I've crafted a kind of bubble for myself to exist in feminist, body-positive corners of the internet and real world surrounded by kind, feminist people. There, I can create a fat-positive world for my daughter free of fat shaming, of diet talk, of calorie-counting, or of body critiquing.
If I choose to do so, I can go days — sometimes weeks — hearing only affirming, complimentary language about all types of figures. I can start to forget that this world of mine isn't the real world. Sooner or later, however, the bubble bursts. Maybe I have to go to the grocery store. Maybe I decide to visit friends in the city. Maybe I catch up on my Instagram comments. Maybe I go to the beach in a bikini. Then, it's only a matter of time before fatphobic language or blatant insults come my way.
The truth of my body is that it is large and wobbly. My shoulders are broad and soft. My belly hangs and my ass is not unlike the moon, with dimpled craters across its surface. When I step on the scale, I am typically greeted by a number anywhere between 250 and 280 pounds. I occupy a lot of space and for this reason alone, there are very few places IRL that I can move through without risking some kind of heckling.
For three weeks, I thought I'd record some of the fatphobic remarks directed at me. Some were irrevocably malicious. Others weren't intended to be hurtful, but stung nonetheless. Others still were a reminder that even otherwise progressive, open-minded, feminist people can harbor a lot of antagonism towards bodies like mine. All of them made me more certain than ever that I want to do better by my own daughter; that I want her to know — beyond a semblance of a doubt — that the variations in our bodies aren't problems to be solved.
"I don't think that dress was made for you, honey."
I hear some variation of this comment almost every time I dress in something assumed to be off-limits to fatties. Whether I don shorts, a tight-fitting skirt, a two-piece swimsuit, a bold color, a horizontal stripe, or (as in this case) a short dress with sheer tights, I almost always hear a snicker, a jab, or spot a point-and-laugh.
On this occasion, the "advice" came from a slender older woman in a public bathroom. I'm certain that she didn't mean any harm. It was implied by the tone of her voice that she believed she was being helpful. She was giving me sartorial advice that, in her eyes, would make me look more "presentable." She probably thought women my size should be sticking to A-line cuts and black hues.
I responded with something like, "Well, m'am, it's a plus-size dress specifically made for plus size people. I also really like it, so it actually was made for me."
She didn't seem pleased. Muttering something like, "You have to be mindful. People don't want to see big girls in those things," she walked away quickly. I was reminded of how often women, in particular, are expected to make decisions based on what will appease the masses rather than appease themselves. My body does not exist to cater to the prejudices of others, though. My wardrobe needn't do so, either. After all, I'm 99 percent sure that a dress like this wouldn't have registered as "offensive" if worn by a thin person. Why should it be offensive on me?
"She's got your chins, doesn't she? Maybe she'll grow out of that."
Before having my daughter, a couple of friends of mine who had their own kids had cautioned me about "mean parents": Parents who seemingly love to put down kids who haven't hit their milestones, or moms and dads with particularly unruly toddlers, or babies who they don't find especially cute. At two baby groups, I've encountered such parents. On both occasions, they thought it wise to fat shame both my daughter Luna and me.
Most recently, a mom couldn't wait to poke fun at my infant's double chin, which she figured I must've passed down given the roundness of my own face. It was clear that she felt double chins were some kind of problem. As if — at only nine months old — they signaled some kind of failure on Luna's part. I guess she should be steering clear of all that baby mush, right?
The most troubling thing about moments like these is the realization that not even a baby — someone who cannot yet speak, walk, or truly conceptualize much of what is happening around them — can escape fat shaming. We start them young, don't we?
So original, right?
I cannot tell you how many times I have been called a fat c*nt, b*tch, or slob simply for taking up some space on the sidewalk. Last week, this one was delivered by a teen girl in a school uniform. I'm pretty sure her exact words were, "Look at that fat c*unt," as she grabbed her friend so that they could watch the ~spectacle~.
That's the thing, isn't it? Once people reach a certain size, we begin to treat them as objects of public consumption. Fatness becomes a source of entertainment. It becomes a thing to laugh at, to ruminate over, to mock, to scold, or sometimes to physically shove or push against. Fat people are regularly treated as epidemics, after all, and this clinical language does nothing but to further de-humanize us. As a result, people can get away with failing to perceive us as fellow people. They can get away with treating us like things with which to do as they please.
"Ever considered donating some of that food you're eating?"
This is one of my favorite forms of fatphobia, by which I mean that it's one of my favorite remarks to dissect and tear apart.
