You’re not sure when you figured it out, but by the time you were eight you knew that you were fat.
You remember realizing that you were heavier than your classmates, definitely the girls, maybe the boys. The girls talked about how much they weighed but the boys didn’t. Or maybe you weren’t friends with any boys. You can’t remember. You had friends who were boys when you were younger but by the time you were eight they had become unknown entities, separate from the small group of girls in your grade.
You were never popular although you seemed to be liked just fine. You sometimes got the feeling people only tolerated you although you can’t say why you felt that way. You were the only fat girl. There was a boy who was fat, fatter than you, and you remember your classmates used to tease him, yelling slogan from a commercial. “Put Some Pork on Your Fork!” He would laugh along and ham it up and you were grateful it wasn’t you they were teasing. You wondered if, late at night, it kept him awake.
You had crushes on boys. Quiet, pretty things. You were painfully shy around them and you’re not sure if that was because you were fat or something else. Regardless you were hardly able to talk to a boy if you liked him.
In that respect, things haven’t changed.
If you had to work in groups or study with boys then you were okay. Your weight didn’t matter and you were smart. You still are. You were quick to understand. When you did not, it made you cry.
Again, things haven’t changed.
Being smart was ostracizing at times, maybe worse than being fat – you’re not sure how that scale worked. You hid your grades. You felt bad when people struggled and they knew you were smart. Something on their faces was cold and mean. It made you sick. You’d flip your papers over, obscuring your mark, smile, and say you did ‘okay.’
You were still fat.
You weren’t obese. You were at least twenty, but no more than forty, pounds more than your peers. The word ‘FAT’ loomed over you all your interactions. You went to Weight Watchers for the first time when you were nine and the rules seemed simple. One of the school’s teachers was a facilitator and he was nice. You remember having to weigh in with a cast on your arm and you were afraid it would make you heavier. He said you could take two pounds off for the cast. You knew the cast didn’t weigh that much and felt embarrassed he suggested it.
You don’t remember much about the diet although if you look back on your life, it seems like long stretches of thinking about food measured against short bursts of gorging.
Once, in gym class, the teacher asked what the guidelines were for fitness and you raised your hands and said thirty minutes of exercise three times a week. You saw the looks of surprise on the other kids’ faces. Why would the fat girl know?
It’s something you still think about. If you want to know how to be thin, ask a fat person. They know more than anyone else.
Your weight was on your mind when you painstakingly picked out your outfit for the first day of junior high. You desperately wished to be thinner but didn’t know how to make it happen. You really wanted to try out for a sports team but had to run cross country to join. You felt sick at the thought but signed up. You remember coming in second to last in the final meet.
You were not athletic. You were not a dismal, flopping failure at sports, either. You were mediocre. Able to do what you were instructed. Passable, but not inspired. You didn’t care for sports. Gym class was a deep and thick horror until you finally rid yourself of it in highschool. You recall your gym teacher saying she wished to fail you, but you did exactly what she said – albeit slower and clunkier than others. She had to pass you. You were silently outraged and blessedly grateful.
Sometimes you dream that you are back in school, waiting for gym class and it makes your stomach churn. In your dreams, you can never find your gym strip.
You got tall and it gave the appearance of losing weight. People wanted to know what you’d done, how you managed it and you had no idea. You didn’t lose weight. You just got tall and it happened all on its own.
University was a maze of food courts and bad habits. You never liked eating in public alone. Sometimes you were sick with hunger but couldn’t face the thought of eating alone – a solitary figure to be ogled and stared at. You were too self-conscious to realize your anxiety was so self-centered. You gained weight in university and once didn’t take your coat off for a whole year. You don’t think any of your friends noticed or if they did, they never said anything. That red coat – always around your shoulders, tightly wrapped around your waist and thighs. Your talisman and security blanket. A shield against the world.
Weight Watchers was a game. Think about food all the time. Be ‘good’ all week. On weigh-in day, don’t eat, drink water, then switch to diet soda to flush all the fluid out. Celebrate weight loss with a meal out. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Eat snack food for two points. A low calorie brownie for two points. Salsa on cauliflower for no points. You told yourself hunger is good. It meant you were winning. You told yourself it didn’t hurt. It felt like victory. You were angry, frustrated and baffled by your body. You smiled at unwanted advice. People told you to stop drinking soda. You already gave up sugared pop at seventeen. They told you to give up alcohol. You didn’t drink. They told you to try this new diet or that new fad or only eat lettuce standing on your head when the moon is full.
This advice never came from people who had been successful at dieting. It came from other fat people or people who had never been fat. You didn’t know anyone who used to be fat and wasn’t anymore. There was no one who had won the war and come back from the other side to tell you the rules.
You thought about your weight while you got dressed, while you ate breakfast, while you worked, when you had to go to the bathroom. If your chair made a noise when you sat down you imagined it collapsing under your bulk. You felt awkward and strange trying to exercise, clumsy. You worried people looked in your grocery cart and judged you. When you walked into stores, you imagined the clerks eyeballing you disdainfully.
You pulled in on yourself, as if by hunching you could make yourself smaller. You saw several therapists and they told you to love yourself as you were and it made you angry. You didn’t want to love the fat girl. You wanted to be not-fat. They seemed crazier than you ever were.
People told you to stop worrying, to throw out your scale. When you tried that, the weight crept on, steadily, stealthily, like a black mold taking over the walls of a basement. Silently pressing in, suffocating. It was the worst advice you’d ever gotten and it still makes you angry.
Finally, with the resolution of a defeated warrior trying to survive one last battle, you have over half your stomach removed. It’s absurd. Extreme. Terrifying. Liberating. When the scale finally (finally, finally) starts going down, and you see the numbers you always expected but could never produce, you realize you’re losing more than weight. You’re losing the mental burden of ‘fat.’ It no longer consumes your every thought. You don’t worry about eating all day long, you don’t think about grocery-judgers, you don’t wait in line at food establishments and cringe imagining what people are thinking about the fat girl who is buying more food. You don’t get up in the morning and curse your wardrobe, curse your mirror, curse your body. You don’t go to bed at night and see the stretched out fabric of your clothes and hate the necessity of leaving the house at all.
You release shame and guilt with each pound that drops away.
You discard things you’ve held onto for years – pants that you wanted to fit back into but never liked, books you meant to read because you thought you should, that pudgy area around your bra. Emotional, physical and mental masses fall behind you as you keep moving forward.
You are so many more things you never saw. It took so long, but you’re finally here. You are not fat.