The summer of 1998, I spent all of my time alone in my bedroom. It was an awkward stage for me, I was almost fourteen years old, and would be entering my freshman year of High School in September. And I was fat.
Enormously, hideously, rotundly fat.
Standing at only five feet, two inches tall, weighing one hundred and eighty six pounds was not an easy way to live in America. The girls in my school were skinny, tall, leggy, wore size 2 jeans they bought at the mall, and I wore a pair of men's overalls my mother found at a thrift store. I wore them under my shirt, so no one knew they were actually overalls.
I was too fat to wear real jeans.
“Hey, Fatty, where's mom?”
“I don't know,” I told my older brother. “I didn't know she wasn't home.”
My brother had horrible acne. His face was covered in pimples for most of his teenage years. But not once did I ever make fun of him. Because I was fat, and I had no place to point out other people's flaws. That would make me a hypocrite. Doesn't mean anyone else wasn't afraid to.
I was still 13, old enough to stay home alone while my mom went to work every morning. I slept in, stayed up late, babysat for money to buy teen magazines with boy bands on the cover. I decorated my room with their pictures and posters. It was how I distracted myself from feeling hungry.
Because I was hungry.
The last few days of eighth grade were spend with me crying in the back of the classroom, with my head down at my desk, not bothering to pay attention to what was going on, and the teacher too involved in teaching to bother asking me what was wrong, or if I was okay. Not a single teacher asked why I was crying.
That was the day I vowed to stop being fat.
I used to daydream, every night before going to sleep, that I'd wake up the next morning and magically, I'd be thin. Not unhealthy or sickly so, just not fat anymore. That I would go shopping at the mall and be able to buy clothes from regular stores and I'd wear them to school and everyone would look at me and not know who I was at first, but then they'd all do a double take and their mouths would be on the floor, because I was skinny.
When you're 13, being skinny is all that matters.
So I stopped eating. Because I sure as shit wasn't about to go OUTSIDE where the PEOPLE were, where they could LOOK at me, and EXERCISE?! No. I didn't want anyone looking at me. I didn't even want to look at me.
[Even before I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder, I had anxiety disorder.]
My only option was to lock myself away in my room and not eat. And I did it. For a whole month, I didn't eat (almost) anything. After 3 days of drinking only water, I found myself feeling so famished and nauseous that I HAD to eat SOMETHING, or I was going to fall over. My mother made her “famous microwave quesadilla” which consisted of two soft tortilla shells, cheddar cheese, pulled apart deli turkey, salsa, and sour cream on the side. She put everything on a tortilla shell, put the other one on top and nuked it for about a minute. After placing it on the table in front of me, I hesitated. If I stop now, I won't lose anymore weight... But if I don't eat this, I could literally pass out or die.
So, I ate it.
Guilt consumed me as I devoured the quesadilla Mexico would kill you for calling that. But it was so good, I didn't care about the authenticity. It was probably the best thing I'd ever eaten in my entire life. It was gone after two minutes, and my mothers boyfriend, who sat next to me, made some snide remark about my weight and eating habits, and that was all I needed to get me started again.
I caved once. I ate once. Now, it's time to really do this.
I found myself in a cycle. I'd drink plenty of fluids to make sure I was hydrated, but only ate something once every few days.
Every year, my brother and I went to Niagara Falls with my Aunt, Cousin, and Grandmother, to go to Marine Land, and see the falls and walk around, and visit our favorite place; the Beef Baron. We always splurged and got the prime rib with a baked potato, and usually, for desert, I got the chocolate mousse.
Because I hadn't really eaten much, I decided to eat the meat. And boy, was that good. But I skipped desert.
My aunt looked at me, wide eyed, “You're not getting your chocolate mousse?” she asked, dumbfounded. “You always get the chocolate mousse!”
Tears swelled in my eyes because the guilt of eating anything had already consumed me, “I shouldn't have even eaten this.”
No one asked me why I shouldn't have eaten the prime rib. Everyone else got their deserts while I sat with a cup of coffee and watched them eat, not jealous or angry, but sad and feeling like I just made the biggest mistake because I ate the meat.
When I got home, I found myself craving chocolate. One of the many obstacles of being a woman, and I bought a bag of the tiny Snickers and put it in my desk drawer. I ate maybe three of them before the guilt set in, but my craving for chocolate passed, so I put them away and went back to whatever it was I did to distract me from wanting to eat.
I don't remember how long it was before my mother found the bag, but one afternoon she was in my bedroom doing something and I was sitting on my bed, and she opened up my drawers and found the bag of Snickers.
“WHAT is this?!”
I didn't know how to respond. Was she really asking me what a bag of Snickers was?
“You know, this is why you're so fat, young lady! Hiding candy in your room like this! This is NOT HEALTHY!”
Something inside of me snapped.
My mother, the witless wonder, had no idea I'd been starving myself for weeks, or I had already lost over twenty pounds, but she decided to find the one thing I did eat, and nailed me for it.
“MOM! I wasn't hiding them, I just put them in there. And I didn't even eat the chocolate mousse when we were in Niagara Falls! You can ask Aunt Dawn!” Tears fell down my face as she looked at me and back to the bag of candy.
