“You were not fat.” My friend interrupted my sentence with what they considered a generous bit of revisionist history.
Confronting My Friends’ Fatphobia
“You were thick.”
I shifted uncomfortably at their assertion. It was one I was familiar with. I knew that by trying to separate me from what society considers undesirable, and unworthy they thought themselves loyal. As someone who could wear adult pant sizes in the fifth grade, I had grown used to my friends downplaying my swollen biceps and full midriff.
Usually I was able to brush it off, or even appreciate the good intentions behind it but this time I couldn’t. Staying silent didn’t seem polite or mature, it felt false.
As a professional writer I sometimes use personal stories to illustrate a larger point. Some of those stories involve the size of my body. Being body positive on the internet is easy for me. After years of self-work, I truly love and appreciate my body and I’m never ashamed to talk about my stretch marks or my dress size. I post pictures in two-piece bathing suits, even when I’m bloated. A bright snapshot, a quippy caption and I’m ready to go. In close quarters the situation is stickier.
Unlike strangers on the internet your friends believe they have your best interest at heart
When slim friends talk about the ten pounds they gained over the holidays as if it’s the end of the world or use someone else’s size as an insult I’ve been reluctant to call them out on their fatphobia. I stayed quiet because I knew doing so would lead to conversations surrounding my body I did not want to have.
Unlike strangers on the internet your friends believe they have your best interest at heart and will take any opportunity to offer opinions on what they think will make a “better,” you. They’re also a lot harder to tell to fuck off.
Many times I longed to object to crude statements about their ex’s new girlfriend or annoying coworker. “Okay but what does her being fat have to do with anything,” I wanted to ask. “I’m fat, what are you trying to say about me?”
Instead I would picture the avalanche of unsolicited advice headed my way should I choose to speak up and wince. It was easier to just shift the topic back to the latest Red Table Talk.
But the more that my work sits in dialogue with department stores and swimwear designers the more I feel compelled to speak up on social distancing walks and on Facetime calls.
It took me 25 years to become fully at peace with my body and if I want to maintain that peace I have to stand up for it in private as well as public. That has meant calling out some of my friends.
I am fat. That informs my life. There are booths I can’t sit at and stores I can’t shop in. I receive assignments and parties invitations because of the BMI bias-sized chip on my shoulder. It’s a part of how I experience the world.
To ignore that reality is to erase part of me.
At 9 years old a fellow child on the playground thought I was pregnant because of the way my church dress accentuated my stomach. I said I wasn’t. She responded, “Then why are you so fat?”
At 30, a doctor I had consulted about the suspicion that I might have fibroids, recommended that I visit the gym daily to improve my “quality of life” before I look up for treatment for fibroids. I didn’t know what to say to the doctor!
“Fuck you then fat bitch,” is the go-to refrain of the street harassers I’ve been ignoring since I got my first training bra.
The size of my body has fluctuated throughout my life but the negative attitudes around it have not. I got called a “fat bitch” at a size 14. I get called a “fat bitch” at a size 26.
When friends talk about fat people they are talking about me. When they deny me the use of the word “fat,” to describe myself they are gaslighting me.
Being called “thick,” “curvy,” “full-figured,” or any other euphemism after hearing someone imply that fat people are lazy, worthless, stupid, or ugly does not make me feel special. Being told “you’re not fat, you’re beautiful,” does not make me feel attractive.
I listen to these statements and they strengthen the internalized fatphobia I have to fight every day to function in my body. I no longer allow fatphobic speech in my presence because it threatens to chip away at the love I built over a lifetime.
It’s hard to love yourself when the world is telling you not to. It’s harder when that world includes your friends.
I don’t want to be excused from the treatment fat people get by society. I want that treatment to be better.
I want doctors to believe us. I want partners to do more than fetishize us. I want retailers to respect us. I want our friends to see us.