What We Talk About When We Talk About “Fat”

I talked about being called fat. Here’s what happened next.

Over the past seven days, my essay “Why Am I So Fat?” has gone viral. It has in fact put up classic-tuba-player-pratfall-in-front-of-a-crowd-at-a-Boston-College-game-in-1984 YouTube clip type of numbers. At press time, it has reached 580,000 views in seven days. By the way, there are a lot of Hail Flutie clips if you’re looking, which I was this morning because I love unbridled Irish Catholic joy (it’s so rare!) This explains a lot about my feelings for VP Joe Biden. When I wrote a response to a “fan” in the course of 10 minutes the other night, I never thought it would touch so many people’s hearts. I just wanted to show in a funny and meaningful way how some men sometimes speak to women online. And people responded: my Facebook page now has over 2,000 more likes. My short film, The Focus Group, went from 40K views to 113K views and counting.

It’s got partial nudity and it’s 9 minutes long just FYI. Directed by Heather Fink.

Sales of all five of my books have shot up incredibly. I’ve been out since last week pitching a TV show based on my book, Great, and I’ve found myself having the most unexpectedly wonderful conversations with Hollywood folks about, of all things, body image.

Imagine that.

You know, being called fat isn’t inherently a bad thing in my mind. I know the folks who use it when talking to me typically use it as a weapon. But many women and men claim it with pride. What if I just say, “Okay”? What if I just accept that that’s the way some people talk about my body? Fat doesn’t mean ugly. Fat doesn’t mean unhealthy. Fat doesn’t mean unworthy. I don’t think of myself as fat, but I don’t not think of myself as fat. I’m just me. I have this body and I’m in it. I’m glad about that. What bothered me about how the man asked me about gaining weight was that he didn’t do it because he cared. He didn’t do it in a nice way. He was just being a fucking dick. So I wrote back.

Inevitably, further questions have come up from folks on Twitter and Facebook, and more. I’ve answered some of these questions via interviews with Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy of Yahoo! and an interview with Almie Rose of ATTN. But it’s always fun to have an adjunctive text to help one understand the source material.

Now on to this Talmudic text I’ve composed. To sum up: I’m happy to be me and I want you to be happy to be you. The rest is just commentary.

Why would you write this? You’re not even fat!

Okay.

Why would you write this? You’re so fucking fat!

Okay.

Why would you write this? You just look normal to me.

Okay.

Hey, maybe you’re not skinny, but I’d fuckin’ fuck you.

Where do I sign up to be your very grateful bride? Please, let me pay for the ring myself.

How much do you weigh? I need to know so that I can decide for myself if you fit whatever category I have determined is the category of human permitted to pen such an essay or to exist on the planet.

I weight 5 pounds six ounces.

I think you are brave.

I think I am honest, at least to an extent. I do not think I am brave, at least not in the context of my writing here, but I am happy that you do. I am very pretty, so photographs like these do not in and of themselves make me brave. They make me vain, perhaps. Confident. Call it what you will. “Brave” is one of the nicer terms.

I think that our young people who stand up against racism and sexism and class warfare are brave. To that end, let’s celebrate Black Lives Matter. They are doing vital, important, lifesaving stuff in this world. I think that people who relentlessly work for better mental healthcare in the United States and abroad are brave. To that end, let’s celebrate Project UROK. They are doing the work.

However, as your archetypal drunk stepmother, I am at least cute. (I am neither drunk nor a stepmother.)

Somebody said a mean thing about you and I totally don’t agree with it so here, let me show it to you.

Fuck off. Your underminer is showing and it looks like shit. Get away from me.

What do you think about the response to this essay?

There is no one response. There are well over half a million individual responses in the well over half a million people who’ve read it. Some of them have written about their responses. Some have not. I think the reaction is diverse and complex and varied depending on who reads it. And I’m honored that so many would take the time to read it. My body is a canvas onto which others project their own thoughts and opinions. So are my words.

I am not alone. Ask any woman who walks into a room full of dudes she doesn’t know. Or dudes she does know. Ask any woman who walks down the street. People say a lot. People think a lot. People do a lot. Some of it’s good stuff. A lot of it is not.

