Hello, My Name is Fat

How being shamed for being overweight warps self-esteem

Photo: David Marcu

As I settle into my 40s and come to understand my mortality more, I have started to account for all the time I’ve spent in my life worrying about my weight, particularly about how my weight makes me look through the eyes of men and how it affects my attractiveness to them. When I take a tally, it’s frightening how many unhealthy relationships, mean comments and other offenses I have let slide because of my own self-consciousness about my weight and general physical appearance.

I have spent a lot of time in my 42 years of life disliking and even hating my body. Sure, I have had periods of time when I almost liked it — when I’ve lost weight and felt better or gotten in shape for a while — but I have always hovered around the same weight, give or take 20 pounds.

No matter what my weight or age, men have always commented on my body and its attractiveness, relative to my weight. Whether I was riding my bike home when I was 13, waiting for the subway in Boston or laying in bed after sex, some men have seemed to claim dominion over my body by insulting me for my weight or insinuating that I’m less of a woman because I have curves. Here are some of the comments I’ve gotten over the years, some from strangers and some from romantic partners:

  • You’re just big boned
  • You’d be pretty if you lost some weight
  • Are you pregnant?
  • For your size
  • You have a pretty face, but…
  • You need to lose some weight
  • You need to cover your boobs (to be polite)
  • Cleavage is ‘dated’
  • Fat girls will do anything during sex
  • Have you always been fat?
  • You don’t look like you miss too many meals
  • Have you ever considered surgery to lose weight?

And yes, these were all real comments, most of them said to me personally, but a few a from a friend who’s had similar experiences. According to these guys, it doesn’t matter if women are smart, pretty, have nice skin, wear pretty clothes, are good people or workout — if you’re overweight, it trumps all that and makes you less of a human being. For most of my life, that’s how I felt and sometimes still feel because I’m a size 14/16 (which is the average size of American women).

Photo: Fabrizio Verrecchia

Case in point: I was waiting for a green line train in Boston one night a few years ago, sitting on a bench, and a guy sat down next to me. I can’t remember the details, but he hit on me. I’d had a long day and just didn’t have the energy to put up with him and so I stood up and walked away. That ticked him off, so he shouted “You’re not all that anyway!” as I walked away. His words made me feel embarrassed and angry, also drawing the attention of everyone on the subway platform.

If you’re thinking that only strangers say this stuff, think again. After having steamy fun sex in his backseat one day, I lay across my partner’s lap while he played with my hair. During our post coital talking, he said, “You know, you really need to lose some weight.” Yes, really. His words made me instantly sit up and cover myself with my shirt.

Why am I talking about this? Because

  1. some people don’t know this goes on
  2. I want the guys who are doing it to know they’re crappy people
  3. to let other women know that it’s not just them

You’re not the only one getting these ridiculously rude and often intentionally mean words thrown at you, ladies. In fact, you could be a size 2 and still get harassed or put down because your body doesn’t measure up to someone else’s idea of what a woman should look like.

I want to shine a light on how nasty and common these comments toward women really are and how they can ruin a woman’s self esteem over time. When you’re told over and over that you’re wrong, it can be hard to feel right. Trust me, I know. Though I certainly don’t take them to heart like I did when I was younger, they’re still jarring to hear today. When some random dude yells “How much” out the window as he and his friends drive by laughing, it still stings and can make me feel like crap.

Generally, though, as I have grown older, my responses to mean catcalls and idiotic men in my life have changed. I don’t hide or run away, literally or figuratively. I usually call out the guy with some choice words and tell him to stuff it. Maybe in the grand scheme of things my verbal response doesn’t change anything, but it does make me feel empowered to take back the body that is mine, that belongs to me in a public, vocal way. My body does not belong to the general public or some douchebags in a Chevy, and I don’t have to tolerate public discussion of how I look.

These days, I see the insults as a reflection of the person saying them, not a reflection of who I am in the world. Because all I am and can be is me, the body and spirit I have in the present moment. I can’t represent every woman, not all women, not the ideal woman nor the woman that I might one day become. I am not skinny, 23 or perfect. I am one woman alone, I am me. And that’s got to be enough.