I’ve dealt with weight all my life. I’ve always said my awareness of being “the fat girl” goes back as far as my memories of school. I realize I’ve considered weight with different perspectives at different times. I never let being fat become part of my identity but it has been the undercurrent of my life.
As I look back, my life being fat was marked by when I became aware of physical limitations and began to worry about my health. Throughout school, I dealt with being teased and harassed. It was extremely bad in high school when the boys got very nasty and I’d often find crudely-drawn illustrations and insults written on desks. I’d find them on bathroom walls as well so my female classmates were in on it, too.
When I was young, being fat was like something I separated myself from. I know now that I could do that because the only physical issue I dealt with was difficulty buying clothes. I was never athletic and I did hate gym class but I considered myself the bookish kid, the academic girl. I didn’t care about being one of the last picked for gym class teams. I was the smartest girl in class and I looked down at the kids who teased me as my inferiors. In high school, I felt nothing but disgust for those who would try to insult and humiliate me.
I had my first sense of real physical limitation in high school when we had to run for gym class. I could not get around the first turn of the quarter-mile track. But somehow, I did not associate it with being fat. I felt like my lungs and my legs just didn’t work right. I tried very hard to improve but I did not know anything about effective conditioning. I didn’t worry about it much.
By college, vintage thrift store clothes had become the cool fashion. I could wear oversized men’s suits and 1940s dresses. The trend would get me through the eighties. I spent my twenties making numerous extreme weight loss attempts, struggling to dress appropriately for work. My weight stayed around the 180s to 190s and I developed a fear that I’d go over 200 lbs.
My thirties were a time of dramatic change in my life and it affected my weight. Over a few years, I gained 100 lbs. I was generally around 280. I remember that I was not completely aware my weight was going up. I can look back now and see a multitude of factors going on back then that would have contributed to gradual change. The combination of getting older and getting heavier took its toll. I had my first experiences of serious physical limitation. I could not walk far or even stand for very long. I began to stress over fitting in chairs. I did not sleep well. I developed asthma and my cycles became erratic. I often felt various aches and pains and I was almost always fatigued. I could end the day feeling utterly exhausted. By the time I was 44, metabolic syndrome had hit me full-force.
My sense of being fat shifted to worry about my health and feeling uncomfortable all the time. Much of the anxiety I dealt with was based on this worry and feeling uncertain and frustrated about what to do. My weight itself became the primary source of stress in my life. I worried over everything I did or didn’t eat. I constantly stressed over what I should do next and I was always trying to fight off a sense of pessimism.
When I consider today’s culture of fat shaming, I realize something that I believe has always made me different from a lot people and it’s a message that I wish I could share with everyone who struggles over their weight. Being fat always felt like something that was separate from me. It never crept into my identity. My sense of myself was never that I was the fat girl—rather, it was a label that others hung on me and I resented and rejected it. In many ways, the more that other people tried to make me feel bad about being fat, the more I pushed their bias back to them. I never let it influence or define me. I never hated myself but I always hated being fat. I was aggravated that I could not find clothes I wanted. I was upset that I did not feel as physically capable as I wanted to be. I did not want to worry about my health. I felt frustrated, even angry, that managing my weight was so difficult, at times seemingly futile.
I never acquiesced to any sense of acceptance. I didn’t want to be fat for various reasons and I wanted to change for my own reasons.