The last day I saw you, you drove up in a new car.
When you arrived at our one-on-one happy hour, I asked about your new job, but you told me only about your salary. You were making six figures, nearly triple my salary, and were disappointed not to be making more.
“Jason told me I should be making at least $200,000, but we didn’t get there. Not quite.” You took a long sip of your drink. “You should be up there by now. I mean, you’re worth at least that much,” you said.
I looked at you blankly. You knew my line of work, knew what my salary had been two years earlier when we worked together. “Not quite,” I echoed.
“Why not? You’ve got five years on me — you should probably be closer to 250, to be honest.”
My stomach twisted on itself, soured by the familiar nausea of being told I ought to have a life that was categorically out of reach. It was the sharp sickness of choosing between convincing a smaller person that we live in different worlds or quietly agreeing to the premise that we are somehow received as equals.
I wanted to tell you that only 15% of managers would even consider hiring a fat person. I wanted to tell you that fat people make thousands less than thin people each year. I wanted you to feel that nausea, to tell you that this is how I felt when I thought about trying to find a new job as an undeniably fat woman.
You sighed and said, “I guess I don’t divide the world up that way.”
You brightened. “They gave me a great deal — I couldn’t believe how much they brought the price down. You should go get one! You’re due for an upgrade. I can give you the name of the guy I worked with.”
“I suspect that was just for you,” I offered and immediately regretted it.
“I don’t get any special treatment,” you said sharply. “He really was just a nice guy. He’d totally give you the same deal.”
“I don’t think he would.”
“Why can’t you just accept something nice?” you asked. “Why is it so hard for you to believe that someone might just help you out?”
Suddenly, my hot mouth overflowed. I told you that I wouldn’t get the same deal — fat people rarely do. I told you that the last time we’d gone to the buffet near our old office, I’d eaten half as much as you but been charged double. I told you that when you were surprised with a major raise during your last review, I’d been denied even a cost of living adjustment. I told you that even if you didn’t want special treatment, your size and your looks invited you into a different world — one that mine wouldn’t allow me to enter.
As I spoke, you punctuated my statements with sharp intakes of breath, perpetually ready to refute my take, ready to push past the differences in our experiences. As I continued, your eyes sharpened. When I finished, you sighed and said, “I guess I don’t divide the world up that way.”
That was the last time I saw you.
There are so many things I could’ve done differently. I could have asked you more questions, drawn you out. I could’ve used more neutral language, chosen my words more carefully. I could’ve talked to you about what it was like to live as a fat woman earlier in our friendship.
In the years since that evening, I find myself thinking of you. You, in your burgeoning career. You, sharp mind and keen heart. You, all empathy and kindness. You, slipping away from me every time we talked about our bodies. You, far away and getting farther. You, staring at my shrinking reflection in your rearview mirror.
Your thinness took your ability to believe me and people who look like me. It stole away with your ability to identify and believe the bias we face.
I wonder what you make of that moment now and what you make of me. I wonder if you think of that evening at all. I wonder if you revise your words the way I revise mine, editing that night until we come to another ending.
But there was never another ending. There couldn’t have been.
There was so much I wanted to tell you then. But as I’ve reflected on our time together, all of those things are underpinned by one sad truth: Your thinness has taken so much from you.
Your thinness took your ability to believe me and people who look like me. It stole away with your ability to identify and believe the bias we face — the bias that lives in those around you. It took the fullness of the world around you, reduced it only to those who look like you, quietly and passively erasing the rest of us.
Your thinness pulled you away from your values, too. As long as I had known you, the work closest to your heart focused on justice and equity. Your pilot light burned bright, fueled by the fundamental wrongness of so much oppression in the world around you. But when it came to fat experiences, you dedicated yourself to upholding systems that lifted up thinness above all else. You worried aloud about “glorifying” obesity, as if acknowledging my body was somehow a danger, somehow weaponized. You left behind your nuanced understanding of representation: that for many of us, seeing our stories for the first time is like breathing in our first breaths. You forgot the ways that invisibility feeds stigma and that stigma destroys relationships like ours.
You lived comfortably near the top of a hierarchy, and all the while, your thinness whispered that that hierarchy was borne of nature, health, evolution, attraction.
Over time, that world seduced you into defending institutions and practices that harmed you, too. Suddenly, cramped airline seats were simply a matter of the bottom line, and even though you hated sitting in those seats and hated capitalism even more, you found yourself meeting fat people with arguments about profit margins. You were a lifelong feminist, railing against impossibly narrow beauty standards, but the sight of fat bodies in ad campaigns and on magazine covers found you suddenly wringing your hands about the outcomes you always said you wanted. And despite your deep commitment to economic justice, when you heard about fat people on food stamps, you were suddenly an expert on how to buy healthy food using the EBT card you never had.
The siren song of your thinness pulled you away from seeing and believing the experiences of fat people all around you. It drew you away from the values you cherish, the people you love. Your thinness promised you the world, and it delivered.
There is a world beyond this.
There is a world in which we are still close, still struggling to understand one another. There is a world in which you heard me and the other fat people in your life, staying in conversations that challenged what you believe about yourself and about people with bodies like mine.
In that world, we work together for outcomes that serve both of us: more comfortable airline seats, more clothing options for all sizes, more standardized sizing, and more affordable clothing made by fairly compensated workers. More accurate, precise health and nutrition information that doesn’t just rely on weight as our lone health indicator. More accessible spaces for people with disabilities, pregnant people, people of all sizes.
In that world, I can see you: thin, beautiful, and wounded by a world that fed you nightmares of my body so long that you couldn’t see me as anything but a boogeyman. And in that world, you can see me: fat, beautiful, and wounded by a world that made me a monster just because of my body. In that world, we see each other, we hold our differences tenderly, and we love each other nonetheless.
I hope to see you in the next world. I hope to see both of us there.