You’re supposed to hate yourself for being fat. The girls in my sixth grade gym class, they hated me for it, and they worked hard to make sure I hated myself, too. They were dedicated, following me into the bathroom when I fled from their pinching and poking. They told me I was ugly, that my body was gross. I sat in the bathroom stall while they screamed at me and I cried, ashamed. What kills me now is that I wasn’t even fat. I was chubby, with a round face and a bit of a belly. But they picked me out from the crowd, and they tore me into pulpy shreds. I believed those rotten bitches when they told me I was disgusting, and that no one would ever love me.
Growing up fat has always meant feeling like a wounded antelope on the edge of the pack. Who’s a better hunter than a teenage boy who thinks he’s funny? What’s funnier than pretending to want to go out with a fat girl? What’s more hilarious to an acne-ridden, hormone-stupid, armpit-smelling teenage boy than the fat girl falling for it?
I blamed everything wrong in my teenage life on being fat. I was lonely because I was fat; I had zits not because I was a hormonal teenager, but because I was big. I was fucked up, weird, had panic attacks when someone looked at me, was grateful when someone was willing to talk to me, to be my friend and overlook the fact that I was a hideous beast-thing. I worked hard to make sure that they would keep overlooking the ugly outside by being agreeable, friendly, eager. Please, take my bracelets; I’ll steal a pack of cigarettes for you; no, you have the rest of my French fries because I sure as hell don’t need them, ha ha ha. It was total, classic fat girl: making fun of myself before anyone else could.
Fast-forward to college, freshman year, at a liberal arts college in New York. In my poetry workshop, I met a woman named Marina who was tall, gorgeous, and plus-sized–and she didn’t seem to give a good goddamn. Being fat never crossed her mind as a problem, and being gorgeous was something she took for granted, and so did the people around her. It was spectacular. Marina inspired me to stop thinking of my body as my enemy. For the first time in my life I refused to hide myself in oversized T-shirts and baggy pants, hoping no one would notice me. I dressed to show off my body. I became a woman who didn’t hate herself for being fat, who thought she might be beautiful. Not beautiful for a fat girl, but straight-up, flat-out, fuck-the-clarifying-clauses beautiful.
After college I moved to San Francisco to attend grad school. But my newfound post-college confidence usually didn’t protect me from the strange, personal venom of strangers in the real world. Picture me clicking down Mission Street, on my way to meet a date and feeling good, when some asshole across the street seizes upon my size and hurls it at me like an insult, offended that I think I’m worth something, when clearly I’m worth nothing at all because I’m fat. I wear plus-size jeans and I have the audacity to show my upper arms, to say yes to the people who ask me out, to go out dancing, order the creamy pasta, to ride a bike, wear red lipstick and fuck-me pumps? One dipshit with an agenda, some strange, inexplicable personal hatred of a fat woman can pick me up and hurl me back to the locked stall in the sixth grade bathroom.
When I turned 30 my metabolism shut down entirely, my obesity genes kicked in with a vengeance, and I started to pack pounds on at a life-threatening pace. Last year, I reached my highest weight ever–316 lbs. I couldn’t walk a block anymore without it hurting; I was at risk for diabetes and coronary heart disease; I just couldn’t stop gaining weight, no matter what I did. For a year–while it felt like my heart could have exploded in my chest at any moment–I tried to diet back out of the danger zone and continued to fail.
I began considering weight loss surgery. It was a last resort, because weight loss surgery is a major, high-risk operation. Your stomach is cut down drastically so that it holds only 4 oz. of food. Then your intestines are rerouted, making it impossible for you to absorb all the food you eat. Each stitch that is placed to resew your intestines and close up your new tiny pouch of a stomach could cause a potential life-threatening rupture. And going under anesthesia when you’re obese is to risk death.
On November 7, 2006, in tears, I climbed onto that table in the middle of the operating room and closed my eyes, terrified I was going to die.
Five months later, I’m 86 pounds lighter, and no longer at risk for heart disease or the diabetes that plagues my mother. When they opened me up, I was a size 28W, and now, I can step out of those without unbuttoning or unzipping them. I now fit into misses sizes at Old Navy (I burst into tears in the dressing room when that happened). I can breathe again–I’m walking, riding my bike and training for a 5K. The weight keeps dropping off week after week, and when I dress myself, I hardly recognize the contours of my body under my hands. As I get thinner, I’m becoming a stranger to myself.
Right now you’re cheering for me, aren’t you? Yes, it’s wonderful that I’ve lost so much weight, and fabulous that someday I’ll be thin. But I will tell you this: When someone at work, or one of my acquaintances tells me how extra-super-awesome I look, I usually want to tell them to fuck off.
See, every single thing that I am is a result of living my entire life as a fat girl. I’m funny, independent, fierce and strong, a reader and a writer–all because I grew up fat. I love how I turned out and even though it’s been terribly hard, I wouldn’t change a single, solitary damn thing. But now, I’m changing. And it feels like I’m undoing all the work I did to become comfortable with myself, my body, my life. I’m losing weight so quickly, and it does feel wonderful. But it also feels like I’m turning my back on everything I am.
Right now I’m thrilled, manic, a little freaked out and a little fucked up. My body is a work in progress. You? You now get to come along for the ride.