Do you know what’s like to be trapped in a body that you dislike? I do. I had been “fat” my entire life. My outer body was covered with pudgy layers of rolling fat, while my inner body yearned to be thin, luscious, and downright sexy.
When I was in fourth grade I attended a Catholic elementary school in Dayton, Ohio. We were poor, and so I wore hand-me-down uniforms and carried the dog-eared books belonging to a previous student. Before the school year began, my mother drove me into town for the annual used uniform giveaway. I hated this ritual. Because of my weight, we dug through the small pile of plus-size jumpers, most of which had seen better days. No longer navy blue except where food stains darkened the fabric, these uniforms marked me as “poor” and fat.
Fourth grade was a year of becoming aware. This was the year when my older brother explained that there was no Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, or Santa Claus. This was also when I discovered that others saw me as a fat little girl.
Sitting in church one morning, a girl next to me reached over and poked me in the thigh. Her hand “bounced” high in the air, over and over, mimicking playing on a trampoline. She pulled her skirt down tight over her six-inch wide thigh, measured with both hands, and then held her hands over my much larger thigh. The difference was startling enough to cause a riot of giggles up and down the pew.
Not too long after that, one day I had no choice but to go into the girls’ bathroom, something I tried really hard to avoid. A group of popular sixth graders were lounging against one wall. En masse, their eyes scanned my plump body as a look of pure disgust erupted on their sophisticated faces. I quickly locked myself into the nearest stall so as to hide my tears.
“Fat people stink. Don’t you agree?”
“It’s because they leak urine,” Mary Beth Saunders said.
“It runs down their legs when they walk,” Sue Anne Watson added. “It leaves streaks that won’t wash off.”
“I hate fat people. They’re disgusting,” Wanda Belter said.
“If I was fat, I’d hide in my closet and not eat anything until I got skinny,” Mary Beth said.
“I’d kill myself,” said Sue Anne.
“Not me,” added Wanda. “I’d ask my mother to tape my mouth shut and then I’d stay home until I looked better.”
Eventually they took their comments outside. Only then did I emerge from my stall sanctuary. When I got home that night, for what was not the first nor last time I took a long look at myself. I really, truly was fat. There was no denying it. Rolls of fat enveloped my abdomen and my thighs quivered with the tiniest of movement. When I looked down, I couldn’t see my toes, let alone touch them.And because of the horrific things those girls had said, I even thought I saw urine streaks.
Repulsed by what I finally admitted to myself, I fell into my bed and cried for hours.
I began dieting at the age of ten and have never quit.
I convinced myself that trapped inside my obese body was a voluptuous woman yearning to be set free. That woman wanted to be active and energetic. That woman made me feel guilty about the cookies and candy that I so loved.
I think she got tired of the struggle and simply gave up for many, many yeaas.
Because I wore rags and hand-me-downs, I dreamt of being able to go into a store and buy tons of new clothes. When I began working and earning enough to take myself shopping, I felt something stir inside me that has never gone away.
I am a shopaholic. There is nothing that charges my battery like a mall. It’s as if a competition is on to find the best bargains, and without fail, I rise to the occasion.
As I stroll in and out of stores I admire the svelte garments displayed on ultra-slim mannequins. Sometimes I touch the fabric, pretending that I am seriously considering taking one home.
Back in my fat days, just as I imagined myself wearing the outfit, reality slammed my forehead and crimson colored my neck and cheeks. At that point I would dash away, off to the fat ladies’ department where I belonged.
One time I went shopping with a bunch of relatives. My husband’s sister was getting married, and everyone was in search of a dress to wear. I trailed along as we went into masses of stores. I watched as they pawed through racks and racks of clothes. I drooled as they spoke about how well the colors of the different fabrics blended together.
They all found things to try on. They all believed that they had found the perfect outfit.
But not me. I never carried a garment into a dressing room. Why? We never got close to the fat ladies’ clothes.
For years I shopped alone. Without prying eyes I could go into Catherine’s or Lane Bryant or the Women’s section of JCPenneys and not die of embarrassment.
Except on the rare occasions when I visited a truly great friend who understands what it’s like, because she is also “fat.” When we were together we forgot about size. We saw the beautiful person underneath.
When we went shopping, we would try on clothes, and purchase our finds, sharing our good luck.
There were days when I convinced myself that I looked pretty darn good. I would be wearing an attractive outfit that hid the lumps under layers of fabric. I would head off to work feeling happy and proud. No one noticed. No one sent even a tiny compliment my way. It was as if I were invisible.
Most overweight people will tell you that being is not unusual.
A slim person can walk past an obese person without once glancing her way. In fact, there can even be accidental contact, one shoulder brushing another, with no apologies offered. It’s almost as if the skinny individual had touched a ghost.
I have heard thin people say that the obese choose to be that way. That if they simply stopped binging on eating cupcakes and chocolate. They’d lose weight.
What critics don’t process if that genetics and physiology play a part in how easily a person gains and sheds unwanted pounds. An overweight child is extremely likely to remain overweight into adulthood.
If you are born into a family of obese individuals, the odds are that you will also be obese. My paternal grandmother stood a little over five feet tall, but hit the scales at well over two hundred pounds. I was built just like her. Added to the familial tendency to put on the pounds was my mother’s belief that a fat baby was a healthy baby. Because she fed me until I had fat wrinkles on my arms and legs, I was doomed from the start. My mother fed the cellulite, which plumped me up like a marshmallow. I spent years trying to reverse the damage.
Over and over I embarked on one weight-loss program after another. Two years ago I developed a serious health issue that required surgery. Because of being obese, the surgeon wouldn’t operate. That was my motivation.
Over a period of a month, the doctor’s deadline, I lost twenty-nine pounds, plus a few that keep recycling off and then back on again. After that my motivation skyrocketed. If I could do that, then why not more?
It took ma almost a year, but I lost just under eighty pounds and dropped four sizes in pants and three sizes in tops.
If I could go back in time and change just one thing, one thing that could forever alter the events in my life, I would have been a skinny child. In my mind, skinny children were happy children. Skinny children had friends. Skinny children were invited to birthday parties and given cards on Valentine’s Day. Skinny children did somersaults and laughed and played.
I would have been one of them. Because I was athletic even when obese, as a skinny kid I would have been chosen first when dividing up teams. I would have attended every birthday party and been invited to sleepovers.
As a teenager I would have goon to school dances with a different handsome beau on my arm. Cheerleading would have been my passion, and as a dancer I would have reigned supreme.
Whenever I went shopping, it would have been with friends, giggling as we strolled through the mall. Fun would have been my middle name.
I would have been hired as a flight attendant, the career of my dreams. Or maybe the receptionist in the front office. Or the statistician in a major think-tank.
Think how different my life would have been! Zipping here, there, everywhere, always surrounded by friends.
There are some things that I would never change, no matter what I looked like. I have a husband who loves me, my children are my pride and joy, and I loved my job. I have been blesses with grandchildren and significant others in my children’s lives.
I have had a good life.
I wish that society did not disdain the obese. Unless you have worn that body, you do not know what “trapped” truly means.