Monday, December 7, 2009

Weighty Thoughts

Although there are many ways to sugar-coat this statement, I'm not going to bother. The end result will be the same.

I'm fat.

I'm not one of those women who believe they're fat because they wear something larger than a size 2. I'm one of those women who know we're fat because clothes for us don't exist in most "normal-people" stores; we have to get cheaply-made and expensively-sold clothing at special fat woman stores—in my area, these are Pennington's and Addition-Elle, which are pretty much the same damn thing—or sew our clothing ourselves. My jeans are size 24. My tops are a bit smaller than that because my waist is very well-defined and I'm pear-shaped to begin with; still, I can't really go much below a size 20 before the darn things get too tight across my shoulders (or, in the case of blouses that need to be buttoned up, start to gape in the area of my bigger-than-C-cup-but-not-quite-a-D-cup Miniature Rack of Doom). Even my feet are oversized; the shoes that are most comfortable for me tend to be size 10 wide at the least—more often size 11 wide. Suffice it to say that shopping for clothing is a frustrating experience, and shoe-shopping is an evil that I try to avoid whenever possible, to the point where I don't replace anything until it's so far beyond repair that it's barely holding together.

Now, I know that by now the usual stereotypes are probably running through your head. They probably started as soon as you read the word "fat", if they hadn't started at the title of this post. You're probably getting mental images of a horribly gluttonous tub of lard who constantly chows down on junk food, who thinks that walking five feet to the fridge to get more food counts as exercise, who wouldn't know a fresh vegetable if it slapped her on her oversized ass and who dresses badly, smells awful and probably has a constant sheen of sweat on her skin from being so fat. You're probably picturing one of those "headless fatty" photos that so often accompany news articles about Those Dreadful Fat People, Their Awful Eating Habits, And The Problems They're Causing For Virtuous Thin People. You probably think I look like one of those poor souls who's 500 pounds at least. After all, in this world only extremes exist, so obviously if I'm not rail-thin, I'm as wide as I am tall...

You'd be wrong on all counts.

I've been fat all my life, regardless of how active I've been or how little I ate. I've been complimented many times on my sense of style, even by thin people. I love long walks (as in "three hours at a moderately brisk pace with one rest per hour") and would rather nibble at a carrot than a chocolate bar any day. I don't sweat much unless it's very hot out and I've been exerting myself, and I smell pretty normal because I believe in bathing and other practices of good hygiene. Oh, and contrary to popular belief, my butt isn't so big that I can't fit into one of those cramped little third-class airplane seats.

And by the way, I do eat very little. Generally speaking, I only eat two small meals a day, and no snacks. I only eat when I'm hungry, but I don't always eat when I'm hungry. If I was thin, this would probably be a huge warning sign; because I'm not, it's taken as a sign of Virtue in a Penitent Lardass.

What brought this on—and the reason why I put it on this blog instead of somewhere else—was a realisation that I had yesterday morning in church. I caught sight of myself in a mirror while I was wearing my cassock and surplice, and I thought I looked hideous. My arms are too big. My hips are too wide. My face is too round. I look like an ugly parody of a grown-up wingless cherub in Anglican choir dress. It didn't matter that the other singers in the choir, as well as our choirmaster, had thanked me for my willingness to step into the alto section again this morning when we only had one actual alto who was feeling shaky thanks to jet lag from a long flight she'd been on the day before. It didn't matter that I was among friends. It didn't matter that I know that very few, if any, of us ever actually like the way we look in choir dress. I felt worthless, stupid and ugly. And thanks to my infamously good memory, I couldn't stop thinking of an incident from a couple of years ago, when my other choir was considering a change of dress code for the women involved; the people who'd done research into a company that would make the blouses and skirts to order said that the clothes the company kept in stock went up to size 28, but they'd have them sewn for anyone who needed a larger size. Our director—the same person who is the organist and choirmaster at my church—laughed when he heard that the clothing sizes would go that large. I believe his exact words were, "That's a two-person tent!"

