My entire life, people have stared at me with a sense of contempt. They stared at me at sports events, whether I was dribbling a soccer ball down a field or sitting in the bleachers; they stared at me at theatrical performances and auditions, whether I was acting or sitting in the audience. They stared at me when I ate and when I walked. They stared at me when I was just 5 years old, and they still stare now that I’m 15.
They stare at me because I’m fat. They stare as if my body makes me some sort of alien.
I've been the chubby kid ever since I was in kindergarten and have been dealing with these attitudes since before I was old enough to add or subtract. My shape, size, and weight have been my personal cross to bear for as long as I can remember, and both my unfortunate genetic fate and my binge eating — due to depression, stress, and anxiety — have always held a tight reign over almost every aspect of my life. I’ve jumped from diet to diet, struggled to stay active, and have even taken medication. My mission to be thin has made me physically ill and constantly upset with myself. At some point, disappointment became second nature to me.
Although as a kid I was sometimes considered "cute chubby," reactions to my weight and size have changed completely as I've gotten older. Women in general tend to be bombarded by other people’s opinions of and unwanted comments about their bodies, and the particularly pointed stares and sideways glances thrown my way as I transition from girl to woman only contribute to my fear and anxiety as a fat person.
I've always felt different from others. Most people I know weren't sent to fat kid camp and diet classes at 9 years old. At 10, I began to dread going shopping, afraid to confront having to buy extra-large sizes, or even shop in the women’s section, while other girls my age could buy small and medium-sized kids' clothes. So many times, I was left paralyzed in the car in store parking lots; I even had nightmares set in shopping malls from which I awoke shaking and in tears. Even at 10 years old I knew that this feeling — that my body was a terrible secret that must somehow remain hidden — wasn’t normal. I felt like an outsider in my own skin.
Perhaps the most scarring experience happened when I was 12. I'd started dating my best friend, and I was feeling stable and happy. He knew about my struggles and insisted that he wasn't like the others who criticized and judged me based on my weight. But then, out of the blue, he broke up with me, and we stopped talking altogether. A month later, he confessed to my friend that he'd only dated me because he "felt bad" for me. As he put it: "Madi is just — well, she's fat and ugly."
I've never again felt the kind of devastation I did at that moment. People had judged me based on my size my entire life, but hearing it from my best friend really broke me. My friends and parents failed to realize how this instance of criticism was different. It hurt that my friend dumped me, but it hurt all the more because he had done exactly what he'd sworn he would never do. It made me feel uniquely horrible — as if there was something so terribly wrong with my body, and with me, that even my best friend would reject me.
It wasn’t until I joined my high school's theater club this year that I started to think about my body differently. Soon after joining, I met Julia, who is now one of my closest friends. She's also a fat girl, and someone with whom I’ve been able to discuss my pain. While my fear and anxiety about being fat has often seemed wildly irrational to me, she understands and sympathizes — she knows what it's like because she has experienced these things, too. Having someone validate my past pain has given me the greatest opportunity to cope with my body and my reality.
For years, my friends, family, trusted adults, and even my parents have told me that if I just lost some weight, if I could just be thin like other girls, I would be happy. But it never happened — that goal continually loomed over me, out of reach. I blamed myself for never being able to attain it, and this perceived failure always made being called "fat" an even harder blow to take.
But with time and the eventual support of my family and friends like Julia, I’ve been able to accept my body for what it is. I've come to realize that I have self-worth regardless of my size, and I now recognize that thinness is, and may always be, an unattainable standard for me.
Despite this shift, however, internalized fat-shaming makes true acceptance seem impossible to accomplish. I still struggle, and I know that my journey to reach that coveted level of complete body positivity, of becoming a fully healthy and happy version of myself, will take some time. What’s more, people will undoubtedly continue to comment on my body and call me fat as if it’s some sort of sin.
But whenever they do, I will tell them — and myself — that yes, I’m fat, but that's nothing more than an accurate description of my body: It reflects my appearance, and nothing more. So many people (including me) have been conditioned to think that the word "fat" carries an unholy connotation, reflecting something about who a person fundamentally is. But the truth is that it doesn’t. And I have bigger problems to worry about than people using my body to distract themselves from what is probably their discomfort with their own.
I hope that some day soon, the connotation of grotesqueness that lingers around the word "fat" will cease. Maybe then, future generations of girls and boys won’t face the struggles that I did growing up. Maybe then, people will live in a world where beauty isn't — figuratively or literally — so hard to fit into.
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