For the majority of my life, I’ve been heavier than most of my peers. While I was a small-ish child, by third grade puberty had set in and I gained about 30-50 pounds a few summers in a row. A lot of people think that overweight kids have negligent parents. Not so, in my case. My parents were very careful about what they bought, what we ate, and whether or not we were exercising. It wasn’t all Kool Aid and kielbasa at our house, I promise you. My father had high cholesterol early on and my mother can cook some fish and steamed veggies with the best of them. But thanks in small part to a little food sneaking (chocolate chips for the win!) and hoarding (addictive personality much? Nah.), and in large part to an inherited endocrinological disorder that affects the way I metabolize everything, and you can see how “baby fat” went to “chunky” and then straight to “fat” pretty darn quick.
Looking back now, I can see pictures of myself in high school and realize that while big-boned, I was in no way fat. But when you are 40-60 pounds heavier than all the other girls, all you hear is “fat”. And kids are cruel, let there be no doubt. It’s hard to believe that at the ripe old age of 17 kids will still pick on people who are different than them, but they do. And if you know me in real life, I’m sure it’s hard to imagine 17-year-old-me not going postal on someone for making fat comments, but I didn’t. I took it. Straight to heart, as a matter of fact. By the time I got to college, the message was clear: fat = ugly, and thin = pretty.
Strangely, in college, I didn’t have this problem. Enter that magical kind of boy known as the “chubby chaser”. I’ve always felt bad for guys who get called this, because some of my best friends in college were more inclined to date heavy girls than twiggy girls. In fact, most of the guys I dated in college have gone on to marry girls who are heavier, and who are gorgeous. They had a type, obviously, and now as adults they can be comfortable with that. Kudos to them! But even so, I knew the lessons I had learned earlier: fat girls cannot be sexy, right?
After college, I lost 85 pounds. It wasn’t easy, and I know now that it wasn’t healthy. By the time I stopped losing, I was eating less than 5 ounces of protein, one half serving of carbs, no fruit, and one half a fat (that’s like a teaspoon of oil or butter, nuts, whatever) A DAY. That’s not a meal, that’s per day. The rest of my day was made up with lemon water and soy protein bars. So healthy. Needless to say, the minute I returned to a normal diet, I packed that 85 pounds back on super-quick. And I do mean a balanced diet — lean meats, good carbs, veggies, and the like. Still no Kool Aid and Fritos around here, ya’ll. Somehow during this gradual gaining, I met and married Brian, and I know he loves me. Every time he refers to someone as “just too skinny!” my heart warms, I tell ya.
And then came the steroids and drugs. I don’t even need to tell you what they did to me, and what they sure didn’t accomplish for me. Even without horrible foods, I gained plenty. Now that I’m off of them, I’m finally dropping a bit of weight, eating much less than even before, and I have an idea of what a healthier me will eventually look like. Because I’m realizing that how I look isn’t nearly as important as how I feel, and my weight isn’t nearly as important as my health. This is a huge revelation for me. Being fat in an era when losing weight means diet soda, margarine, fake foods and starvation it’s been eye-opening for me to discover that healthy is more about water, real food that grew from a plant or walked on four legs, and listening to my body. I’m also beginning to understand that healthy for me will probably never be a size 4. I’m pretty sure my skeleton is a 16, folks. And short of lopping off some really key pieces of my frontal anatomy (keeping it PG….), skinny just isn’t happening. Healthy, however, I am finally pulling off with some happiness.
The trick to this is learning to feel good about the way I look. Not just right now, as I still hope to finally get out of these jeans. But I need to accept my genes for starters, and go from there. I need to accept that I’ve spent the past 26 years or so hating my body and literally everything about it, and it’s time to make peace with it. So far, I’m doing pretty well with this. I’ve started with getting a few dresses I love and feel good in, and by making sure to do things like keep my toes did and my eyebrows separate weekly. You know, the things that get shuffled to the end of the list when you’re dealing with a three year depression. But my level of acceptance and even appreciation is growing a little each day.
The flip side to this is society’s view of fat girls. I’ve written before about fat discrimination and hatred, and it’s a topic that’s near and dear to me. Start noticing how often fat characters on TV are the butt of jokes or outright slurs. Imagine that joke or slur had to do with a trait you share — a skin color, hair color, or the shape of your features. It just wouldn’t be right, would it? But sadly society equates fat with unhealthy, gross, or ugly. It’s okay to hate on us, we can’t feel it through the chub, right? Wrong.
So imagine my interest in the new show airing on TLC tonight. I’m a bit taken aback by the name – Big Sexy – but I am interested in the concept. 5 women are challenging the idea that heavy girls aren’t sexy. I’m not sure how sexy I’m feeling sitting here in jeans, T-shirt, ponytail and glasses, but I’m also in my own home and not seeing anyone in public. I’m also not sure how sexy I feel on your average weekend, all dressed up with makeup and hair fixed, either, but these girls look downright lovely on the commercials. I know there will be a lot of flack about their thin-hate, and about how horrible people think it is to see fat people praised, or heaven forbid see them kiss someone! Oh, the horror! But I really want to see how they put this out there, and if the show is legitimately going to challenge the idea that heavy women can be attractive not in spite of their weight, but in the context of it. I’m hoping that TLC manages to focus on health, self-worth, and acceptance of people who don’t fit society’s mold instead of simply furthering fat-hate. I, for one, will be watching tonight. I hope to come away empowered, feeling a little better about myself, and with the reassurance that fat most definitely does not equal ugly. So what do you think? If you’re a heavy girl, will you be watching or what did you think? Even if you’re not, what’s your take on fat, beautiful women?
**Disclaimer: I did not write this post for the obligate “but you’re so pretty” comments. I’ve learned to accept chipmunk cheeks, squinty, disappearing eyes, and my big butt as part of my appearance – peasant stock, ya’ll. Please bear in mind that there are hopefully other heavy people reading this post, and the phrase “you have such a pretty face” makes us want to punch people even when it’s not aimed at us. Comments are definitely appreciated, but ego-stroking is not being sought here. Neither is health advice, because unlike most of my thoughts about obesity, this is entirely about appearance. **