I called myself fat yesterday and lots of people were super concerned. Self-deprecating, yes, kind of… but let me assure you, Fat Girl Walking was merely a genius play on Dead Man Walking and, finally, at 31 years old, I’m done being upset about the word fat. Done-zo.
It’s true. I’m bigger than your average bear. Now.
I wasn’t always. In fact, when I look back on photos from when I first started thinking I was fat, I can only groan/shake my head/be pissed off at all those stupid wasted years of fat-shaming, fat concern, fat obsession when I was not, in fact, fat at all.
Except what if I had been? What about the times when I was? Because, let’s be honest, my weight has gone up and down and up and down a lot of times over the course of my life. And I think that’s normal, isn’t it. Puberty’s not exactly fun for anyone and most of us get at least a bit chubby for a minute there.
Even if I had been fat then, and even now that I am, my body is still kind of rocking it. I can run for-evs (like I said yesterday) and mow my lawn and vacuum my floors and cook and bake and dance and relax and blog and read and write and talk and and and… my body does all those things. It provides my soul with pretty cush digs, to be honest, and right now, especially, it deserves my dang RESPECT.
Because dang, it’s holding up. IVF meds are no joke. NO JOKE. And my body is going through some stuff, but remarkably, my body is handling it like a champ and despite a level of discomfort the likes of which I have never experienced, exactly, I’m doing ok.
Fat or not, I can appreciate that, the champ-i-ness of my bod. So I have to be ok with the word fat — I have to turn it into just another characteristic. I’m blonde-haired and green eyed. I have size 11 feet and curly hair. And I’m fat. It’s just another thing — a size XL, 14/16, bigger than your average bear. It’s not a bad word unless I let it be a bad word. I choose not to let it. (Anymore.)
So, pretty please, don’t worry about the word fat. Also, don’t worry about me because my mommy came to Wisconsin today and she’s taking real good care of me. We’re taking a road trip to Madison at 4 am tomorrow — eggs, eggs, baby!!
And PS: If I was worried about being fat, now would be extra, extra rough because ah dang… my abdomen is getting blooooooated. There’s not sucking this beast in. It is what it is and the only level of comfort comes from just letting it be. Oh ovaries, you better be growing me lots and lots of eggs.
I’ve worn a lot of different uniforms for a lot of different reasons. I played t-ball, soccer, and basketball as a kid. I ran cross country and played soccer in high school. I was in the marching band (the magic of polyester, topped with a big black hat, and a half foot tall sparkling silver tassel to top it off) and marched around the Lincoln High School football field and through parade after parade in the city of Ypsilanti dressed in some seriously crazy stuff.
I also worked at Showcase Cinemas Ann Arbor and wore the uniform for both concessions (again with the polyester, but at least no tassel) and ushering/cashiering (where I swapped out the plastic apron for an additional layer of polyester by way of a vest).
But none of those uniforms compared to the one I didn’t realize I was wearing.
When I was in middle school, I was super uncomfortable with the way I looked. Getting dressed was the worst and I spent hour after hour after hour trying on outfits for school the next day– trying to find the thing in which I looked the least fat (vanity plus insecurity in a 13 year old, good stuff). Unfortunately, there was never an outfit that was good enough and I ended up reverting to the thing I felt most comfortable in: a jacket.
We weren’t actually allowed to wear coats in the school, so that was somewhat problematic because the thing I felt most comfortable in was a sleek running jacket my dad let me borrow. But I managed to outsmart the system. I had gotten the coolest (to me) University of Michigan wind suit set at Meijer and that was the thing I felt most comfortable in. And the jacket, as part of a set, was, at least in my mind, innerwear not outerwear. So I wore it. I wore it pretty much every day, over every stressed-over jeans and t-shirt kind of outfit and with my matching pants at least once a week.
I guess I never really thought about what that jacket looked like to other people. All I knew about that jacket was that I didn’t feel fat in it– and at that time, that was enough.
It was only several years later (like several, several, maybe 10 or so) that I found out that I was being made fun of… pretty much always… by a lot of girls who called my jacket my “uniform.”
Look, there goes Rachel, in her uuuu-ni-foooooo-rm.
