The other day I listened to the recent This American Life episode, “Tell Me I’m Fat.” It’s about the way being overweight is seen and perceived, talked about, and experienced in our society.
A very dear friend of mine, who has no issue with weight himself, and doesn’t seem to have any friends who do, talked to me about it, and told me that it gave him a new perspective, and more empathy. So I downloaded it, and listened to it, and I found it incredibly confronting. Midway through I texted him and said, “I don’t need to listen to this, I live it.”
Basically, the episode talked with three women who are, or have been, fat. One has come out as fat, and wrote a book about it, embracing her body as it is, and swearing off diets. Another lost a lot of weight, and keeps it off through diet pills. She struggles because she thinks things like if she had met her husband when she was fat, he wouldn’t have found her attractive, which he admits is likely true. The third woman is morbidly obese, and she talked about her experiences.
I was listening to it in the car, and by the end I was crying. I was crying because it brought up so many repressed memories for me. Like when I was about 14 and asked my mom if I was pretty, and she said I had a “different” look about me (bless her, I think she may have meant it to be a compliment?).
My first boyfriend once had the brilliant idea that he would take me to a party where I wouldn’t know anyone, and he thought it would be fun to pretend that I was his cousin. I suspect it was because he was ashamed of me, or had a crush on a girl there. Or both. I went along with it.
Another boy in high school would regularly come over to my house to make out with me, and then tell me it was a secret, and I couldn’t tell anyone.
And I wasn’t even that big!
This is me at 19.
Right? Pretty normal looking. Strong legs, with a bit of fat on them. Like a normal woman.
Now I weigh nearly 60 pounds more than I did in those pictures, and I’ve been as high as 110 pounds more than I was in those pictures.
I am familiar with the feeling of constantly running into everything with my ass. I am afraid of small cafes where tables are all close together, and chairs are adorably tiny, and flimsy, and so easily breakable by my ass. I am aware whenever I am the biggest person in a group.
I so clearly remember online dating. This was before cell phones had cameras, and there were 8 million instagrammed pictures of everyone everywhere, and you’d send one or two scanned photos to a potential date. I would send flattering, though not totally dishonest ones. And I remember having great conversations with people on the phone, feeling really connected, and then the look of disappointment in their eyes when they would meet me. I always braced myself before every potential date.
At some point I realized that hanging on to those feelings was only going to make me miserable throughout my life, and so I embraced a different tactic. I became the quirky girl. I’d be fun, and adorable, and so damn cute in my pudginess. You couldn’t call me fat because I already knew I was fat, and I was adorable anyway.
And I met my husband, who loves me no matter what size I am.
Listening to that show, driving on the N-340 in Marbella, I burst into tears. I burst into tears for everything I hid about myself, for all the ways I kept my voice quiet, for all the ways I hid behind my fat, for all the ways in which I took comfort in chocolate, and for all the ways I treated myself, and my body, with disdain.
I am not ready to give up on being thin again. I’ve been bigger like I am now for 14 years. That’s about 30% of my life. I’m not ready for the rest of it to be this size. I’m not ready to just say, “okay, this is who I am.” I still steadfastly believe that I can shed this weight, at least a bit more of it. Maybe I’ll never get back to the 160 pounds I was in those pictures, but I can get to be less than 220, and any movement back towards that direction is good in my book.
So yes, I am quite happy to be called fat for now. I’ve been fatter, and I will be less fat in the future. It’s a journey for me, and I’m not ready to stop the journey.
My friend asked me if I wished I hadn’t listened to the episode, given everything it brought up for me. Yes, it brought up some sadness that I had repressed. But more than anything it brought up a resolve to continue to move towards being healthier. Not just a number on a scale, but real health and well being.
I’m ready to be a healthier me.