care-ing for my body; a ceramic vessel in the shape of a fat figure with hair on the legs

“Care”-ing For My Body

This piece is sponsored by The Cabanas whose generous gift on Kickstarter directly supported this creator.

I often get complimented on my eyes. They are sea blue freckled with grey with the ring of yellow around the iris. I like my eyes too. They are one of the few things about me that have not been poked and prodded and diagnosed by the medical system. 

I identify as a woman with a mobility disability. I use a power chair and a mouthpiece ventilator as daily living aids. I need care for all aspects of daily living. I live in the city with my partner and our dog.

I do not have a private relationship with my body.

From numerous surgical procedures to try and get my legs and hips straight so that I may walk (never happened) to shaming discussions about controlling my weight for the benefit of others, my shape and weight have been monitored and controlled my whole life. 

I remember a procedure as a child needing to lie down on a bed with an apparatus over my head for hours. This was used to calculate how many calories I burn while sedentary in order to develop a personalized diet. Every meal was planned and controlled. During family meals, I always had a different plate. I dreamed of fruit roll ups, granola bars and rice crispies in my lunch box. I rarely got snacks. 

Every six months we would drive to the children’s rehab hospital where I would be weighed. A few days before the appointment I would start starving myself. Most times I gained weight. There would be a long discussion about how my weight impacted other people’s ability to take care of me. I was told that my weight gain would make it harder for my Mom. It made me feel selfish and ashamed. It also made me want to eat more. 

Looking back, this piece of my life was far more an emotional journey than a physical one. 

One time in my teenage years–as I was leaving a Golden Griddle Restaurant–a younger child asked me why I was so big but my feet were so small. I had no clue how to respond. 

My weight and my disability have always been judged by others–by a medical system that treated my weight and disability as defects or by a society that told me how beautiful I was for a disabled person. 

And let us not forget about my untouched non-disabled eyes. 

So much of my life has been spent navigating other peoples’ perception of my worth.

I rarely have enough time or energy to savour and validate the things that make me smile and love myself, mostly because I am repairing the negative messages of being undeserving and a burden. 

Ableism and fat shaming are not mutually exclusive, they are in fact inextricably interconnected. The objectifying gaze starts at my feet and slowly inches its way higher, marking every supposed unnatural curve of my body and fold of fat. That gaze has been one of the few constants in my life. The other is shame.

Several months ago I was contacted by my caregiving agency manager. The manager had been approached by some of the staff around my recent weight gain, the concern being they were finding it challenging to provide care. I felt again like that little girl being selfish for causing those taking care of me stress. I was aware that I had gained weight but I wondered exactly what was discussed and how it was framed. What’s more, hearing this confirmed that my weight had been a topic of discussion among staff and apart from me. 

Needing care involves a complex relationship of ensuring your caregiver’s needs are met so that your needs can be met. Whether through microaggressions or as overtly as my experience, your body is continuously policed and framed in relation to the amount of work it takes for others to provide care. Fatness is internalized as a selfish act. Again, shame. 

I started asking my partner to bring me a cookie or a snack because I did not want to ask staff. I thought about food all the time. I spent time working through it with my therapist. 

I am working on an independent relationship with my body.  A chance to discover and appreciate all that has been made to feel unworthy. My eyes remain unchanged, but through them I am working to heal and awaken a righteous and unapologetic self love for every curve and fold.

The image that accompanies this piece is a photograph of a ceramic vessel by artist Elisabeth Walden. Elisabeth Walden (b. 1987) is an artist, printmaker and ceramicist. Her work was born from her struggle as a queer fat woman to construct an embodied, loving representation of fatness. Though she began this work by representing her own body in two dimensions, she gradually shifted to sculpture, creating figurative ceramic planters and vases depicting fat bodies. The value these planters have as functional and decorative objects, as well as their tenderness and humor, are in tension with our cultural ideas about fat and otherwise marginalized bodies. Though she hopes this work encourages viewers to reconsider their ideas about beauty, and to build their empathy for fat people, she is satisfied when the response is simply to stop and smell the plants.

Suck_My_Mouthpiece is a fierce and sassy being who loves a good rant/rage/dialogue about disability, justice, fat love and ableism. Also topics of interest are cookies, books, art and Golden Girls with the recent addition of crocheting.