For starters, it assumes that all fat people have gained weight because of their diets. In actuality, there are myriad reasons a person could be fat. They include, but are not limited to, personal preference, health conditions such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or household income. People shouldn't be expected to offer reasons or justifications for their bodies, though. They should just be allowed to live.
If someone wants to talk about my failure to donate enough food, however, I'm more than happy to have that conversation. I'm happy to talk about how Americans lead the world in food waste, discarding approximately 60 million tons of produce (or $160 billion worth) a year. According to the American Chemistry Council, the average family in the U.S. also throws away about $640 worth of food per annum. I'm happy to ask them how often they discard their leftovers or let all that fresh fruit they bought grow moldy and rotten.
Personally, I'm grateful for the food I'm lucky enough to have. I'm so grateful that, yes, I'd rather eat it than throw it in a trash bin.
"So much wasted potential."
This little nugget arrived on Facebook, on the comments section of an article I'd recently written on fatness and hyper-femininity. A guy tagged another male friend of his in the post, which featured the above picture. "So much wasted potential," he wrote. When I clicked on his profile, I saw that his likes included Barack Obama, Twin Peaks, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and The Elder Scrolls franchise. On paper, we'd get along just fine.
Again, I feel it important to reiterate that neither I nor my body exist to please others. It is not my duty to turn on every man I encounter. It's no one's duty to do that.
Even so, I cannot help but resent the idea that my life, my beauty, or my womanhood grow mute the wider I become. I resent the clear fact that women and femmes are so often taught that feeling happy or gorgeous are not achievable unless we are thin. I resent that we are taught to aspire to some supposedly universal standard of beauty in the first place. People often offer critiques such as this, pointing at my face and telling me how much better my life would be if I lost 10 dress sizes. I've been there. I wasn't happier.
In truth, I am not a lost cause, or a subject of pity. I don't need condolences or lamentations. I'm good. I'm more than good. I'm actually the best I've ever been, because I don't allow my mental health to be determined by my waistline.
"There's a pig in my way."
Although seemingly innocuous at first, comments like this one prove that, at a certain point, fat people stop being perceived as people. I often write or speak about how de-humanizing it can be to feel like the punchline of every joke, to be depicted as tragedies or mindless sidekicks in our films and television, to be presented with hundreds of before and after photos that frame our bodies as disaster zones in need of repair. Our physical health is constantly up for debate, expected to be proven before we are deemed worthy of basic tolerance. Our mental health is never thought about at all.
I'm used to being compared to barnyard animals at this point. I'm used to laughing it off. I don't let words like these hurt anymore. What does hurt is the realization that fatphobia is everywhere, and it doesn't just affect people who are already fat. It affects us the most, of course, but it also affects the thin (or "average" sized) people who fear fatness. It affects those who spend their days keeping track of every ingredient of every meal they eat, or who cry in the dressing room of a store because an outfit makes them look "bigger" than they are. It encourages folks to mistreat fat people because they are afraid of becoming like us.
"Just kill yourself, whale."
Like so many fellow fats of the world, I get this one a lot, most often through social media. Whether I'm on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, it's rare to go a couple of weeks without being told to kill myself. I'm going to die young anyway, people will muse. No one wants to look at me anyway, others will say. I'd be doing the world a favor if I wasn't in it.
Yeah, I get this one a lot. If I bother to click through the commenters' profiles, I am typically greeted with folks of every political orientation. I am greeted by proud liberals and proud conservatives. I'm greeted by goths and preppy boys and — one time — by someone who wasn't much smaller than me.
Comments like these are unavoidable when you're a vocal fat person online. Despite being so physically visible, fat people are simultaneously meant to try their best to be invisible. We are supposed to hide the rolls of our bodies. We are supposed to share snaps of the salad we ate for lunch, or the calories we burned on the elliptical machine after work. We're supposed to be trying to fix ourselves and make others more comfortable.
When we don't do that, some individuals often react with anger. They don't know how to handle fat, happy people. Or fat, successful people. Or fat, unapologetic people. Or fat, loud people.
I don't know every person who's ever fat shamed me IRL or online. I can't know everything about them, nor would I want to. What I do know is that it's fellow fats who have saved my life. Reading the work of fat positive activists, seeing the photos of fat positive bloggers, or glimpsing other people of size in incredible outfits on the street has changed the way I view myself. So, I don't plan on listening to fatphobic insults anytime soon. I don't plan on shrinking. I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing. From experience, I know it has the potential to induce positive change — which is a lot more than can be said of the above comments.
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