Here is one beautiful essay (which is really just her very own story) by Eden Dranger. I highlight hers specifically because it ain’t just about being called fat, friends. People project their shit onto women’s bodies regardless of size. And they do not think about the trauma, the fear, the illness, and the pain that goes into making a body. Or unmaking one.

Hello. I’m a stranger who wants you to know that you are beautiful.

That is so kind of you! I completely agree. I knew this going into writing my essay and I am glad that you are aware of my beauty. You also are beautiful. I hope you know this. I don’t mean that you and I are the conventional type of beautiful that gets sold in magazines, although maybe we are. I mean that we are beautiful as humans in our complete selves even if we never win a pageant. It’s cool that you took the time to write, sincerely.

What is your dress size?

My dress size runs from 12 to 16 and L to XXL. I tell you this not because I want you to compare yourself to me but because while I’m doing well for myself I am not actually rich and would like a 10 to 15 percent discount coupon from various clothing labels and I hope they are reading this essay. Specifically I would like mildly discounted clothing from Seven7 by Melissa McCarthy, Torrid, Gwynnie Bee and Matrushka. Who, by the way, did the gorgeous dress I wore in the photos used in my original essay.

The dresses are designed and manufactured by Laura Howe right here in Los Angeles, CA. And the motto is “Size is Relative.” So when I go to Matrushka, I’m not looking for a size 12 to 16 because I won’t find it. I just find whatever fits, and if they don’t have it, they’ll make it to measure. True story.

The truth is I’m gonna shop at all these places anyway. But Mama loves a bargain.

Oh and the photos are by Iconic Pinups. The sexy sexy photos I mean. Tell them I sent you.

How big are your boobs?

I am a 36G (also my dick size) and I shop at Jenette Bras: “The alphabet starts at D!” Jenette Goldstein owns it. They don’t do e-commerce and there are three stores in Los Angeles. My back hurts all the time. When I have more money I’m going to start going to a chiropractor and Pilates.

Why did you respond to this guy? What a waste of time.

I hear you. Trust me, I don’t usually respond to stuff like this. I get emails and DMs and PMs and carrier pigeon letters all the time telling me I’m gorgeous, I’m fuckable, I’m ugly, I’m unfuckable, I’m funny, I’m unfunny, I’m racist, I’m woke as fuck, I’m stupid, I’m smart, I should be raped in an alley, I’m unrapeable (as if there were some qualifying standard for being assaulted by a power-hungry monster), I’m a brilliant feminist, I’m one of the good ones, I’m one of the shitty ones, I’m [fill in the blank racial epithet], I’m a Jew bitch, etc.

BTW, I’m not a Jew but I love their work! Great stuff, these people. (I am most assuredly a bitch.) But on the Jewish tip, I am tragically only 2% Ashkenazi according to 23andMe.com and I’m terribly sorry but I guess it counts because it’s through my mother’s mother’s mother? Let’s ask a rabbi. I would specifically like to ask Rabbi Raquel from Transparent but that’s because I think Kathryn Hahn is in the top three greatest working comedic actresses today. I’ve been meaning to convert for years, in all sincerity, but Jews won’t just wave a wand and say, “Poof! You’re us now!” They make you work for it, because it’s worth something.

Anyway, I’m vastly more Irish, Arab and specifically Druze just like this acclaimed human rights lawyer right here.

Can you not see the very obvious resemblance? Like twins, we are!

I’m also Spanish, Basque, and Italian, but it all adds up to white privilege in my case and that’s vastly more significant in all its problems than my actual genetic history.

People have also mentioned that they think I’m a rich kid. I’m 35 so not a kid but my mother and father do make a very nice living now — Mom grew up on food stamps with a single mother and was the first in her family to go to college and she got a master’s degree! Dad went to night school to get his MBA and has an LGBTQ rainbow sticker up in his office to show people it’s a safe space to talk. Cool, right? I’m very proud of them both!

I want to stop here to say that everything I get to be and do depends in large part on my parents, with whom I’ve had loving and complex relationships since I was straight out the womb (pronounced “WAHMBUH”). And I hope my dad doesn’t mind (I’d ask him, but he’s working his ass off in the hopes of being able to buy his future grandchildren Jets onesies, poor guy) but I want to share here something he sent me recently that made me weep openly in a Lyft.

