The Day I Found out I was Fat
Every girl who grew up fat remembers the day that they were told that they were not a normal size. Maybe not the calendar date, but the moment in time that someone pointed out to them they were… FAT.
I remember the moment clearly. I was sitting on the steps to the front lobby of my elementary school. It was after school and I was wearing a shirt that had button snaps. Two of them popped open, exposing an opening that was going to seal my fate for the rest of my days.
A boy whose name and face escapes me, but I remember was older than me, passed by, pointed and said, “I can see your belly!”
His friend laughed, I looked down and when I looked up again he and his friend were pointing and puffing out their cheeks to show how fat I was, an action that I am sure went out of style as the we counted down the clock to the new millennium. Now it’s all Cyber Bullying and I don’t think there is an emoji for chub-face.
Who knows the fate of those children? I think one of them turned into James Spader in Pretty in Pink and the other ended up James Spader in Less than Zero — as is the fate of most 80s villains. Or, more likely they just went on with their lives, battled their own battles and have, to this day, no idea that they were the people that changed my little life from being a kid, to being a kid with a body, to being a kid with a fat body. Something that I will think about every day from that day forward.
If it wasn’t that kid, it would have been another. Or a joke from my aunt who enjoyed pointing out that my thigh was twice the size of my cousin’s thigh - and he was a boy.
It might have been the kids after puberty class who would point out that I had boobies too soon and the belaboured teacher trying to explain that everybody was different - only to have one kid say, “Those aren’t boobs, she’s just fat.”
It was going to be the girls in grade six, who decided that they would tell me all about a diet - for my own good. It would be the boy at the grade seven dance who I considered a friend. I spent the whole night working up the nerve to ask him to dance only to have him laugh and say, “With you? I don’t dance with fatties” which would send me to the girls washroom to start my career of bathroom crying.
It would be the lady at The Bay who would subtly mention to my mother to, "maybe try the adult department” to help me find a grade eight graduation dress - to which my mother was so offended that she decided that she was no longer going to shop at the Canadian Institution ever again.
It would be the entire rest of my high school life. Mean girls and dateless school dances, surprised looks from classmates when I told them I was a pretty serious athlete, and then the slow nod of understanding when I explained that I was a swimmer (everybody weighs the same in water).
Those two little boys opened a can of self-aware worms. And a lifetime of being a mature adult woman, who has been to therapy, means I know that they and all the others just did a mean thing. They weren’t mean people, they had no idea they were going to make any lasting effect on my life, they were using social acceptable form of making themselves feel better because fat kids don’t have feelings. I think that’s been scientifically proven. Fatties don’t have feelings, that’s why it’s ok to leave them out of mainstream media (unless you’re directly talking about being fat) or to talk about them like they are lazy and can help their situation.
They couldn’t have known that they were carrying on a tradition that the entire world participates in. The pointing-out and taking-down of women’s bodies. Criticizing and shaming us into thinking that we are not worthy of love and respect because we don’t fit into an ideal that’s based on impossible standards. They certainly didn’t know that they were doing me a favour.
They made me a fat prodigy.
I found out I was fat in grade three, and that meant I had my ten thousand hours by the time I was done university and ready to go out into the world. One mentor was my GP who didn’t believe in telling women under the age of 21 that they should limit their caloric intake, that while I was a swimmer I was exercising, and if I was exercising and not binge eating I was the shape my body needed to be. The other mentor was my mother who fiercely defended me at every turn. I lived with being fat all day, every day. By the time I was 16, I was as good at being fat as Mozart was at playing the piano.
As I was getting better at being fat, I witnessed my girlfriends discover that they were never going to fit into a societal ideal, whereas I already knew that. As a teenager in the 90s Heroin Chic came into play which meant that a girl with a boy’s body could find clothing while I had to come up with some creative outfits that both hid my body and made me look cool. I managed to find my look somewhere between Grunge Girl and Tomboy. (Yes, I still use the term Tomboy, and I will until someone comes up with something better. Genderfluid is just as problematic.) Earning me the nickname G.I. Gillian, the G.I. standing for Gender Identity.
I took one look at the modelling world and could dismiss it as something I was never going to participate in, therefore never fell of that need to be skinny. I would go on to find a new love of fashion and glamour later in life, which meant my style could be defined as ‘classic’ and ‘mature’.
A lack of obsession with the surface meant I had to get smart and funny fast. I couldn’t rely on my looks to get me through a social event. I had to make friends the old-fashioned way, through my personality. Not that pretty people are boring… at all. I would never say that. They just don’t HAVE to have a personality, so a lot of them don’t.
Because a lot of young men are worried about what their friends will think they don’t give much game to chubby chicks. (This of course, comes with its own blog post about body ideals which will include the fact that new research out of Google implies that a pretty big percentage of men search for bigger women in porn which supports the biological theory that men are more attracted to fat women). The benefit is that I got to build friendships with young men without having to put sex on the table. While they were chasing their visual ideal I got to know them, which meant that as an adult I can have more meaningful relationships with men because I have seen them as more than how their body can serve me or how their presence defines me.
I think the final benefit of being an expert at being a big girl is the “let go, this is what I look like” approach to life. I have moments when I look in the mirror and hate what I see. But so does everyone. EVERYONE. No one escapes this navel gazing. This soul crushing dream that we could be happy with what we look like in a world that tells you you’re never enough. EVERYONE. Size 00 to 22, male, female and other. And every race under the sun. No one is happy with their body. But at least I’m used to feeling this way. For the slim kids, this is a new feeling.
I see the fear on your aging face looking at a donut. A moment on the lips etc etc… Cleanse or diet, trainer or meditation - if you do it for the enhance your life then you are living. If you do it for the fear of not wanting to be fat…then I have one thing to say:
Yes, you are going to get fatter.
And if you’re lucky you’re going to live long enough to get really really old and fat, the floppy kind of fat that is so unfuckable that comedies in the 90s would have their protagonist throw up at the idea of sleeping with you. Who cares. Fuckable doesn’t mean loveable. People are still going to like you if you’re fat. They are going to hug you and listen to you and yeah, they might even have sex with you because they want to have sex with you, not your body, you.
No one likes it when you spend dinner checking your Fitbit and pondering if you should get fries. No one interesting likes to talk about diets, or exercise, or what you put in your smoothie. If you’re afraid you’re no longer attractive and you can’t stop talking about it… guess what, you’re unattractive. Not because of what you look like but because of your narcissism.
Get over it. Don’t fight it, work with it. Your metabolism slowing down because you’re getting older is awesome because look at you, living your life, getting all chubby and wise!
Those two little boys didn’t ruin my life. They started me on a path that would bring me to a place to make me comfortable with being uncomfortable with my body years before the smaller girls. You guys will get there too, you just live with it a bit longer.