It never occurred to me that I might be fat until someone told me I was. It was a conclusion drawn, oddly enough, by a boy on a bus. I was in kindergarten and he was a “big kid” which, in this case, meant that he was in fourth or fifth grade. His stop was before mine and on his way up the aisle he would smack the back of my seat and yell “Hey, chubby!” in a way that I think was meant to frighten. Frighten it did, because I took to sitting on the floor of the bus under my backpack to avoid having to see his face as he yelled at me. I was six and boys had already started telling me about my body. “Fat” became the primary insult my best school friend could muster during our squabbles. My little brother followed in their footsteps and still occasionally takes pleasure in the discomfort I show when he pokes my cushiony arms and stomach.
Struggling with our weight was always something my mother and I had in common. I went to her when I was teased because she knew what it felt like, and we bonded in our relationship with food as security and comfort. Unlike me, she said that she was the first to notice that she was “different”. She started comparing herself to other children around the same age that I started being bullied on the bus. The insults and quippy jabs from others—“Fattie, fattie, two by four, can’t fit through the bathroom door”—came later for Mom. I don’t think she was ever given tools to combat this harassment, so it makes sense that when I came to her with my own troubles, all she knew to do was to wrap me up in her arms and say, “I wish I had a magic wand that I could wave and make all of the hurt go away.”
That was when losing weight became a fantasy for me. Something I dreamt about, something that felt unattainable. Since I hadn’t the slightest clue how to change a bully, I would have to change myself. I would have to police my own body, which would eventually mean dieting, a topic so immense it needs its own post. I can’t remember how many nights I would calm myself to sleep by thinking about what it would be like if I woke up in the morning and I was skinny. Sometimes I still do. Because the bullying and fat shaming never really stopped; they just changed. My thin fantasies morphed as well.
About a month ago, I found what is possibly the best media representation of this concept.
This is a clip from the brilliant UK series, My Mad Fat Diary. I could write loads of reviews about it, but you should just go watch all of the episodes on Youtube. I mean it, right now. I can wait.
Blatant school bus and recess teasing evolved into hearing a chorus of “moo” (like a cow, get it?) around me as I walked the halls in middle school. Painful cartoons circulated in high school. None of these things were done to my face, unlike when I was younger. The shaming became gradually less overt and more internalized. I’m 23 and a college student. No one’s yelling “fattie” on the playground or bribing me with Twinkies to do their homework anymore. We’re all adults here, right? So why do I avoid the REC like I avoid Fox news? Why do I avoid men like I avoid the REC, for that matter? Because for all the Love Your Body events I’ve attended and “riot don’t diet” buttons I put on my backpack, it still feels like something is wrong with me.
Women are supposed to police multiple aspects of our body, with thin, blonde, pristine whiteness as the ultimate ideal. Everything about us needs modifying: the hair from our heads to our ankles, every inch of our skin, all the way to our little toenails. But I would argue the most pervasive and oppressive norm that we are expected to maintain is a “healthy weight”. There are entire magazines dedicated to it. There are television shows like The Biggest Loser showing fat people competing against each other to be skinnier for the entertainment of others. Our own first lady is even leading the campaign against childhood obesity, which apparently is the biggest threat to school-aged children—not bullying. At least, that is the message it sends: that being fat is the worst fate and being fat is the fault of the individual. The very amount of space you take up is threatening and needs to be controlled. The way I look is a nightmare for thousands of people. Or, at least, that is what I’m led to believe.
Today my thin fantasies look different and don’t appear quite as often. They tend to pop up whenever I don’t recognize myself in a picture I see on Facebook or when my aunt very generously offers for me to wear my grandmother’s size 6 wedding dress someday. When I envision myself getting married and becoming a mother, I don’t see it in a fat body, which is infuriating when you’re trying to embrace mantras like “health at any size” and “all bodies are beautiful.” At this point, I can’t tell whether I’ve been media brainwashed or if I’m genuinely unhappy, and to me that is what’s most disturbing.