I know how difficult things have gotten — how cold and raw your days have become. And I have never loved you more than I do today.
Because I know where you are. The shame that melts through you when you see the jeans you bought, because they only had them a size too small, and your friend said that would just motivate you. Wanting to go to the gym, but feeling like you’ll have to run through a gauntlet of stares, snickers and side comments, and what would you even wear? Considering ordering that supplement from Dr. Oz that is clearly a hoax, but you’ve tried everything else.
Dressing impeccably every day for your own security. Laughing too loudly at jokes about fat people so no one mistakes you for one. Feeling anxious when you order food in public, because if you order pasta, everyone around you will think, how sad, of course, and if you order vegetables, everyone around you will think, but what a shame she let herself get that way. Forcing a smile when someone tells you that you “wear it well.” Wondering why you feel so deflated after compliments like that.
Convincing yourself that you’re fine, you don’t have to go to the doctor. Remembering how the nurse grimaces apologetically when she announces she’s going to have to weigh you, as if that didn’t happen every time. The familiar disappointment in the doctor who bypasses an examination and just tells you to lose weight.
The racing heart when you board an airplane. Making yourself as small as possible in the seat, breathing shallow and keeping your arms and legs crossed for all five hours. Spending your whole vacation praying that someone won’t complain about having to sit next to you on the flight back.
Crying in the car after a family gathering, when one family member brings up lap band surgery, and another asks if you shouldn’t just pass on the potatoes. The way the whole room gets silent after those comments. You’ve learned to break the tension. The moment passes. Later, you think about dying.
Consoling your thin friend, insisting, “you’re not fat!” while she cries about being a size 10 now, and pretty soon she’ll have to shop in plus size stores. Letting your partner talk shit about your body, because he’s got a point, right? And his reminders are going to help you finally get thin.
Quietly planning your days, weeks, life around avoiding these everyday situations that throw you into a tail spin. The heavy, humid smog of shame that settles into your life and lungs. The steady, puttering engine of anxiety. Breathing that tightens a little every day.
And then, one day, you wake up and think the unthinkable: you might just be fat. After all the money, time, worry, distraction, and shame of trying every program, pill, regimen and trainer under the sun, it might just not happen. You might not lose 10, 20, 50 pounds. This might just be the body you have.
The thought is terrifying. Because you have to let go of the dream of that body that just isn’t yours, and might never be. Because so many of your relationships, so much of your money, and so much of your time are tied up in trying desperately to lose weight, all of it, as quickly as you can. And if you’re not constantly chasing after a smaller body, who are you? And who would take you seriously?
It’s terrifying because all you’ve heard all your life is how awful it is to be fat. Fat is the moral to the story. It is the worst case scenario. Fat means being isolated, alone, lazy, weak-willed. It means being ugly and unloved. Fat means giving up. Fat means that the side comments and overt aggression from strangers, family, friends, doctors — all of that continues.
But you don’t deserve that treatment. No one does. You don’t deserve the well-intentioned bullying of family members who insist that they’re only acting out of concern for you. Your body doesn’t entitle partners to belittle and abuse you. Your weight doesn’t mean you deserve to be condescended to, shamed or ignored at the doctor’s office. Having a fat body doesn’t mean that anyone can treat you however they want.
And now, my darling, you can grieve. Get sad. Mourn the body you don’t have — not because it’s better, but because you’ve held onto the idea of it for so long. Cry for the cruel, insensitive things people have said to you. Get angry that the doctor wouldn’t run any tests because he said you just needed to lose weight, and then let your symptoms get so much worse. Laugh at the absurdity of thin people eating nachos while they lecture you about going to the gym.
Purge yourself of the terrible things people have said and done, the deep sadness that has weighed on you for so long, the anxiety and frustration and isolation. It doesn’t deserve your time.
Then feel the extraordinary lightness in your body. Feel the weight lift from your shoulders, feel your brow unfurrow, drink in a real, deep breath.
You are fat. And you can move on.
It can be hard to know who you are if you’re not always thinking and talking about losing weight. You might feel adrift. But that feeling is a precursor to the most divine liberation. It is the glimmer of fiery sky before the sunrise. It is a new day, and now the world is yours.
You can buy clothing that fits who you are. You can buy clothing that fits! Buy things that you want to wear: bright colors and cap sleeves and drop waists and short skirts. Break fashion rules. Experiment. Get bright. Get weird! Find out what your style is, beyond the endless rules set forth for you by people who hate their bodies as much as you used to hate yours.
You can find other fat people, or trans people, or people with disabilities, or intersex people, new friends who are also thinking dangerous thoughts. Who are realizing that shame doesn’t help them get happy, healthy or grounded. Who are nurturing the voice in the back of their head that says that person might not have a point. They might just be a jerk.
My grandmother used to say “just because someone throws you the ball doesn’t mean you have to catch it.” You can learn to drop the ball.
You can come out as fat. Tell your friends, your family, strangers at the grocery store, whoever you want. Practice saying it before anyone else can. Over time, it will come more naturally. Over time, their comments will hurt less, because you know your worth, and you know that it isn’t determined by simply having a fat body.
You can travel, learn to roller skate, buy a fucking bikini! Tell someone that you like them, that you want to date them or sleep with them. Start swimming laps at the Y, because you’re a great swimmer, and it makes you so happy. You can do what you want, because what other people say is on them. You know who you are, and part of who you are is fat. What else can they say?
You can advocate for yourself. Respond to the doctor who says that you wouldn’t have so many ear infections if you weren’t fat. Ask your aunt to stop talking about Jenny Craig. Tell that asshole at the bar that you wouldn’t fuck him, either. You can get what you need.
You can let go of the constant running. Let go of performing, internalizing, beating yourself up. Declare a ceasefire with your body. Somewhere down the line, you may learn to love it. You may even begin to believe me when I tell you how beautiful you are.
You can live your life. Do what makes you happy — really happy. Focus on your job or your family or yourself. Volunteer or get a new job or finally ask that cute neighbor out. You can realize just how resilient and strong you’ve become, and you can flex that muscle. Put it to work building a life you love.
It’s not easy. It will take time. Friends will still say shitty things. So will strangers. The world will still come at you. But you won’t come at you. You’ll be too busy building a life you love.
Welcome, my darling. Feel the sun on your skin. I’ve been waiting for you.
Like this piece? There are two more like it: A request from your fat friend: what I need when we talk about bodies and From your fat friend: let’s talk about fatphobia.