What It Means To Be The Fat Girl

There is no fairy godmother of fat girls. But there should be. I would volunteer, just so no other 12-year-old girl would have to spend 30 years of her life thinking something was wrong with her.

My entire life, my weight has been an issue. Not for me, but for other people. Especially men. I don’t know when I would have first been considered overweight according to a BMI chart, but I do know I thought I was fat long before I actually was by any medical standard.

As a child, my identity was linked to my weight so many times that I absorbed the messages I received and assumed that not only was I fat, but that being fat was a terrible thing that would ruin my life.

Memory: My father standing in bedroom doorway saying, “You’ll never get a husband if you don’t lose weight.” I was 12 years old and had no interest in boys or marriage, I just liked the new dress I had gotten.

Memory: My acting coach saying, “You need to lose 40 pounds if you want to be the lead.” I was 14 years old, wore a size 9 jeans and had no interest in being an actress. I was taking a summer theater class to overcome my shyness. It was just for fun.

Memory: My boyfriend saying, “I think you’d be even prettier if you lost some weight. Would you do that for me?” I was 22 years old, we had been dating for less than six months and I never once asked him to change anything for me because I believed love meant acceptance.

And so it went. The memories are as crisp and fresh and sour as the grapefruits I forced myself to consume for breakfast, lunch, and sometimes dinner when I was a teenager, convinced my weight was the cause of all my problems. But my problems were not self-inflicted, they were external: Being judged by my size by people, most often men, who thought the package should be thin. And that’s all it was—a package. It took me a long time to realize my problem was not my weight, it was believing my weight was a problem.

At age 29, I went to the doctor concerned about a sudden weight gain. Over the course of a summer, as active as any summer previous, I had gained nearly 30 pounds. I was convinced there was a medical reason.

The doctor, however, did nothing more than look at my chart, tell me my blood pressure was good despite the weight gain and warn, “But it won’t stay that way if you don’t commit to diet and exercise to take off the weight.” I nodded, as much at a loss for words as the day my father told me I’d never get a husband unless I lost weight. What could I, the fat girl, say? I’d been overweight before I gained the weight and I was even heavier now. I walked out, intent on starving myself thin.

When my weight didn’t budge and I gained another few pounds despite my efforts, I saw a second doctor who noted that my blood pressure was higher. He prescribed medication for hypertension and I left in tears. I was fat and now I had high blood pressure. And it was all my fault.

Months later, I saw a third doctor, a lovely woman from Algeria who asked me if anyone had tested my thyroid function. Neither of the previous doctors had run any tests, but she did and I turned out to have hypothyroidism, which had gone undiagnosed for over a year. Once regulated, I lost most of the weight I had gained within another year. She was also the one to suggest that my hypertension might be caused by the birth control pill I was taking. I went off that pill and my blood pressure came down on its own, allowing me to stop taking hypertension medication.

Two medical conditions, two times doctors blamed me instead of seeking an underlying medical cause.

I have learned to be my own advocate, in the doctor’s office and out. I have learned to accept that this—this—is my body, and it’s a damn good body that has accomplished many amazing things, including giving birth to two babies in my 40s. This body was also good enough for a very fine and handsome man to choose to marry me 25 years ago, a man who is not the alcoholic or philanderer my father was, a man who would never suggest my beauty is tied to a number on a scale like that earlier boyfriend did. This body may never have been the body of an actress, but it is the body of a storyteller, a body of a woman who has followed her one and only dream of being a writer, while that acting coach never made it big in Hollywood despite his very trim body.

I have had success in all areas of my life in spite of my body. In spite of. I add this caveat not because I believe there is anything wrong with my body, but because so many people, so many men, have sized it up and found it lacking, have dismissed me as unattractive or unworthy, who have measured me against the bodies of supermodels and airbrushed advertisements or skinny girls on the street and have determined it’s not good enough, I’m not good enough. And for far too many years, I allowed that to be a part of my truth—that I needed to work harder for love, for acceptance, for success, because my body wasn’t good enough.

They did me a favor, those men. They made me tougher, stronger. More resilient. I know my worth, I know who I am. But not much has changed since that 12-year-old girl saw her father standing in her bedroom doorway. Somewhere, in another bedroom, there is a 12-year-old girl dancing around her bedroom in a new aqua blue dress, feeling pretty until she sees her father standing there watching her with a look that is a cross between amusement and pity. If I could, I would step between them before he utters the words that will be the first, but not the last, that will destroy her self-worth. I would put my hands on her shoulders and say fiercely, “You are perfect. You are glorious. You are more than he will ever be and he knows it, so he will try to tear you down in the only way he can. Don’t let him. Don’t let any of them break you.”

There is no fairy godmother of fat girls. But there should be. I would volunteer, just so no other 12-year-old girl would have to spend 30 years of her life thinking something was wrong with her.

Kristina Wright is a full-time freelance writer and a blogger for Mom.me. She has also written for the Washington PostMommyishNarratively, Cosmopolitan and others. She lives in Virginia with her husband and their two young sons. You can connect with her on Facebook and Twitter

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