By Krystal Lambert
“Does she not know she’s fat?”
This bold, singular phrase has been buried in my memories and subconscious since I was twelve years old. It was meant to stick like a knife, but over time it has become a jewel.
He was a thirteen year-old-boy (of course) with his arm wrapped around my thinner best friend, Danielle. They were in the back seat, while I sat in the front seat with an older (and much kinder) boy. I was up to my usual antics of making everyone laugh so they would look past my fatness, when he said the thing.
This was the moment that I realized I was not supposed to be funny, or smart, or sexy. Because I was fat. This was also the moment I began to question why.
I spun around, glared at him with tears in my eyes, and said “Yeah dude, I know I’m fat. I’m still allowed to have a personality.”
I truly believed in that moment that I was right, that I had as much reason to shine and be myself as anyone else, despite what size jeans I wore. It’s taken me thirty-some years to fully realize and accept that truth, due to the constant barage of bullshit from magazines, movies, television, the fashion industry, and men at large. I look back at pictures of myself during that time and I mourn for that beautiful little girl who thought she was a monster. I was barely a size 10. That’s what I would consider skinny now. Not to mention that I was still growing into my body, experiencing all the horrors and hormones of puberty. At age 12 society had already convinced me that I was an unlovable blob. What is even more sick is that society had already taught that same message to the slew of pubescent boys who tormented me during those formative years.
“Omg I’m so fat lol”
Growing up a “fat girl” in the early 90’s wasn’t much different than previous decades. Plus size clothing was hideous and matronly, the bras were “grandma bras” with pointy cups and wide, itchy straps. Cute underwear in general was non-existent. I have always been in love with fashion and believe me when I tell you, shopping for clothes was heart-wrenching for me. I would die inside every time the cute thing I wanted didn’t fit me. I would try to shove myself into clothes that were too small, and fight back tears while my friends and skinny older sister would get an entire cute outfit for like $4 at DEB. They didn’t understand their privilege. Not in the way of clothes and fashion, nor in the way they were treated in society.
My sister and friends always had boyfriends, I had boys that liked me but were too ashamed to date me publicly so they would pass me dirty notes in class and try to feel me up behind the skating rink. (This behavior from men is still a thing, even into my mid-30’s.) It was damaging to my self-worth and also to my tender little baby heart, who was experiencing butterflies and crushes for the first time. The same somber song kept ringing in my ears in those days — a fat girl is not meant to have nice things. She does not deserve cute clothes, sexy underwear, or the piercing joy of falling in love for the first time. These things were reserved for the skinny girls, because obviously, they’ve earned it with their skinniness.
That’s why, to this day, when one of my thinner friends moans “omg I’m so fat” I feel like pushing her out a window. While I understand that society is hard on women in general, and that body dysmorphia is real, you are not fat unless you’ve ever been a size 16 or had to get an XL in something. Fat is not a dirty bad word to call yourself when you feel like self-deprecating. Skinny is not a compliment or the ideal size. These are simply neutral adjectives. Every time you complain about how fat you are in front of me, you remind me that although you are half my size, you hate how “fat” you are. What must you think of me? We have to stop using fat in a negative context if we want to remove the stigma surrounding fat people in society. You might hate your body too honey, but walk a mile in my shoes and you would be kissing the ground for what you have. Skinny privilege is real.
“I’m just worried about your health.”
This one is really fucked up when you think about it. As if the whole of human history wasn’t proof enough that bodies come in all shapes, sizes, colors, heights, etc. Somewhere along the way “medical science” decided to start judging every human body with the same scale. Weight and BMI are still used today to determine how “healthy” a human being is, despite what their genetics, metabolism, blood sugar, or general body type says. I don’t have to tell you how corrupt the healthcare system/Big Pharma are in this country, but it would have been nice to know this growing up.
I have PCOS, meaning I am pre-disposed to obesity by no fault of my own. I found this out at age 17, after spending most of my adolescence internalizing guilt and self-hatred. I had tried slim-fast, weight watchers, lost 50 pounds in a month on Atkins right before Prom (that was mostly starving myself but whatevs). When I found out it wasn’t my fault, I was both relieved and angry. I had already developed disordered eating habits as a result of guilt and shame, so it felt like it was too late. A few years later, after gaining another 60 pounds, I got so frustrated that I decided I was going to lose the weight the only way I had ever been able to. I restricted my calories so severely that I lost 130 pounds in a year. A nurse once told me, “Honey, you’d have to eat nothing but lettuce if you ever want to be thin.” I think she meant that to make me feel better. It only planted a dark seed in my mind.
People who feign concern for the “health” of fat people only want an excuse to justify their judgement. There is actually a ton of scientific evidence concluding that being fat is not bad for a person’s health. However, the actual evidence doesn’t matter here, because the argument that fat is bad for one’s health is never made out of concern for fat people’s health. It is instead an argument made to justify being explicitly weight stigmatizing and fatphobic. And because the ‘fat is bad for you’ myth is so accepted in our society, it is an extremely effective method of justification.
“You’re not fat, you’re beautiful.”
Well meaning friends have supplied me with this platitude my entire life. It’s a bit patronizing, because I had people telling me this when I was over 300 pounds. Don’t tell me I’m not fat, when everything about my existence and place in society is screaming that I’m fat. I am fat, and I’m never going to ask you to tell me that I’m not. I am also beautiful, and these things are not mutually exclusive.
These days, when I get that phrase it’s because for the most part, I’m not that fat. I’m kind of in between. Fat enough to not be skinny but still passable as hot. It’s actually kind of hilarious how society has tricked us into putting everyone into boxes that when someone fits into more than one, we don’t know what to do with them. I have mastered the art of being fat and hot at the same time and it can be confusing for some. I’m having fun with it. When I set out to write this article, I was going to build a case against fat phobia with data and statistics and quotes. I decided instead to speak from the heart, to be vulnerable about my own experience growing up as a fat girl.
We live in a world that constantly marginalizes anyone who is different, or seen as inferior, weak, or less attractive. So much of our society is built around gender, race, class, and physical attributes. These are literally the most meaningless things we could possibly choose to build society on. We are not our bodies. We are beautiful, complex, magical skeletons made of stardust, capable of love and genius and fucking space travel. We have to stop shitting on each other for such arbitrary things.