At the time, I couldn't do much but toss an irritated glare in his direction; due to his amusement, I doubt he noticed. Yesterday, however, I remembered his unintentionally cruel words. Size 28 isn't that much bigger than size 24, after all. And I couldn't stop thinking that this man, someone who I've trusted implicitly since I was in my teens and who I've lately come to consider a friend, thought two years ago that it was OK to ridicule people who wear a clothing size that he'll never have to worry about getting anywhere near—both he and his wife are quite slender, as are their children. I could not discount the possibility that someone who I like, trust and admire (a very rare combination for me, thanks to my cautious and aloof Scorpio self), who seems to like and respect me in turn, nonetheless apparently thinks—if only at a subconscious level—that I'm a hideous fat mess. After all, I'm nearly big enough to wear a "two-person tent" for concert blacks.

I know him well enough to know that it would be highly uncharacteristic of him to be intentionally cruel to anyone; if anything, his faults run in, if not the opposite direction, then one that's highly opposed to it; if twelve years have taught me anything about him, it's that he apparently prefers to avoid confrontation and he doesn't like offending people. He'd probably be mortified if he realized that a throwaway comment he made a couple of years ago that didn't get the laugh he was probably hoping for was very hurtful to me (and, for that matter, to the other women of large size who sing in that choir) at the time and is still periodically coming back to hurt me now. I think that what hurt the worst was that I wasn't expecting that sort of cruelty to come from someone who, aside from that one incident, has always been kindness personified to me. The part of my mind that's always willing to torment me and make me feel unworthy of existing exults in this sort of remembrance; it tells me that because someone who's so basically good has felt free to mock fat people, I can't expect anyone else to treat us decently. It tells me that for all our size, we're less than human. It tells me that it's right to be disgusted by someone as big as me. It tells me that my anger was unreasonable and my pain didn't matter.

I found it difficult to carry out my choral duties yesterday morning. It's hard to sing in time with everyone else when you can barely stand to look in the direction of the choirmaster. Outwardly, I was trying my hardest to act normally. Inwardly, I was in a state of utter torment. Words kept repeating themselves in my mind. Fat. Ugly. Shameful. Worthless. Useless. Stupid.

No matter what I did, no matter how hard I tried to think more positively, I couldn't stop the wave of self-loathing.

The effects of my inner meltdown weren't pleasant. Apart from the coffee and danish that I had when I stopped by at my dad's apartment on my way home from church, I didn't eat anything at all yesterday. I spent the whole day feeling tired, hungry, dizzy, weak, irritable, slow and even in a little pain, thanks to hunger pangs and the headache I always get when I've been starving myself again.

In the end, I can only be thankful that I've never had to wear anything that was size 28. As damaging as the incident was, I suspect it would have been worse if I had been that size when he made that comment, or if I'd reached it since then. But as it is, I keep praying for help to get myself out of this depressed and painful mental state. Sometimes that helps, but for the most part I'm deeply afraid that the answer to these prayers will be "NO!" and I'll be stuck with it for life.

And fears like that truly worry me, because I don't approve of suicide, but I could almost understand the temptation when the world is such an unfriendly place that even kind people like the choirmaster at my church, who's been a mentor and almost a friend to me for twelve years now, don't have to be aware of it—or apologise for it—when they say or do something that's cruel to fat people, whether or not it was intentional. After all, we're constantly used as a symbol of all that's wrong with modern Western civilization, so obviously that means that we don't have feelings, or at least it means that our feelings aren't worth considering!

1 comment:

  1. I'm a fat guy... and I was a fat kid growing up. There was a brief period in my early 20s when I got to a proper 'average' weight. But it didn't last long. I've always been at least 30 to 40 lbs over what a man my age and weight should be. So I identify with all you're said. It can be hard being a fat gay man because unlike straight male culture, gay culture is very 'macho masculine muscle oriented' at the present. It was painful in my 30s and 40s being single and looking to date. Now that I'm 58, I'm used to the BS that's out there in the media, and in society. Thanks for the column in any case.