It is important for me to note that the fat body positivity movements would not exist without black women. Every time an all white (and usually not fat) body positivity post crosses your feed, know that they stole and co-opted this movement from black women (click that link).
For as long as I can remember, I would lull myself to sleep by making three wishes every night. I would contemplate them more thoroughly the older I got, making sure to be very specific so that if they came true, they were what I really wanted. One usually had to do with money, another was for my mom and her battle with lupus, and the third was always the same. Every single night I wished that when I woke up, I wouldn’t still be fat.
I was a big baby; I weighed over nine pounds when I was born. My mom told me that my grandfather made fun of me as a newborn because I was in the neonatal intensive care unit with all the tiny premature babies (I had some lung drama) and he said that I wasn’t hard to find in the lineup. I am not sure if I would have been considered fat before kindergarten. I was probably large for my age, but it wasn’t until the first grade that I was called fat. The kid that called me fat was a friend for eight years. I remember one of his birthday parties at the rec center pool and he asked me to stand in the back of the group when his dad took the picture. I hate that I wasn’t brave enough to revolt and stand proud in the front of the group with my little, fat face grinning from ear to ear.
My parents were both fat. My father was always fat – he often told the story of starving himself in order to meet the weight requirement to join the navy with his brother. My mother, on the other hand, was almost six feet tall and all of the pictures of her as a young woman look like what the fashion industry would now consider plus-sized (which is maybe a size 14). I think because she wasn’t always fat, her behavior toward my weight often circled around wanting me to be like she once was or a version of herself that she missed. I also think the fact that my sisters were not fat caused a lot of anxiety for both her and me. I remember trying on my sister’s clothing and it not fitting. My mom said something like, “she’s older than you – it should be too big.” I was ashamed that my sisters were thin and I was fat, and through most of my life people were shocked that we were even related.
Until I was about 13, there was a confusing stream of messages coming from my mom that ranged from forced diet and food restrictions to binging with her when she was depressed or wanted to celebrate. Our family really has a serious relationship with food. We use food to grieve, celebrate, stall time, spoil ourselves, and sometimes to bribe each other into doing things (“I will make your favorite dinner if you help me clean the house.”). My dad is the man that always rolls with snacks. His work truck would be filled with chips, hot fries, and maple nut goodies. When my mom was restricting my food, he and I would sneak off to run errands and eat snacks together.
Thankfully my mother never signed me up for Weight Watchers or forced me into weight loss surgery consultations. Instead, I was a part of her own body issues and would have to eat what she wanted me to eat. That being said, I want to be clear, I don’t harbor any anger or weird feelings toward my mom for my body issues. I know that she was a victim of the very same body shaming hell that we all are, and just wanted her daughter to have it easier.
As a kid, I was active and fat. I know that goes against whatever preconceived notions you have of fat kids, but between having a pool in our yard and growing up in a small (rural) town, I was almost always outside. My friends and I would ride our bikes all over town or just walk through the neighborhoods. We held dance contests in my front yard and spent winters sledding at the nearby park. I played every sport that was available in our school, even if I wasn’t very good. I played on our basketball, softball, and volleyball teams, but cheerleading was my jam. I loved it! I would spend hours mixing songs together to create a track for our half-time performances. I was awesome at mashing some Paula Abdul into MC Hammer on my double tape deck, and weirdly can still remember the moves that go with that exact mashup. We were in a small, private school, and my popularity with my classmates didn’t protect me from bullying or fat shaming. I seem to have done a good job of erasing these memories from my childhood, though. There are a few cringe-worthy moments that have definitely stuck with me for life (e.g., crying at home because the same pool party kid was making fun of me so my parents called his parents and they forced him to apologize, being made fun of for liking the skinniest boy in the class (“he’s a stick and you’re the log!”), always being the third wheel in every friendship if they had a boyfriend).
High school meant less sports, more awkwardness, and a lot of partying. I had a crush on the same dude through most of high school and he was the popular jock, so that obviously never happened. Actually, I shouldn’t say “obviously that never happened,” because there was a different popular jock that graduated a year before us and he begged me to bang him when we were all trashed at a party (I gave him a beej and barfed, fyi). It is common for dudes to beg for (or force) sex from the fat girl when they are drunk because then they can tell their buddies that they would never fuck a fat chick if they were sober.
The lack of attention from boys in school meant that I got my sexy time jams elsewhere, and that usually meant older dudes. Oddly this phase went down before I was even 16. Older dudes seemed to care less about my size and just thought I was sexy and hilarious, but they didn’t know my age. If I am being honest, I was a damn catfish before they even existed – I lied about my age constantly. I was not as bad as some of the girls that would spend their nights on a CB radio lying to truckers as they drove through our town (lol I told you this was a rural town). Remember, this was before the internet, so my friends and I would call the local radio station and flirt with the DJ. This particular story is much longer and detailed (and maybe best saved for its own separate post), but just know that I had several radio DJs in the palm of my hand all while lying about my age and it is really easy to keep the con going when the dude wants to bang you.
I also would have crushes on all of my dude friends and when I would admit it to them, they would tell me that our friendship meant more. In hindsight, this is true, because I am still friends with some of them today. I know this would not be the case had they given in and boned me, their fat friend. The last two years of high school were a little different. I stopped fucking around with older dudes and had my close group of friends that would get high and experience life together. Sometimes this meant making out with each other and sometimes it meant I was the third/fourth/fifth wheel on their dates.
