A Never-ending Battle

There are days when I feel like giving up.

Why do I have to sit and watch friends devour delicious looking food while I nurture my cup of low calorie soup and a bland garden salad? I so badly wanted the Thai curry that I read and reread the description so many times that I could taste the savory sauce, but, no, when you’re fat you don’t get to eat things like that. At least not in public.

Why do I feel guilty when I buy a bag of candy to bring home to share with my husband? When the clerk scans the bag, I feel like she stares at me wondering why a fatso would buy candy in the first place. I want to rip open the bag and unwrap a piece, stick it in my mouth and chew, all the while daring her to say something because people like me aren’t supposed to eat candy. At least not in public.

Why are public toilet stalls so narrow and the seats so low? Do the architects only envision skinny people using them? To be comfortable, truly comfortable, I like to use the handicapped stall, and I would, except for the evil-eye looks that you get when you emerge. And then I feel guilty because “normal” people fit in “normal” stalls, so there is obviously something wrong with me.

There is an assumption that all fat people eat themselves to death. That fat individuals sit in front of the television stuffing their mouths with bonbons while they feast on soap operas. That fat people don’t even bother with paper plates but eat right out of the bag, devouring everything inside. That fat people choose to be fat and refuse to do anything to change their status.

If only the scoffers knew the hours I put in at the gym. All the laps I’ve swum and the miles I’ve done on the elliptical and bike. All the weights I’ve lifted and the trainers I’ve hired and the steps I’ve climbed, all in an attempt to control my body.

If only they sat with me day in and day out and saw what I put in my mouth. All the fruits and veggies. The limited amounts of carbs and “bad” sugars. If they looked at my plate and saw all the white space in between each item and realized that I only take one helping and often don’t finish that.

Let’s talk about clothes. Designers don’t cater to fat people. Beautiful fabrics and styles are only for the emaciated. Fat people get frumpy looking old-lady sacks in cotton that pull and bunch in all the wrong places. Don’t they realize that fat people want to look nice? That they want to wear clothes that feel good, that hang just right and sport fabulous colors? The selection is so limited and the styles repetitions of what fat people have been wearing for generations.

Dressing rooms are not designed to make fat people look half-way decent. Often they are so poorly designed that fat people have to turn sideways in order to open and close the door. Often there is no chair or bench so that you have to stand to undress. Almost always there are mirrors on three sides so that a fat person can see their naked body from all angles, in glorious detail, a reminder that they don’t belong in a dressing room pretending that they’re going to find something that fits.

Cars and airplanes and theaters and restaurants are designed to let fat people know that they aren’t welcome there. Try squeezing a fat body between arm rests and sitting there for hours. Imagine holding your arms across your body for the entire voyage so as not to encroach on your neighbor’s space. Imagine what it feels like when you enter and see the expressions on people’s faces, hoping, praying that you aren’t going to sit next to them.

Even doorways and hallways conspire against fat people. Some doorways are so tight that a fat person feels like turning sideways in order to squeeze through. The same is true for walking down aisles, as in an airplane. Imagine what it feels like to look down the aisle and see arms and legs and bags sticking into the narrow space and wondering how you’re going to get through the obstacle course without annoying too many people!

Sometimes homeowners place furniture along walls that have to be passed through in order to get to the bathroom. Or furniture is arranged in such a way as to create a maze which requires turning this way and that in order to get through. Imagine how it feels to know that people will be watching, with mouths hanging open, waiting to see if the fat person will successfully navigate the path.

More than anything I hate the repeated failure.

I’ve know I was fat since I was three and saw a picture of myself standing next to my ninety pound mother. I was so puffed up that I had folds of fat at my wrists, ankles and elbows. My tummy stuck out like a barrel. I didn’t know the word fat then, but I learned it in Kindergarten when my classmates teased me and called me fatty. When the neighbor kids invited me to play games in which, no matter what they called it, the rules required that I stick my butt high in the air in order for them to laugh about the size of it.

