When I was a chubby nine-year-old, I worked up the nerve to ask my crush to “go out” with me. Well, I didn’t ask him. I sent of my friends to do it for me. That’s bravery, fifth grade style. They came back from the monkey bars looking cagey. I was hyperventilating. “Well!?” I asked, hopefully.
“Um … he said no –” my friend said gently. “Because you’re too fat!” the other interjected.
Obviously, I was devastated. But these things happen when you’re a kid. Children say the meanest shit. It’s a fact of life. From that moment on though, I began the long process of trying to never feel fat again. Let me tell you, that’s a losing battle. The feeling fat part, not the being fat.
By the time I was 13, I had shed the baby weight. Puberty and healthier eating habits helped with that. At 34, I would say I still carry around the mental weight. I’m 5′ 6″, 125, fit and healthy, but I have days when I look in the mirror and think I’m fat. It’s not like body dysmorphic disorder where I think I look fat. I know I don’t actually look fat, it’s more of an internal feeling. If I had a bad day, or did something that I perceive as negative, my go-to insult is to call myself FAT. You’re fat. And the crazy thing is that the insult has disassociated itself from weight, and even my physical body. It’s become a state of mind synonymous with negative feelings or poor self-esteem. Fat is bad, even though, intellectually, I know this isn’t a statement of fact. On bad days, I’m in a fat state of mind.
When I was 25, I was in the best shape of my life. I was about the same weight I am now but with more muscle. I was doing boot camp, cardio, weight training and pilates. I was hitting the gym about five days a week. It was at this time that I got some of the worst comments of all time about my body. One of my fitness instructors approached me during class, presumably to adjust my form, and said, “You look OK right now, but you have the kind of body where if you gain even five pounds, you’ll look fat.” Needless to say, I never went back to his class. But his words stayed with me. They’ve been particularly harmful whenever I’ve gained five pounds here or there over the last decade. I think, I have the kind of body that looks fat with an extra five pounds, I should lose it.
Later that same year — the year of my “ideal” body (whatever the hell that means) — a guy I had just started dating seriously dropped a body snark bomb into casual conversation like it was nothing. “My friends asked me about you,” he told me. “They asked if you had a good body and I said, ‘Not traditionally, no, but I like it.’”
I was stunned. That statement was offensive on so many levels. Firstly, what does it mean to have a “good body” or a “traditionally good body?” Are we talking supermodel? Because, if that’s the case, then no woman I’ve ever met has a traditionally good body. Now, that we’ve cleared that up, why was he talking to his friends about my body? And on what planet did it seem like a good idea to relay that conversation to me? I suppose in his ignorant way he thought he was giving me a compliment. Well, his “compliment” plagued me for years after we split up. It resurfaces every time I meet a new boyfriend’s friends. I wonder if they are secretly gossiping about my “non-traditional body” after I leave the room. That’s fun.
The comments I’ve received lately tend to be more about what I’m eating than what my body looks like. Recently, when I was getting a salad for lunch, a man pointed to my salad and said, “That’s why you’re so thin, because you eat that for lunch.”
Was he shaming me? Complimenting me? Did I even care? I didn’t know how to respond considering there was a much larger woman in front of me who ordered practically the same salad. I was at a salad bar for God’s sake! What was I supposed to order? Another day, I was getting a slice of pizza for lunch and a guy who was waiting for his slice said, “I hope you got some pepperoni on yours, you can use it.”
How rude! Also, startling. Because in my head, I still remember the days when boys at my elementary school spit on me and called me “lard ass.” Now, I’m thin by the world’s standards and some rando dude wants to tell me to eat more meat!? No wonder this whole body image thing is so confusing.
I share this with you because when I was that chubby child on the playground, I imagined that being thin would make everything better, that losing weight would make this whole body image nightmare go away. It didn’t. What I’ve learned is that at any size, men — and women! — are going to feel entitled to make comments and judgements about our bodies. It’s up to us to choose whether or not we let those comments affect our self-esteem. I shed the pounds years ago, but I’m nowhere near done shedding the weight.
[Photo from Shutterstock]