No, not that one. I’m not coy about swearing so, trust me, if I felt the need to say “fuck”, I would just say it. I wouldn’t normally employ such an overused trope, but it does grab the attention, for better or worse. What’s the f-word in question? If you’re reading this blog, you can probably guess. What word has followed me my whole life, used against me like a weapon by those who sought to not only hurt my feelings, but also strip away any conception I had of myself as a worthwhile human being? That word, that short but powerful, word, is fat.
I remember one time in middle school, two popular (and thin, obviously; the words are basically synonyms) girls were having a whispered conversation a few seats away from me. One of them was telling the other how she’d seen me struggling to climb out of my mom’s car at McDonald’s. They were both having a grand old time laughing about how fat and ridiculous I was. Again, I wasn’t sitting very far away from them so I initially thought they were getting extra amusement out of ensuring I overheard, but then one girl insisted that the other promise not to tell anyone else about the conversation. I sat there–a smart girl, a kind girl, a good person–feeling utterly worthless and ashamed. That wasn’t the first time someone called me fat with malice in their hearts, but it’s one of the times I remember most vividly.
Several years ago, when I was successfully using Weight Watchers, a woman posted on the WW forum about an incident where a stranger said she was “fat but gorgeous”. The woman who posted this was quite distraught about being called fat and I deeply sympathized. To my surprise, most of the replies on the thread were from other heavier people insisting that being called fat is no big deal. “It’s just a word, it doesn’t have to affect you, blahblahblahblah.” I envy those people. I can’t imagine that none of them had ever been on the receiving end of a fat insult, so I wondered how they managed to divorce the word from its traumatic origins. I never figured out their secret, which brings me to what happened last week.
I’m a pretty big fan of the TV show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, so when I heard some members of the cast were going on tour, I eagerly snagged tickets for myself and my husband. I was unsurprised to find that the seats in the theater, like pretty much all theaters I’ve ever visited, were not built for a person of my…width…so I squished myself into my seat between my husband and a stranger who was also of ample width. Before the show started, the woman to my right noticed some empty seats near us, and decided to move. Perhaps to prevent me from getting offended by her relocation, she turned to me and said that we were both clearly uncomfortable so she was going to move elsewhere to give us both some much-needed space. “Two fat girls next to each other just doesn’t work,” she concluded. In the moment, I brushed it off and appreciated the newly vacated seat (though she did have to come back later so my relief was short-lived.) But her words kept echoing in my head, reminding me of all the other times someone had reduced my wonderfully human complexity to my weight. I know she wasn’t being insulting. She might be one of those lucky people who doesn’t feel like they’re being slapped in the face AND punched in the stomach (which, surprisingly, does not provide as much cushion as you might expect) every time the word “fat” rears its ugly head. Still, it hurt, and not just because it brought up all those painful feelings of past experiences. It hurt because, with that one, throwaway sentence, she completely invalidated all my weight loss progress so far. She didn’t know I’d completely changed my life and had worked so hard for the past two months to improve my health. She couldn’t see that I had lost over 20 pounds up to that point. To her, and to everyone else, I’m just a fat girl. That’s all I’ve ever been and that’s all I will be for a long time. The next 20, 50, even 100 pounds I lose won’t matter because I will STILL just be a fat girl. And that feeling really, really sucked.