If you want to know why I wrote wacky little Amazon bestseller Tim Kaine is Your Nice Dad, well, there’s your answer. I basically just wrote down shit I thought my actual dad would do and pretended it was about Tim Kaine. (BTW, 50% of proceeds are going to Great Expectations to help foster youth transition to community college and work in the Commonwealth of Virginia.)

Here are other things folks have said to me online recently: I don’t owe anybody any answers like the one I just gave, I owe everybody all of the answers, I’m a Hillary apologist (my badass President Grandma needs no apologies, kid), I should be more famous, I should be less famous, I look like I like to fuck, I look like I’d be terrible in bed, I’m not as [fill in the blank adjective] as Amy Schumer (please buy her new book “The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo,” which will make you laugh and break your heart all at once), and I should be on “Girls.”

Fun fact: I have actually been on “Girls,” sort of! There was an episode last season where Hannah flipped through her boyfriend Fran’s phone and found his nudies of his ex-girlfriends and GUESS WHO SHOWED UP?!?

I censored it because I don’t want you to get in trouble at work if you’re reading this on a giant computer screen.

I auditioned for this role by pulling a tit out and screaming into the wind for six seconds until King Joffrey from “Game of Thrones” did a cartwheel. This is how all auditions for all HBO shows go, did you know? King Joffrey is actually reallly nice in real life (also I obviously did not audition to do this. Lena just has this photo in her phone.)

Right now I feel so bad about myself because I am so big or so small and because of a lot of other reasons that are secret and dark and shameful and I want to kill myself. What do I do?

Hi. I’ve been there more times than I can count. I see you and I hear you. I know I’m just a collection of letters and images right now, but you wrote to me for a reason, and I believe that reason is that you want to be heard.

If you ever fear you will harm yourself or anyone else, call 911 and tell them you need help and you’re scared. If you don’t feel comfortable calling them, call a friend, family member, teacher, or neighbor who you trust. You can also try the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1–800–273-TALK). If you don’t want to talk out loud, try their chat feature. Sometimes it is hard to talk out loud about these things, especially if you are afraid that saying it out loud makes it more real. Or if you think you will cry and you are embarrassed to cry. It’s alright to cry (crying takes the sad out of you) but I get it.

One thing I can say is this passes. It does. The feelings, I mean. The thoughts. But sometimes we want to commit suicide not just because we are so sad but because we’re just afraid these thoughts will never stop. It’s a panic reaction. I think a lot of people don’t get this. Thank goodness! It’s because they’ve never been there. But I’ve been there. And I understand.

The thoughts pass more quickly if there is an intervention, sometimes in the form of appropriate medication. Also, if you end up in the ER as I did many years ago, it helps to have an advocate there for you. They probably will not let you use your cell phone once you’re back in the area where they evaluate you, so heads up on that.

I believe in you. I hope that you stick around. Two years ago last week, I was in a pretty bad spot myself. So I wrote this essay, which in some ways is a lot more important to me than the one about being called fat. I’m so glad I stuck around. I hope you do too, in whatever body you have, in whatever clothes you wear, in whatever shell you’re given this time around.

Circling back to Doug Flutie — they call it the Hail Flutie pass because he threw it. But I’ve long felt that it should be called the Gerard Phelan Catch or at least the Flutie-Phelan Extravaganza. Because you can hurl something into the ether with all your goddamn might and it doesn’t mean shit if nobody is there to receive it. So I’ve been walking around the past seven days full of gratitude to everybody who read this, passed it around, and wrote to me to share their private stories. I am enormously honored by these private notes and letters in particular, and they are not mine to share. But I see your pain, and your love, and it means a lot. Thank you for receiving my work, and me.

Update August 30, 2016: 12 days in and 630,000 views for the original essay, “Why Am I So Fat?” and I want to say thanks so much to everybody who has read it and shared it.Thanks today in particular to Shannon M. Houston of Paste Magazine: Freeing the Female Form: On Teyana Taylor, Sara Benincasa and the Burkini Ban