Better to Be Big

Sometimes it’s better to be big. When I sit my stomach touches the lip of my desk, reassuring and tangible weight, a repository of all that I have. When I hike I feel strong and triumphant, an athlete, a giant, my large legs balling with muscle and carrying me miles through the woods without wearying.

Sometimes it’s better to be big. Before her lap band surgery my best friend cried in anticipation of loss. The fat made her feel safe. She could draw her legs up, pull her stomach over her vulva and protect herself. She grew that layer in self-defense, she says, after years of sexual abuse at the hands of her father and brother.

Sometimes it’s better to be big. I rarely feel dainty, useless or unsafe. I know it’s an illusion, but even in childhood I’ve never worried that someone could pick me up and carry me away without my consent.

I know the names and faces of all the men in my small town who like big women. They’ve dated my fellow fat friends. The ones who aren’t ashamed of their predilections appraise me with respect and healthy lust. They’re not the type of men who want to make a woman feel small. Sometimes I date them, and let them put their eager hands on the roll of my stomach. They squeeze it and shiver with delight.

Sometimes I wish I were a little bigger.

Sometimes it’s better to be big. I let him interrogate me, yell and determine what I could wear, but when my ex-husband tried to pin me to the floor I just shoved him off me and ran. If you’ve ever been frozen to the spot with a large beast running towards you, all hooves and flared nostrils, you know what that beast knows. Sometimes it’s better to be big, to be able to lunge and buck and shuck off constraints.

Sometimes it’s better to be big, especially now. When I was a child the only clothes that fit were in the women’s section, ugly things with large flower prints and pleats designed to distract from the fact that my body did not fit, should not exist. Big women pulled out the scissors and sewing needles and made me a royal wardrobe that fits my queen-sized thighs.

Sometimes it’s better to be big, because when fat women tell the truth about things that make the world squirm, like rape and assault and inequality, trolls show their white underbellies. And when the best argument they can make is that being fat means you’re worthless, you’ve won.

Sometimes it’s better to be big, because you must construct a confidence to withstand insults that would crush a smaller woman. You lose thirty pounds and people take notice. You become a sexual being worthy of praise and ardor. You gain thirty pounds and you disappear, become a piece of furniture in the club, a thing to heckle in your short skirt or to take home in desperation then ignore after the final thrust and grunt.

Sometimes it’s better to be big, because becoming small is a constant aspiration, a goal just out of reach that will solve the problem of the things you don’t have or can’t ask for.

Or you decide that sometimes it’s better to be big, and you go big. You style your hair and learn to wear elaborate things, each rung of your queen-size stockings hung with care, the drape of your skirt just so. You teach yourself to square your shoulders and look the world in the eye, because once you caught a glimpse of yourself cringing and realized that the only thing uglier than a fat woman pretending she was worth something was a fat woman pretending not to exist. And then at some point all the doing and pretending and careful make-up and well-tailored clothes coalesce and it comes true, the belief that you are worthy. You stop sniveling and stride. You guffaw and take pity on anyone who would tell you you have no right to be here and be big. Your body is the space you inhabit in the world, a planet of flesh and fingertips displacing atoms in the air to do the magic dance of gravity and carbon. You own a bigger space than some, and isn’t that wonderful?

But it can’t change everything, this confidence. It can’t change a Christmas party where an acquaintance goes for a hug in a dim room then pulls your fingers towards his crotch, whispering that he doesn’t have to ask Santa for what he wants. Then he’s across the room and smirking and you have no way of knowing whether what happened is what you think it was or a whisper of indignities past lighting the flight or flight mechanism in your brain. Your fingers where they brushed his fly burn. It’s better to be big, to slap the perverts with a mighty forearm when you have a chance, but they’re sneaky, and fast, and have a way of making you feel small. Not dainty in the way you once wished for, but small and crazy and uncertain. Your stride falters. Your shoulders slump. The magic fades. Sometimes it’s better to be big, but even big isn’t enough sometimes. After all, you’re still a woman.