“Well... I didn't know that.”
Of course you didn't. You never know anything.
I don't remember much after that, but she probably took the candy out of my room and put it somewhere in the kitchen.
I don't remember eating anymore of them afterward. But I might have.
It wasn't until school was approaching that my mother noticed my weight loss. I think the only reason she noticed was because I had a bit of a growth spurt that summer, going from five-foot-two, to five-foot-six. And I'd lost forty pounds.
It was the first time I ever remember going to the mall to buy new school clothes. We went to sears. Into the junior's section. I was terrified.
“None of this is going to fit me,” I kept saying. Logically, I knew I had lost weight and grown a lot in a short amount of time, but the fear of not being able to button the pants made my heart race, my breathing erratic, my fingers and face get tingly. I was so afraid of being disappointed. Of, even now, not being good enough. Fat people are just lazy, they aren't smart or funny or pretty or worthy of love, they are just horrible lazy people who do nothing but be lazy.
That was what I had instilled in my head my whole life, from everyone. My family, my schoolmates, my moms boyfriend, my brother, my mom...
Fat people were not equal to thin people. Fat people weren't even people. They were just things to mock, things to look down upon, things to make yourself feel better about yourself.
And I was afraid I was still fat.
I grabbed the biggest size they carried. It was a size 15 in juniors. I tried them on... and they fell down.
THEY. FELL. DOWN.
I stood in the dressing room and stared at myself in the mirror as I watched these pants fall down, and I cried. Silently, emotionally, joyfully, I fucking cried.
I took them off and went out to where my mother waited for me and said, “They're too big.” It came out sounding more like a question.
It was the first time in my life I'd ever said that.
I got the next size down; a 13.
I went in the dressing room and put them on.
They, too, were too big.
I jumped up and down, and squealed, and cried, and tossed the jeans over the top of the dressing room door, and cried, “THEY'RE TOO BIG!!”
Then, I said a phrase I never thought I'd ever say in my entire life, “Get me a smaller size.”
A SMALLER SIZE. SMALLER. In my head, I was screaming from a roof top, singing at the top of my lungs, “Iiiiiii'm nooooot FAAAAAT, ANYMOOOOOORE!” I had never felt so liberated in my entire life.
My mother tossed over the next size down in juniors; an 11.
I pulled them up and buttoned them closed, and they fit.
I was a size eleven.
I was no longer a women eighteen petite. I was officially a JUNIOR MISS SIZE ELEVEN (regular length).
I never wanted to be a size two. I think I would have been happy if I'd stayed an eleven, or went down to a nine. I was just so happy that I had finally been able to fit into normal clothes without feeling ashamed.
Open house for ninth graders was the evening before school started, and I wore my new clothes. My mother even took me to get my hair cut at a salon in the mall, and feeling like a brand new person, I was brave and got bangs. (Which in hindsight was a big mistake... Naturally wavy hair and bangs are a bad combo.) But the stylist trimmed my hair, cut my bangs, and straightened out my crazy wavy hair for me. When I put my glasses back on at the end, and looked at myself in the mirror, I felt amazing. I felt like I was finally the person who had been hiding underneath miles and miles of fat. I was finally me.
When I walked through the High School doors for the first time, smiling, with my head held high, no one recognized me. At first, anyway. I caught so many people doing double takes of me that night, it was as if my dream had finally come true.
I wasn't “Fatty” anymore.
I was finally me.
This is what fat shaming does to people. It makes them feel like less of a human being because they have an eating disorder, or a low metabolism, or hereditary obesity, or are emotional eaters and are too afraid to exercise in fear of being mocked. This is what years of being fat shamed did to me. Medically speaking, I could have died. I was only thirteen years old. I didn't know if I really was getting enough water, or if starving myself was going to work or not. I did it because I needed people to stop seeing me as a fat person, but just as A PERSON. A girl, with a personality, and sense of humor, and a love of pop music, and wanted nothing more than to be loved. For years, I never felt worthy of anyone loving me, even my own family, all because I was fat. Because I didn't fit in with what society tells you is okay to look like, I felt alienated.
Looking back at that experience, and at myself today, I'm going to admit; not much has changed. My weight has fluctuated over the past seventeen years. I gained a bit of it back in High School, I lost a lot of it right before I started college, and I gained it back again after starting college. Then I had a baby, gain even more weight, and eventually moved back home and lost the weight again.
Now, I weigh more than I ever have before. But living in today's modern world, where we have all of this new information about people, fat and skinny, tall and short, black and white, we come together from everywhere in the world, and we talk about how this stuff really effects people.
Being a mother, I am afraid that my son will have weight problems. I feel like the only thing helping him now is that he's on ADHD medicine that is an appetite suppressant. I never want him to go through what I went through, or feel what I felt about myself. I want him to know that he is loved and special and important, regardless of his weight. Of course, I want him to be healthy, but if he ever did gain weight, I wouldn't stop loving him. Or make him feel bad about it. I'd try to educate him on the importance of being healthy and help him to make better lifestyle choices, and do it with him.
I really hope the day will come when we never have to worry about being bullied or abused. A day when we realize we're all human, with and without flaws, because there is no such thing as perfection.