I knew I wasn’t a cool kid. I knew there were a lot of mean girls in my school. And I knew better than to think I wasn’t the butt of many of their jokes. But it still hurt. And bad. Even though it’s been a whole lot of years since and I never actually heard it, I frequently think of those comments… those girls… those feelings…
It’s like in Harry Potter when Dumbledore lets Harry gaze into a memory in his Pensieve– it’s so much more than just a memory. It’s an experience, full of feeling. That’s what it’s like in my mind’s eye every… single… time… that memory strikes.
It struck this morning. I got dressed, I put on a gray turtle neck sweater and black slacks. It’s kind of a go-to outfit for me, but I was feeling pretty ugh about it this morning. I wanted to put that jacket on– to be comfortable. And the memory came back. The mean girls were talking about me behind my back.
But when I walked in to work this morning, my friends were all gathered in one office and busy planning our Italian-fest lunch. I was instantly struck by how much I adore all of these women… not one mean girl in the bunch! When they tease me, it’s totally to my face, and it’s nice to be in on the joke!
I thought about the contrast between the Micheles, Maries, Aimies, and Debs of my life as an adult and the Connies, Kellys, Lauras, and Taras of my past. As we grow up, our community becomes driven more by choice than by circumstance. Today I feel that very poignantly… and I have chosen well (and not just because Marie made us homemade cannolis today… although that’s part of it).
This afternoon, I ate a lot of Italian-ish deliciousness to say “ciao!” to my friend Marie as she heads off on a two week adventure of a lifetime (to Italy, obviously)… I could have used my jacket. And in my new, friendly girl world, everyone would have said, “There goes Rachel in her comfy jacket— she’s awesome for doing what feels right! Dang!” Because that’s what friendly girls do.
I’m still not a cool kid, but the people I have chosen to surround myself with really don’t care. The facts are these:
I have bushy, early-books-in-the-series-Hermione-like hair.
I use waytoo many Harry Potter references.
I get nervous around people I like and ramble uncontrollably.
I sweat copiously when nervous. And I’m often nervous.
I wear the clothes that I feel most comfortable in, stylish or not. (Usually not.)
And sometimes I hang on to my magic wand while I’m watching tv or talking on the phone.
But I like my curls (raise the roots!), Harry Potter is sheer genius and I plan to love it and read it again and again for the rest of my life (always…), some people like the way I ramble because it means (1) that they don’t have to do all the talking and (2) they certainly can’t sound worse than me, black is pretty much my favorite color to wear anyway and sweat really doesn’t show, confidence comes from comfort and confidence is always classy (stylish or not), and the wand… maybe that’s just a little bit weird. But it’s fun, I like it, and I really don’t care.
I know I’m 30 years old and I know I should be over it. But words HURT. And I wish I didn’t even know that those words existed. But I do. And I’m going to have to move past it. Especially considering that it’s likely I’ve hurt someone in that same way– we all say hurtful things at times. Especially when we’re young. But I know without a doubt that I’ve grown up to be a much kinder person than that. And I hope that those girls did too.
I hope that they grew up to be kind. I hope that they don’t feel the kind of hurt I still frequently feel when those memories creep up on me. And I hope that if they have children, they’ll help them to be kinder people than they were as kids. That’s my plan for my own someday babies, anyway.
Fun fact: the movie Mean Girls is actually based on the book Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman. Tina Fey knew the basic premise of the book, but hadn’t actually read it yet when she won the bid (is that the totally wrong terminology???… perhaps the rights? the opportunity? the chance? something?) to write the movie script. Fascinating, right?! I fully intend to read this book… eventually. It’s on my “Women’s Interest” book club reading list. Its the fourth book club on my list of “Book Clubs I Want to Start” because I really am that girl of all the characteristics listed above.
PS: I know these posts about getting made fun of, and perhaps what might be considered “bullied” this day and age, can be something of a downer. I really don’t want you to think it was all bad though. I really did have some great friends all throughout elementary, middle, and high school (see Emily, Kelly, Stephine, et al) and despite (literal) wedgies in the hall (I really wish that weren’t true) and the occasional overheard negative comment or two, I was a happy kid having a good time at my school. I cheered for the Railsplitters, I played on the teams, I went to the dances, and painted my face for pep rallies. All American kind of stuff. It’s just impossible to extract the mean girl (and boy!) stuff from all of that and unfortunately, as an insecure chubby girl, a lot of that is what really stuck.