From 1st through 7th grades I attended Catholic schools that required uniforms. Because we were poor, I never had a brand new one, but instead wore the hand-me-downs from give-away day. There was never any choice for someone my size. My mom would walk to the end of the table, sort through the three or four in my size, and pick out two that weren’t too badly stained or faded. Now hear the teasing about being too big for new clothes, about being so fat that nothing fits and picture tears running down my face.

About this time a new cigarette came on the market, Tareyton. My brother loved the name. He turned it into Terry weighs a ton and would follow it with pretending that his finger was a needle that could puncture my thigh, followed by a whistle that indicated excess air spewing forth.

In fifth grade, sitting next to a classmate at church, I heard laughing. I looked toward the sound, only to discover that every girl sharing the pew with me had tucked their skirts under their thighs which were thinner than just one of my leg. From then on I hated church.

I attended two different high schools and was the fattest kid in each. This was when I learned the torture of PE. Imagine undressing in front of dozens of thin girls, day after day. Imagine lining up, buck naked, to go into the shower, where the only salvation came at the end when a teacher handed you a postage-stamp sized towel. Hear the snickers. Hear the derision.

It made no difference that I was one of the best athletes. Give me a sport, any sport, and I could play better than most of my peers. Did I earn respect? No.

Make me run laps around a field and I come in dead last, every time. My sophomore year I decided to train on my own. Weekends and nights I’d run the track, around and around, stopping when it hurt too much to continue. Did I lose weight? No. Get any faster? No.

Over the years I have dieted. I have lost weight. Lost more weight. Lost even more, but then would get stuck, still at fat. Then I’d put on weight. Lose some. Gain back even more. Lose a bit. Gain back lots more. Up and down, over and over, until now, at my age, I’m stuck in a cycle of miniscule changes.

I’d like to be thinner. I’ve never wanted to be skinny like a model, but thinner, yes. I’d like to go to a meeting and not be the fattest person in the room. To sit with my church choir and not be the fattest person there. When I’m a reader at church, to believe that the congregation is listening to the words I’m proclaiming and not looking at the size of my butt as I climb the steps up to the ambo.

I’d like to go into a department store, a regular store that sells stylish clothes to beautiful people, and know that I can find a variety of things to buy. I’d like to have racks and racks of clothes to pick through. I’d love to be able to go shopping with a friend and know that I can shop in the same part of the store where she can shop.

But at my age I find that I’m giving up.  I’m tired of the fight. I lack the energy to keep pretending that someday my body will look like other people’s. I’m tired of weighing in every Saturday only to discover that sometimes I’ve lost a fraction of a pound or that I’ve gained three pounds in two days. I’m tired of walking through life with my eyes locked on a distant target, imaging that if I can’t see people looking at me, then it isn’t happening.

I also know that I cannot succumb to my frustrations. That I will not give up, because if I do, then I am admitting to myself that I am a failure. Have been for over 66 years. And as my birthday approaches this week, I understand that my health is being compromised in ways that I have yet to discover.

I don’t want to die young. I don’t want my body to give up on my and cut my life short. I have too much to live for. A husband who loves me. Wonderful children and their significant others of whom I’m proud. Grandchildren that I love spending time with and whom I want to remember me as a kind, loving person, not as a fat lady. (Unfortunately they have been old enough for some time now to ask why I’m so fat!)

I am angry at myself for failing at losing weight. I am angry at the world for having no room for people like me. I am angry at the many industries that cater only to skinny people when the vast majority of people are no longer skinny.

I don’t want to give up, but I am tired of the fight.

About Terry Connelly

Terry Connelly is a retired high school English teacher. She earned her BA and Single Subject Teaching credential from California State University of the East Bay, in Hayward, California. She taught for 18 years at Newark Memorial High School in Newark, California. She was gifted to work with both College Prep students and those with learning disabilities.
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