I’m no stranger to verbal bullying. As a matter of fact, I’ve never known a life without it.
Throughout grade school, I’ve seen my classmates imitate the way I look when I run or when I sit. I’ve had groups of girls scan me from head to toe as they exchanged whispers and giggled.
Growing up, I became so identified with the word “fat” that anytime I heard someone shout “hey fatty!”, I instinctively turned my head because I knew they were trying to get my attention.
The shaming extended nightly to the dinner table where my family members took turns eyeing me as they brought up success story after success story of weight loss. Of course, dating wasn’t a walk in the park either – to this day, not one of my ex-boyfriends has ever hesitated to call me out on my eating habits.
I stopped understanding the word “thin” as a body type and started hearing it as “beautiful”. I avoided mirrors and pretty much any other reflective surface. I hid in oversized jumpers and wondered if I would ever have the chance to walk around in a cute one-piece jumpsuit without being told I look like a waddling penguin.
Anytime I tried to express my discomfort on being laughed at, I either had “no sense of humor” or was “taking things too seriously”. Some people have even used my irritation to justify themselves because it only confirmed the stereotype that fat people are just more sensitive.
Never mind the reasons why people are fat to begin with: some have illnesses that make them gain weight or cannot exercise; others are on life-saving medications that also make them put on pounds.
Just like you never know what kind of problems people go through every day, you’ll probably never know why someone carries extra weight. And even if it’s because they simply turn to food for comfort, that still doesn’t entitle you to be a horrible person and throw around some wise cracks for it.
A few sympathetic friends have continued to hold my hand and repeatedly recited motivational quotes to me in a full-on stomping screw-the-haters attitude. Others tried to offer compliments and emphasize my “good” traits – which, as much as I appreciated, all seemed to start with the word “but” (“But you’re so friendly!”, “But you have such a sweet smile!”). Does being a conversationalist or having okay teeth cancel out the fact that I have thick thighs? Does it have to?
Somewhere along the way, society became programmed to see fat people as either something embarrassing or something to fix. Fat people are never allowed to be just fat; we are either regarded as a source of public entertainment or a magnet for pity looks.
Confronting the “f” word
Ironically, I never realized being fat was such a funny crime until I was told otherwise. Before the teasing started, I always saw “fat” as just another adjective. By this definition, the words “you’re fat” should really only contain an equal meaning to “you’re tall” or “you have blonde hair”.
“Fat”, by verbatim semantic terms, shouldn’t be a shortcut to insult. “Fat” shouldn’t be a trigger for either laughter or tears, but why have we given so much permission to act like it is?
Growing up and dealing with body issues on my own was tough, and I’m grateful to currently live in a time of body-positive campaigns and the revival of progressive feminism.
Young girls and women alike shouldn’t have to feel apologetic for their muffin tops and there should be no reason for us to “stay strong” or “keep our chin up”. I am fat, just like I have a pair of brown eyes and short black hair. I am fat, in addition to and not despite my approachable friendliness or my really sweet smile.
Virginia, aptly named after the U.S. state, is fond of places and has never stayed in the same city for more than four years. Currently studying international relations in Japan, she enjoys sliced bananas in her cereal, ‘50s dance music and trips to the supermarket.
This article was first published on Magdalene.co
Image of Sean O’Brien/Dancing Man is from Google