PPS: Ok, I actually wasn’t evenchubby. Not after like 8th grade anyway. I just thought I was and let people tell me I was. But from where I sit now, dang, I was svelte!! (Kidding, I just looked up svelte and it means “slender and elegant”… I was slender, not elegant. But svelte sounds so good there, all italicized, doesn’t it? Let’s just leave it and move on.)
I was scrolling through my Facebook feed one day (every day, all day, whatever…) and came across this sponsored post that Facebook thought I might enjoy:
Well, you thought right, Facebook! This does sound like something I might be interested in, doesn’t it?
Interested in because I want to rip it a new one!!
But it’s not ok to just rant about something. It’s important to do your homework. So in that moment (that angry, angry moment), I took a screen shot, saved the picture to my phone, and went on with my life until I had time to do some thinking, some reading, some more thinking, some writing, and some posting about it. That time is now.
Special K says they want to #fightfattalk because it “is a barrier to managing our weight…” Mmmm hmmmm…
You know what else is a barrier to “managing our weight”??? Things like television, internet, and print ads that suggest we subsist on nothing but cereal for 2 weeks so that we can lose weight, feel better in a bikini, go to the beach without a cover up, and “gain” other things when we “lose” the weight.
I call BS on this ad. BS on the whole of Special K, and by extension, the entire Kellogg’s brand (sorry, Michigan, I just can’t support this kind of behavior!).
And even if it weren’t for the irony of Special K’s ad campaign, I still don’t like the phrase “fat talk” because it implies that fat is bad. Always. And that to be fat is to be bad, to talk about being fat is to talk about being bad, and that the word fat should be banned from our vernacular entirely just like being fat should be banned from our lives.
People can be fat. They can be thin. They can be skinny, obese, rotund, chunky, sickly, muscular, pale, flabby, large, small, tan, cross-eyed, etc, etc, etc… and all of those things are nothing more than physical descriptors. Not one of them has any inherent value attached to it. Yet, these are the hooks on which we tend to hang our self worth. Why? Well, that’s an entire book. A series, even. But to be sure, media campaigns like this don’t help. And we can’t forget what Special K’s actual purpose is:
To sell cereal.
Special K does not care if you engage in fat talk or not. They do not care whether you are fat or thin. They do not care about any of those physical descriptors listed above. All they care about is you buying their cereal. And if pretending to care about body image is going to help them do that, then by all means, they can pretend.
Not that I can blame Special K for that, really. I mean, it literally is their job to sell cereal… not to look after the mental health and emotional well-being of society. I get that. But maybe Tyra Banks, with her history of issues with body image and all her ginormous scope of influence, could recognize a marketing ploy and not lend her name or her very, very famous face (did you see her smiling… with just her eyes???) to a campaign that is downright damaging.
If you actually go to Special K’s Fight Fat Talk website (slogan “Shhhhut down fat talk”) I think you’ll see what I’m talking about. They suggest that you use social media to tag positive posts with #fightfattalk and they have a little tool that will allow you to scan your Facebook networks to see how common body-focused negative self talk (my phrase, not theirs… like I said, I don’t dig the notion of “fat talk” specifically) is in your social networks. But beyond that? The point of the site is clearly to sell you their cereal… not to improve anyone’s body image by actually promoting body positivity.
First up, a Google search for “Special K fight fat talk” is headed up by an ad for the Special K 2 week diet… you know, the one where you starve yourself on two bowls of cereal and a chicken breast per day.
So then you actually click on the site. It has numbers. Numbers. It says there are over 12.4 million “actual fat talk found online”… ummm, what? Instances of? Where is this number from? How was it curated? I just… I don’t… I can’t… ugh…
And all that this site has about actually “fighting” fat talk is right there in front of you. That’s. It. Use our hashtag, eat our cereal, save the world, one sad lady at a time.
Because, you see, when you click on anything else– why they believe positivity matters, the Gains Project (Special K’s famous “What will you gain when you lose?” campaign that asks women to imagine how much better their lives will be if they just weren’t fat anymore…), the “My Special K Plans” link, the products, recipes, and articles. It’s all there to sell you cereal.
And like I said, I can’t really blame Special K for trying this tactic. It’s been working for Dove and body positivity is a hot topic right now… I just hope that women don’t buy into it.
Negative self talk is a problem for everyone, women and men, thin and fat. Fat, per se, is not the problem. Rather, it’s the notion that our identity hinges on something physical or superficial. That’s what we need to fight. And I don’t think we need Special K to help us.