In senior year I grew into my body a bit more and while everyone kept saying that I lost weight, really it just sorta fell differently on my body. This is when things started changing romantically, of course, and after graduation I had a few “real” boyfriends that were my age. I have always liked thin dudes, and that is probably why finding partners at this age was difficult. I remember my boyfriend’s cousin telling me that he never thought my boyfriend would have dated a “bigger girl,” but that I was, “really pretty even though you are big, the weight looks good on your body.” That relationship ended and the next boyfriend worked with me at a bar and was an alcoholic, so I really won there. I ended that relationship abruptly to move out west with a different guy. I was waitressing, bartending, hiking, and doing all the fun psychedelic drugs that we could find. I was fat and self conscious, but faking it with drugs and alcohol.
At this point, we are in the year 2000. The internet exists, but it is dial-up and chat boards, and certainly no #plussizemodel posts. If I try to think of famous fat women from my childhood and young adult years, it would be a list of women that were berated for their weight (e.g., Roseanne, Rosie O’Donnell, Carnie Wilson, Oprah, Missy Elliott). Imagine these women are your only fat representation in mainstream media and that the entire world makes fun of them relentlessly. So then they are always going on diets, promoting weight loss scams, getting weight loss surgery, and are applauded when they lose weight. Even if you felt like you looked good, the world told you that you did not. You were constantly reminded that your fat body was not okay.
I was constantly reminded that my fat body was not okay.
My twenties were filled with drinking and being more in love with my on and off again boyfriend than he was with me. I was still so self conscious, never wore a bathing suit, and would use alcohol as a courage boost for anything sexual. I realize now that a big part of my drinking was not that I enjoyed it, but rather that it was necessary because I used it as a crutch to become brave and appear confident. That relationship ended and I put all of my energy into nursing school. Being fat in nursing school was its own set of fun times – while I was never called out for my weight (that I recall), I do have a serious hyperhidrosis condition (I sweat profusely out of my head and no this is not related to weight, it is genetic, and even my thin family members sweat profusely). While in the hospital doing clinicals (and stress levels are at an all time high), I would look as if it was pouring rain on my head. My own self confidence issues (i.e., brainwashing from society that only fat people sweat) made me even more uncomfortable, and that would cause more sweat to roll down my face (this is still the case today, but I am trying to change my anxiety and feels about it).
Anyway, back to dating while fat. I barely had any free time in nursing school, but still wanted to have some fun. I used all of the various online dating apps during this time, and I still turned to alcohol for courage to get through the dates. This crutch with booze continued through my online dating escapades into my thirties. I have to point out again that I am just now recognizing this about myself, that because society told me I was too fat to be sexy, I chose to drink loads of alcohol to feel sexy enough to bang dudes. Ugh. This is probably one of the most screwed up realizations that I have had about myself. And if I think of the drunken hookups that occurred thanks to this method, they were all bad. Every single one of them were awful.
Online dating while fat is probably the least fun thing ever. You basically have two options: 1) only share images from the neck up and risk legit catfishing, or 2) share full body images and get an inbox of fat slut comments OR threats of rape and murder for being a “fat fucking bitch that wasn’t worth the time anyway” when you decline some dude’s lame attempt at telling you he loves big women. I think that in the beginning I wasn’t confident enough to do option 2, but quickly learned it was the best one. Pro tip: if a dude only sees pictures of your face – even if you tell them that you’re fat, they have this idea of what is an acceptable version of fat to them and assume that is you. And let me tell you, the look in a dude’s eyes when you meet them for the first time and they’re expecting a girl that’s fat in the tits and ass and nowhere else, it can be gut wrenching.
Somehow I made it through all of the hell of online dating and found my life partner (and yes, it was on tinder). We have been together for almost four years. And recently, he told me that he felt that I catfished him, but not with how I look – instead about my confidence. I told him that sounded fair. Society told me that I was not worthy of someone loving me. I think it is also fair to say that my entire life, up until the moment that he proposed, I was told that my fat body was not good enough to be loved. And that unless I made my body smaller, I would never find the one.
I am now 40 and finally feeling myself. I have an amazing therapist that focuses on eating disorders and follows the Health At Every Size principles. She did a lot of work with me; she reminded me to stop associating weight loss with exercise (truly this is a huge, groundbreaking change), to stop coupling my worth with my size, and to speak up when people push the narrative that weight has anything to do with happiness or perfection (I’m looking at you, endless stream of friends that talk about starving themselves for their wedding, losing 15 pounds for a vacation, showing me your before and after photos of your weight loss journey. All this does is tell me that your life’s mission is to never look like me).
I also have a slew of fat women to thank – every fat woman that shows all of their rolls and curves, proudly wears crop tops, and doesn’t airbrush their cellulite away – I see you and love you. Thank you.
Say it with me, representation matters.
I am annoyed that this story was supposed to be about finally accepting my fat body and instead shifted in focus to how society (men) treat fat bodies. But then again, black women have taught us that the white supremacist patriarchy forced the narrative that women are worthless without a male companion, and to get the best man, you gotta be thin.
I no longer fall asleep trying to come up with three wishes. If I did, though, one of them would definitely include the hope that I wake up every day strong, confident, and loving myself.