The Truth About Growing Up Fat
The kids who get their first wings broken by the mean girls and boys of grade school―end up being the kind of people you want to grab a beer with after work.
It sucks to grow up fat, but it will make you stronger. Being the fat kid definitely builds character. Even if I could, I wouldn’t go back and choose a svelte frame, wouldn’t forego the “thunder thighs.” I wouldn’t change a thing.
So much of growing up fat made me who I am.
Fat Kids Get Called Names
In middle school I was called “Free Willy.” It was the mid-90s after all, when that famous whale graced the big screen. I was full-on bullied because of the size of my body. There were three boys in particular who railed on me day after day. But I was lucky — I was only bullied for about two years.
Tears in the Looking Glass
I used to look in the mirror and cry, wishing I was beautiful. Perhaps those cruel boys didn’t know that their words were destroying a part of me, or perhaps that was the malicious intent of twelve year olds.
I don’t have words for how painful it was to be in a place so dark. I was drowning under the weight of excess flesh and my own self-hatred.
Now I can barely imagine being filled with so much self-loathing. Just thinking about it makes me want to go back and hold that girl’s tear-streaked face in my hands and promise her two things: that she is beautiful — because beauty is so much more than a tiny waist — and that “being beautiful” isn’t even close to the breathtaking things that are actually important in Life.
The Fat Kid Misses Out On the Fun
The fat kid learns how to stand aside, how to make their stout frame fade into the corner. As the fat girl I said “no” to fun things I wanted to do because I was afraid, embarrassed, ashamed.
I missed out on things I wanted to do because of my weight. At summer camp I looked up in awe at the ropes course. Can I do that? My heart skipped a beat screaming YES! But my mind… I worried if the harness would fit around my plump body. The idea of the belayer catching me and feeling my weight versus the waif girls was too horrifying to bear.
Sometimes my body would crave movement, but I wouldn’t run because I feared people would stare and scoff at the fat girl trying desperately to maintain a quick waddle down the street. Instead I would stuff that feeling down with three pieces of baklava.
The mere thought of putting on a bathing suit in public caused profuse sweating and near-panic. The water park was out because they wouldn’t allow any cover-up clothing on the slides. Of course I would have sooner died than attend a pool party.
The Horrors of the Locker Room
Does any tween feel comfortable enough in their own skin to be okay with changing in front of their peers? That daily fate is nothing short of cruel and unusual punishment.
Changing in the gym locker room was literally one of the worst parts of every school day. I fumbled through changing from one over-sized t-shirt into another. Trying to be quick, trying to keep as much of my body covered as possible. Trying to keep my eyes — and shame — as averted as possible.
The Fat Kid Can’t Find Clothes that Fit
Let’s be honest: everything rides-up when your thighs rub together. Forget wearing shorts, even in 100'ish-degree July heat dripping with Michigan humidity — because shorts would ride up as I walked.
Every ten steps or so I would have to pull down the full-frontal wedgie. I assure you this cannot be done discretely. Why not just wear a skirt, you wonder? Because chafing. The choices were the indignity of the ride-up, open wounds, or jeans in July.
Food is a Source of Shame… and Comfort
The emotional wreckage of growing up fat knew no bounds. Food was both my friend and my foe.
As an adult I’m equipped to understand such a dichotomy, but as a child it was confusing. I could find no better solace than in a bowl of cake batter, and yet it’s ooey-gooey-goodness also evoked feelings of deep shame.
Fat Kids Get Funny
This is a grossly oversimplified view of people―but often the overweight kid, the girl with the greasy t-zone and pimples, the boy with the knockoff kicks, the kids who are made fun of, the somewhat rejected, the kids who get their first wings broken by the mean girls and boys of grade school―often those kids end up being really awesome people.
We all have something to offer the world, or rather, a combination of somethings. The short (and incomplete) list is beauty, brains, and humor. I was the girl who viewed herself as fat and unattractive. I (thought) I couldn’t offer the world beauty, so through my developmental years I focused on humor and brains. Witty banter and wisecracks became my go-to. At times hiding behind humor, at times displaying a genuine joie de vivre: it worked. Free Willy fell away.
Often, the misfits become the people you want to grab a beer with after work.
Grateful I Grew Up Fat
I went through a lot growing up fat. And I learned so much from that experience.
It is an absolute cliché to say that “looks aren’t everything” — but I truly know they aren’t. Certainly I appreciate washboard abs and Abercrombie-worthy jawlines, but I will always choose the smart, funny guy who cares about the environment irrespective of his waistline or jawline. I will always choose the good man, the one who will watch Dirty Dancing with me for the sixty-seventh time, the one who will love my cats, irrespective of his tanline or hairline.
By high school I developed some disordered eating habits. I learned how to say “no” to food instead of no to fun, though the fear, embarrassment, and shame lingered.
My body slimmed, I grew into my nose. Those three cruel boys who years prior called me Free Willy actually tried to hit on me — to no fu*cking avail.
Hey you, I remember what a disgusting human being you are. Even today, over twenty years later, I can “like” their Facebook posts about their new job or kids’ achievement, but the wounded child in me still thinks you’re shady.
Beyond The Looking Glass
Today I will be first in line for the ropes course. I whip off my sweaty clothes in the locker room without a second thought to my thighs.
My body isn’t perfect, and I don’t care. I’m strong. I’m athletic. On a whim at 28 I decided to try a figure skating class. Now I boldly step onto competition ice as an adult figure skater. The girl with the tear-streaked face would not have been brave enough to put herself out there. So I step forward for her, brazen and beautiful in ways that have nothing to do with my appearance.
I’d like to extend a choice finger to those cruel boys and their brethren across the ages. With the other hand, I’d like to raise a glass to the kindred spirits who have endured fat shaming. I raise a toast to you who have yanked down a full-frontal wedgie, who have learned to give zero fucks in the locker room, who have become awesome people in the face of adversity.