The memory is fossilized in my brain. I was in my junior year of college, a college where I felt loved and wanted and valuable, and was helping to run our annual fancy dinner that the junior class threw for the senior class. Our theme was a big band supper club vibe, and I had bought a gorgeous black satin and taffeta dress that I was in love with. When I walked down the stairs and into the room to meet with my friends and mentors and colleagues who were also helping to pull this all off, our class dad of sorts grinned so wide at me and said “You look beautiful.”
I finished that compliment in my head – “for a fat girl.”
In the last few weeks, as a trailer for a new Netflix show dropped that has made me sick to my stomach with anger, I’ve thought a lot about that memory and hundreds of others like it. I have spent my life finishing people’s compliments in my head as “for a fat girl.”
On my wedding day.
Whenever someone comments on my Facebook profile picture.
Every single time someone tells me I look lovely.
Someone compliments my brain? Or my leadership skills? Or how I handled a crisis? A piece of writing? Fine. Lovely. I’m grateful and encouraged.
Someone makes a comment on my dress, or a photo? I have relegated myself to a separate category of person. The person speaking is not who did that (most of the time) – I did it to myself. My internalized belief that beauty is entirely dependent on trouser size is so strong that I cannot believe I may be pretty in the same category as everyone else.
It’s exhausting. And I don’t know how to make it stop.
This is usually the place in think pieces about weight where I have to talk about what my doctors say and blah blah blah. I’m choosing not to. What my body actually is is irrelevant for my point. I want to talk about what I think my body is, how my body makes me feel, and how a whole lot of other humans think I should feel about my body.
I went on my first diet at age 11 and have “struggled with my weight” since before then. I’ve had trainers, meal plans, and even surgery to try to wrestle my body into a standard that fits this world. I am larger than nearly everyone I love – taller, broader, rounder – and that is A Thing nearly every day of my life.
There are a lot of folks out there – including, I think, many of the writers on that show – who think I should put myself in a separate category of human. They think I’m lazy, or sloppy, or dumb. They think I’m ugly and unworthy of love, as not a small number of people have either outright said or seriously implied throughout my life. They oink at me from cars, they ask me to leave their stores because they don’t “serve my kind” (shit you not, direct quote because you don’t forget that when it’s said to you at 15 in an Abercrombie), they get annoyed if I need to ask for a seat belt extender on a plane, or they joke that my bra is so big it could be a hat and proceed to wear it around a slumber party because my body is a joke.
Because, honestly, that’s what my body and millions of others like mine have been: an inconvenience and a joke.
Hannah Gadsby, by the way, explores this concept of self-flagellation in her masterwork Nanette, and rarely have I felt as seen by a stranger as I did watching her talk about her self-imposed closet of shame. While I am gender-typical, I still am outside what is culturally considered “woman” and oh how I have suffered for that.
So what am I saying?
I’m saying that bodies aren’t neutral elements of our lives. They aren’t blank canvases we can tell stories upon without consequence. Other people’s opinions of our bodies rarely are either. There are loads of folks who give zero figs about the opinions of others, but alas, my Ennegram number is a 3, and I am not wired that way. I am among the bajillions of humans who take many of their cues from those around them. And for every lovely person I have in my life – like my class dad in the intro – who have never given me cause to believe they think less of me because of how I am shaped, there are thousands of other screaming voices who say they do.
And thus, no, Netflix. I am not interested in your tale of a girl who is fat and then gets her jaw wired shut to lose the weight to become beautiful. I already believe that toxic narrative without more visual assaults on my psyche to confirm it. I do not want to believe that narrative anymore, and the fight to think I’m not “a heinous cow who should hide in a closet” (another direct quote from a charming friend in graduate school) is exhausting.
But you, lovely human who is reading, probably have nothing to do with Netflix. And so what do I ask of you?
I ask that you stop telling me I’m not fat when I am. I am. It’s okay. I shop at Lane Bryant, and my body comes with jiggles. When you “correct me”, you are only enforcing my belief that in order for you to like me or want to spend time with me, I cannot be fat. I don’t think you believe that… but you may. And if you do, then my hope for you is that we can quietly part ways and I never need to know.
I ask that you be kind to yourself. If your brain doesn’t do what mine does, if it accepts that your body is your body and it is not evil, I beg you to not give into the voices that are trying to tell you otherwise. If you feel you’d like to lose some weight to feel comfortable in your own skin, please do it responsibly and not in a way that will bring harm to your body or your heart.
I also, quietly, ask that you think about how you talk about your body. How do you talk about it to your children? How is your relationship with food? Do you view food as either an enemy or a comfort or both? Do your children know you think you’re ugly or fat or need to lose a few pounds before that big event? Because what they may hear is that the way you are isn’t special enough to celebrate and you need to look different for joy.
I will continue to be over here, existing, despite the messages from those who wish I wouldn’t. Who, when they disagree with me on the internet, make sure to always include ‘fat’ in the insult. Or those marketing agencies who say designers make clothes for all women, but stop at a size 16. Or people who police artistic spaces and seem reticent to allow all shapes and sizes on stage or screen. I will choose instead to focus on moments where I usually finish the compliment and try my absolute hardest not to.