The first time I remember being called fat was in kindergarten. I was out by the jungle gym during recess, and I saw some friends sitting on top of the monkey bars. When I asked if I could play with them, one of the girls looked me in the eyes and responded, “No, you’re too fat to play with us.” She said it with a shrug and a smirk, smugly, as if she were bragging about what she got for Christmas. I got a Barbie Dream House, and you’re just fat.
I can still smell the wood chips and fresh-cut grass, see the red jungle gym, and feel my small, chubby fists clenching as if this had all happened yesterday and not over a decade ago. What happened to me that day hurt and affected me in a way that many people don’t really understand. Except, of course, people who’ve been through it themselves — people like Alicia Machado, who was publicly chastised by none other than presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Donald Trump is doing to Alicia Machado now what he’s done to other women for decades, and what others have done to me my entire life: berating and demeaning someone simply because of their appearance. He allegedly called Alicia Machado “Miss Piggy.” He’s called plenty of other women women pigs, slobs, and dogs, and has equated them to animals in regard to their sizes.
Just this past week, we learned that calling women fat isn’t even the full extent of his horrifyingly sexist behavior. The Washington Post revealed that in 2005, Trump was caught on tape condoning sexual assault and explicitly describing women as objects that he can grab, abuse, and control because of his status as a so-called “star.” When challenged on this subject in the debate on Sunday night, Trump responded, “It’s just words.”
Despite what Trump thinks, no word is just a word; nearly every little thing we say has an impact beyond our control. The fact that our words have deeply significant meanings and repercussions is the precise reason why I write, but also the reason why I hurt.
A few years after kindergarten, I joined the Girl Scouts. While I genuinely enjoyed most of the experience, one instance in particular will stick with me forever. At a troop meeting, my troop leader decided to discuss healthy eating — specifically calorie counts and portion sizes. In the middle of her lesson, she stopped behind my seat and gently put her hands on my shoulders. Looking around the room, she said, “Taylor is a bit bigger than normal girls.”
My face turned beet-red and my hands got clammy. I looked down at the table, afraid to face my friends. I was ashamed that an adult whom I was supposed to obey and respect had just told everyone I wasn’t like them.
Later, I excused myself to the bathroom, locked myself inside, and cried and cried and cried, my face resting against the cool porcelain. My heart was defeated, my self-esteem was crushed, and my brain had been rewired to believe I wasn’t normal.
This is what Donald Trump doesn’t understand.
When I turn on the news, I feel like a kid again. I see a candidate who is the mirror image of every person who’s ever made me hate myself because of my body, every bully who sent me home crying in middle school. I see this, and I hurt. It is physically painful for me to listen to him talk to women the way he does. I feel it so deep in my bones because I know the type of burning embarrassment and shame these women feel when he so ruthlessly degrades them.
Sometimes I watch Trump speak about women this way and feel like shoving my face into a pillow and screaming at the top of my lungs. Other times, I just want to cry — not only for myself, but also for Alicia Machado and all the little girls who turn on their TVs and see a man who could be their president tell them they are not good enough because they are fat. These are girls with tear-stained cheeks. They climb on jungle gyms and are told they can’t play with other kids because they’re “too fat.” They walk the hallways at school and are afraid to talk about their crushes or wear certain clothes because they don’t want to be ridiculed. They are smart and strong and kind and thoughtful and so much more than their bodies.
Thirteen years after the first time I was called fat, I’m just now starting to realize this. My weight does not define me. I’m a woman, a writer, a sister, a friend, and a student.
Also, perhaps most notably for Mr. Trump, I’m a registered voter. I, like many women in this election, will use my voice and especially my ballot to stand up for the girls and women who have had their worth demeaned by someone who simply doesn’t like their physical appearance. I will not excuse the destructive, damaging, and truly deplorable behavior of a candidate who couldn’t care less how he makes women feel.
If our nation can collectively learn one thing from this election, I hope it’s that respect and basic human decency should be the top characteristics we look for — not just in our presidents, but in all people.
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