Boy, you never know what’s going to lay you so low.
So it’s been a productive morning and I reward myself by vegging out and watching IG stories for a a few minutes. And that’s when I see the image of a really fat person and the words, “I’m in love with the shape of you” emblazoned over the photo. And I think to myself, “What? Who is this? What fatphobic stranger on the internet have I been following without realizing it this whole time?!” But I saw this wasn’t a stranger. This was posted by a long-time family friend. So I want to give him the benefit of the doubt. I’m wondering to myself, “wait–maybe this isn’t a fatphobic post but just something else that I’m not understanding yet?”
So I look all over the photo for some other clue to the punchline but there isn’t one. I took a screenshot, obviously, to show to a friend to ask if there’s something I’m missing here. But there isn’t. I’m not going to post that photo here, today, though, because the subject of that photo doesn’t deserve to have her life on display for the gawking of the internet–regardless of what this person who posted it to begin with believes. But I can describe it to you. It’s a photo taken in what appears to be some kind of a waiting room. This person is just minding her own business, sitting in a chair, looking at her phone. Not the most flattering position that anyone is ever in if I do say so myself. Waiting for whatever it is she showed up for that day. Living her life in a normal way like everyone does. Minding her own business.
I’m not going to pretend like I am proud of the way that I responded or the messages that I sent. Lots of F words, mostly. I mean, I wish/ hope this person has someone in their life to explain just the level of horrendousness that he committed, today. And I hope that he’s able to hear it, too. But I’m not going to count on it. Some days I’m the person to reach out and teach a lesson. But not today. I’m not the one–even if he would have been able to hear it from me (which I’m sure that he would not).
The subject’s very fat body is not that different from my own very fat body. For the most part, in my life I have not had to encounter that much direct bullying about what I look like. I’ve worked very, very hard to make that the case, actually. All through school, I made a habit of befriending my bullies. They would call me names–the usuals: land whale, Libby Porker (a riff on my maiden name) was a popular one, Free Willy came out around that time so people loved to shout that at me.
Every time someone said something horrible to me, I’d feign the sweetest look on my face, pretend that I truly didn’t hear him and ask him to repeat what he’d said since I’m sure that it was so thoughtful and important. They never repeated it because I’d brought them face to face with thinking twice before they said something hurtful. It was a pretty clever move if I do say so.
Obliterate the sour with sweetness–this was my strategy. And it worked–but it only worked in that eventually they stopped. It didn’t work to teach them about themselves. It didn’t really work for me because I still, always and forever knew that I was an Other among them. They stopped bullying me but they never actually cared about me. I was never really welcome. And it put all the work on my shoulders. They didn’t have to actually learn how to treat people–it was my job to teach them how to behave around me. It was the price I was willing to pay for admission to a seemingly unbothered life. It was either that or getting beat up and mocked openly like so many others–so I think even now I probably would have chosen to pay my debt in emotional labor.
I did all I could to be acceptable and loved. In the 8th grade I read a book about a girl with an eating disorder and went home and tried for weeks to make myself throw up after dinner but I just couldn’t do it. When I was 17, my best friend sat me down on a lawn to tell me that she was bulimic and wanted help. I only felt jealousy–something for which I still feel ashamed.
So, because I’ve worked so hard to have a personality that hopefully makes up for the sin of being a fat person, I do forget sometimes that I’m not inherently welcome in this life. I’m never unaware of my size. It’s never not at the forefront of my mind but sometimes I am able to convince myself that maybe I’ve done the impossible and tricked other people into forgetting about it.
In the 9th grade, the older boy that I had a crush on asked me to dance with him at Homecoming and I felt like the most acceptable, normal girl in the room. Even though he molested me after driving me home–telling me that I was so lucky that anyone would want anything from me, I still can’t help but remember the dreamy way that dance made me feel. Because even at 33 years old and a lifetime of self-awareness and love under my belt, there’s still a tiny sliver of me that felt flattered that he picked me at all.
Fat jokes on TV or the internet don’t bother me. I’ve been blocking them out my whole life. They’re not funny–don’t get me wrong. They’re offensive to me but, like, on a comedic plane–because they’re not clever. If you’ve been hearing fat jokes since you were in kindergarten, someone comparing Chris Christie to a “beached whale” is not funny. You’ve heard this joke forty billion times. It’s not funny because it’s tired. There are so many horrible things about Chris Christie but his waistline is not one of them.
But when people I know, people I love, people that I’ve allowed into the same room as my soft, forgiving, unguarded body laugh at these jokes–that’s when I’m reminded.
When my friend comments that the waitress is cute enough but she only needs one chin–not two, that’s when I’m reminded.
When people that I have lived life with at some point or another laugh at or point out their disgust at the shape of someone else’s body–for a joke on Instagram, that’s when I’m reminded.
That I don’t belong here. That my body is not my own–it exists for someone else to either laugh at or fetishize. That I have done enough to keep them from saying anything directly to me, about me, but that they still don’t believe that my life matters in the grand scheme of this world. That me and people like me are disposable. That we are walking jokes. That we don’t have real lives. That, we cease to exist when you can’t see us anymore and we’re not real. I’m tired of fighting to be seen as a person.
You’d never admit that this is true because you don’t want to face the facts about the kind of person you are but when you laugh at our bodies, you are hating our humanity. This is who you are and I won’t let you get away with not facing that.
“Except for you, Libby. You’re an exception. We love you.” Well, look, I’ve done a lot of fucking work on your behalf to make people like you not hate people like me. But I haven’t even done a good enough job because the only fat person you don’t hate is me. And that’s not good enough. I can’t do it because it’s not my job. It was never my job–it was a coping mechanism leftover from grade school that, at thirty three years old, I’m still relying on. And I’m done.
I’m done being palatable. I’m done being sweet and kind and understanding and the right kind of fat person for you to feel comfortable around. I don’t have to carry this anymore. From now on, understanding that humans are humans is your own responsibility and there’s a lot of work that goes into that.
All the art in this piece is by Kristy Miliken, from this article.