

The term "fatorexia" is new to me. It's true that I've learned to look in the mirror without wanting to open a vein, but that's not the same as seeing the reflection of a thinner person. I suspect the feeling of being judged harshly has driven me to isolate myself much more than I would have if I'd felt accepted. I don't watch TV anymore because the cultural images and programming felt harmful to my psyche on many levels. I shop in public only when absolutely necessary. A trip to the mall to buy a new pair of jeans over the weekend left me feeling angry and irritable. I hate the way I am treated! I wanted to enjoy the fact that I could wear a much smaller size, but even that feeling of satisfaction vanished when I realized that, to others, I am still monstrous. It wouldn't matter if I had this imaginary "fatorexia" because others, as you write, won't let us forget for a moment that we are not like them. We are the dreaded other.


screaming fatgirl said...

I know that I was housebound essentially for years because of the way I was regarded when I left. I only went out to take the train to the office and back and when I shopped, I loaded myself up with as much stuff as I could so I wouldn't have to subject myself to public eyes any sooner than I absolutely had to. I hate being treated like a freak show. I shop online for clothes and anything else if I can manage to do so.

I can completely empathize with you about feeling good about your progress then going out in public and having it all unraveled. I've lost over 100 lbs. now (probably closing in on 120-130 this month) and I am substantially smaller, but still get treated like some lumbering behemoth. I still get stared at, pointed at, and laughed at.

The bottom line is that all of my effort has to be for me because "they're" never going to validate me. I can't allow their treatment of me to get through to me or it'll inspire hopelessness and despair. If they want to behave like animals (and again, me not living in America makes this much worse), then I'm going to regard them as worse than that. Their actions show that they don't deserve the respect that comes with valuing their opinions. Frankly, the people who treat me badly are less than dirt to me and beneath my contempt.

This is a horrible way to regard my fellow humans, but it is something which they cultivate in me by being so disrespectful of me based on a cursory evaluation. They cannot value me because I am fat, and I cannot value them because they abuse me. At least I'm evaluating them based on their overt displays of poor character while they evaluate me based only on appearance.

dlamb said...

I have never heard the term either, but this post touched on a point that I've been wondering about for a really long time.
I wonder if there is a difference in the self perception of people who have been overweight since childhood, compared to those who have not. If there IS something such as "fatorexia", I probably "suffer" from it. What I mean is that during my fat periods, I never see myself quite as fat as I am. How do I know that I don't? Because when I see a picture of myself or I catch a glimpse of myself in a reflection UNEXPECTEDLY, my reaction is one of WOW, is that REALLY ME???
When I look in the mirror the rest of the time, I literally do not SEE myself as that huge. I've often wondered about this. I have never loathed myself when I have been fat, nor did I attribute people's occasional hostile treatment of me to my being fat.

This brings me to my question. Do you suppose that there is a possibility that if someone has not been overweight since childhood and never suffered through the trauma suffered by children who have been, the "message" simply does not penetrate?
I have fluctuated in my weight since late adolescence and spent much more time as an adult being fat than not being fat. Interestingly, my periods of being fat always felt like an anomaly, like a temporary condition that will end as soon as I get around to doing something about it. At, probably close to 230 pounds, I simply DID NOT FEEL fat and irrationally, I would have been surprised if anyone had referred to me that way. I was neither delusional, nor in denial. It was almost as if the "label" did not describe me, though by any definition, I was undoubtedly, definitely, fat.
On the other hand, I know of women who have been overweight as children, who have lost all their excess weight by mid or late adolescence, who have spent their adult lives being underweight, yet felt experienced themselves as being "fat" (though not in an anorexic way).
Having read your post and analyzing it visavis my own experience, I am considering the possibility that the internalizing that takes place during those early years in a child's life, forms one's perception for the intervening years. Positive, negative or neutral, a person impression of his/her appearance is quite complex and clearly affected by numerous factors, but it is likely to remain somewhat fixed, regardless of reality, later in life.
I would enjoy knowing what you think... in fact, SO MUCH, that I'll get over my laziness and sign into my google account so I don't miss your reply. :)

screaming fatgirl said...

I'm sorry that I'm so late in replying to this comment. It has taken me awhile to get caught up on things with our latest moves.

I think that it is absolutely possible that there is a different mindset between those who have always been fat and have spent their lives being reminded that that is not only what they are, but that it is their identity and determiner of the value as human beings and those who gain more modest amounts of weight who were thin before.

One thing that I have learned is that, in the U.S., 230 lbs. is medically "obese", but depending on height and build, may not be perceived as especially fat by some people. There's a web site out there which shows people of similar weight and height and how their bodies look. Each carries weight differently. Fat advocacy people love to point to a picture of someone and say something to the effect of 'and people call this woman fat!' In other words, you can be fat, but not look it.

Now, I'm not saying that you weren't fat or clearly bigger, but "fat" and especially "too fat" is a very subjective thing. I've never been able to know what it would be like to exist as thin so I can only speak to being fat and always having been aware of it. So, not having been in any other skin but mine, I would say you have a point which should be made.

As time goes by, I do realize that my blog speaks much more to the experience of someone who has been grossly morbidly obese and overweight lifelong and less to the experiences of folks who were once thin and got fat or who were only (by my measurements) only moderately fat. One of my prejudices is that I don't take the plight of people who weight only 10-35 lbs. over their target weight as seriously as those who are much, much heavier. Society doesn't start to really punish you for your fatness until you are around 250 or higher (unless you are very short). Around 200, my life outside of my home changed dramatically. The mockery greatly dissipated and people were much nicer to me. So, I guess that it is possible that "fatorexia" is real, but only for a certain cross-section of people.

Thanks for your comment. It got me thinking. :-)

Anonymous said...

I used to deny my size when I was obese. I refused to appear in pictures. I didn't look in mirrors. I thought I was average- until I saw a chart that labeled me as obese. Then I woke up. I didn't want to be obese.
I have cycled through periods of BED, Bulimia, and anorexia throughout my life. I can say honestly that at 5'9" and 99 pounds I perceived my flab EXACTLY as I did in the obese range.
I suspect there are men and women out there who accurately see themselves- but I can testify to being a person who can not accurately perceive myself at any weight. Just because it may not apply to all (as the term anorexia doesn't necessarily apply to every thin person), I believe it exists.

screaming fatgirl said...

Out of curiosity, anonymous, what was your high weight when you could not see yourself as fat?

There are plenty of people who classify as "obese" who don't appear to be so from superficial observation. They don't see themselves as fat because they are only fat on weight charts.

I'm not saying this is the way you are, but I'm just curious.

Anonymous said...

I am the same as anonymous. I saw myself the same at 210 pounds as I did at 100 pounds (also 5'9").