The first thing you will notice about me is my belly — too large for simple bloating, too low for pregnancy. You will notice the rolls in my arms and back; the sway of my spine; the comparative thinness of my legs. You will notice my rounded cheeks and the pillow of fat beneath my chin.

You will notice my clothing: a low neckline that seems to offer an apology for the sum of me. You will notice the way it billows and bunches, its poor fit and cheap construction plainly commenting on the body beneath it. You will notice my makeup, the chiaroscuro I have brought to my face, while the rest of me is so unaided. You may wonder, with hope, pity, or disgust, if any man has ever found me attractive. You will still quietly believe that to be impossible.

You will notice that I am the fattest person you have seen all day. You will wonder when I let myself go, how I permitted the slow-motion tragedy of my body to take place. You will be filled, in turn, with sadness and anger that I have allowed myself to fall so far from the thin body that undoubtedly preceded this one.

You will notice your shoulders relaxing, the tension so long calcified in your muscles suddenly releasing. A wave of gratitude will wash through you — at least I don’t look like her — and when it washes away, you’ll be left in the shallow waters of your quiet disgust for my body.

Your pity will move you to try to help find some escape from the body you’re certain has trapped me. You will think of what caused you to lose weight: the diets and “lifestyle changes” that led to friends’ shrinking frames. The family member who got gastric bypass surgery. You will think of horror stories, too: the coworker who became diabetic. The woman you once saw in a motorized wheelchair — you were certain that her size preceded her disability. The faceless, silent fat people on the news, filmed milling about on city streets, unaware that they were being watched, then played while news anchors narrated their certain deaths.

You will gaze at my clothing, looking for where the fattest parts of me are plainly exposed. You will wish quietly to yourself that I was dressed differently: longer sleeves, darker colors, more camouflage than clothing. You will wonder if there is a good-faith way to offer style advice to a stranger. If she just knew how she looked, she’d wear something else. You might wish that I hadn’t left the house at all.

You will feel compelled to tell me all of this, to offer a life preserver from the ocean of a body that you are certain is swallowing me whole. You will see me as your fat picture of Dorian Gray, a portrait of failure and desperation that must be hidden from view. You can help, and you know it. After all, what kind of person would turn their back on another so clearly in need?


The first thing I will notice about you is the look in your eyes. I will look for the usual expressions: eyes soft with pity, wide with curiosity, or sharp with anger, curdled with acidic irritation at having to lay eyes on me at all. Any warmth in your eyes will come as a surprise; an unencumbered smile is out of the question.

I will tug at my sleeves and the hem of my shirt, pulling them down to avoid any exposure of a body that may enrage you, may provoke you to some violent action. Not everyone reacts so dramatically, but enough strangers have loosed their anger that I have learned to cover myself for my own safety. I will think myself naive for daring to wear something so fitted, so bright, so low-cut, so declarative in a body that seems to provoke so many.

I will listen for the sharp intake of breath before you speak to me, offering the advice I have never sought but long since tried. If you speak to me, you will tell me about clothing, food, exercise, or diets. You may speak sharply, thinking that you have provided some unique kind of “tough love” no one else had the guts to offer. Or you may speak softly, convincing yourself that your judgments are a service to me. I will steel myself for this Sisyphean task, bearing a barren load of strangers’ mandates yet again.

I will notice whether you are alone, or if you are with others. I will scan their faces, listen acutely, as I have with you. I will notice whether their expressions mirror yours, and whether their muscles tense, like so many dogs readying to bare their teeth.

I will search for your hands, looking for a cell phone or a camera, muscles tensed and stomach turned at the thought of being photographed or recorded yet again. The memes you will make of my body will flash through my mind. I may be your fat man dancing or your dear fat people. I will keep my eyes trained sidelong on your fingertips, should you reach for a device. I will look for the nearest door or hallway to duck into. I will find my quickest escape.

I will walk swiftly past you, leaving a wide berth to preempt any complaints about the space my body occupies. I will do whatever I can to pass you without event: cast my eyes down, put in my headphones, feign a phone call, duck into a restroom until you pass. My breath will quicken and shallow. My muscles will stay taut and my stomach knotted long after you are gone. I will find my way back home as quick as I can, to someplace solitary and shielded from such prying, pitying eyes.

I will not wonder what you think — that is a given — but I fear what you will do.