How I Got Fat

7 years ago

I know how I got fat. Why is more complicated, but how is pretty clear. 

I did not become fat as an affront to anyone's eyes or a perceived offensive on their health insurance premiums. 

It was not so that I could have flashbacks for years to boys laughing at me at parties, like when they turned on "Big Girls Don't Cry" minutes after I walked nervously into their crappy grad student house, what I could tell by their looks and my roommate's embarrassed expression was a ritual on the rare occasion when a fatty lumbered in.

I did not get fat so that I could think things like, "I could always lose weight whereas those boys couldn't fix mean or stupid." I didn't plan on getting really comfortable on the defensive or hating photographs of myself before I even saw them or God forbid of being the jolly party entertainment.

I did not get fat so that my ballet teacher could tell me on costume measuring day when I was seven years old that I could only bring half a sandwich to school, while the other girls could bring a whole. I didn't plan on the pressure early on to apologize for myself, or to stuff down my feelings and rage and societally-sanctioned, self-designed shame every day of my life until I gave it up. 

These were all bewildering, poisonous, unexpected side effects. And they, along with what I'm seeing as a trend of people increasingly discussing how people become fat and how they feel about people being fat and how they shouldn't be fat and should stop being fat are the reasons why I write about it on the Internet at all. 

It's not that complicated, really. I became fat because I was a sedentary child who lived mostly in my head as opposed to on a ballfield or on the playground other than to swing, for circumstances that can't be fairly blamed on anyone. They are another story, but anyway, it unfolded that way and I just know that no one -- especially I -- had any idea that when I turned 13 everything would seem to go sideways and my body would become the epicenter of an endless debate about what went wrong and how to fix it. 

Truth? I also stayed fat because I like food and wine and have an unassailable appreciation for things that taste good that doesn't always mesh well with a body that picked up weight -- and kept it on -- earlier in life than most. Also once I embarked on my first attempt at dieting, I almost immediately learned to be crazy on a path that began with Weight Watchers at 13 and peaked most horribly with Jenny Craig my junior year in college. The damage piled up so that I cannot markedly restrict my eating beyond the most balanced guidelines, not without psychological strain and weird behavior that maybe only someone else who has that reaction can understand. Still, I don't eat junk very often. I watch my fat and salt, but I like to eat, can't lie. 

And no one -- no matter how well-educated or intentioned -- can tie this up in a tidy blog post. Even you. Even me. 

That's how I got fat mostly. It's simple on its face but not so much when you know more about it, from inside your skin. I got fat because of things I did and choices I made, genetics and emotions and what I'm guessing is a touch of weird wiring. And I'll tell you, for some of us walking down that fat track is super easy when it starts, and for a long time, actually, until the first day it's not and then you think, "holy shit, what do I do now?"

I stay not-thin for other reasons, some of them tied up in the whys and some distinctly different. I walk through life with the transactions of food and exercise on an endless loop in my brain, as obsessed with both as a supermodel, just ultimately unable to for whatever reason to make my body and mind cooperate with the math. I try, though. I try and try. I know a lot about calories and serving sizes and how many points are in what I just ate. I try and stay consistent with exercise. I try and try and try, except on the days that I do not. I am a terrible fat accepter. I've never been capable of it. And as much as I complain about exercise, I know that when I work out I feel better, that even though I may never be thin, that feeling strong is good for me, that meeting physical goals gives me control over my body that I've always felt I lacked.  

This is what happens when you are the cliched gym class joke, you see, even when you come to realize that only the weakest people laugh at fat people. 

I also know what I look like, and a lot of times I know when other people see it and don't approve, because it hangs there in the air. I judge what other people look like, too, in the sickest part of my brain, usually only for a millisecond but sometimes longer. I have been taught somehow to compare -- noses, thighs, stomachs, clothing -- or maybe I just knew it all along. But I have seen people 100 and 300 pounds who identify as fat and unless they tell me, I do not presume to know how they got there. I know that I live on the fringes of the land where all people deemed fat in our culture seem to be dumped -- like a have-another-cookie coven or assisted living facility without walls. 

I also live in a truly weird first-world limbo where a lot of fat people have resisted claiming me, too, at just under 200 pounds and a size 14 and a reported ability to "carry my weight," because I rarely look fat to them. 

How I got fat is the one thing about which everyone seems to have an answer. How I can not be fat anymore is the one process for which there exist thousands -- maybe millions, now? -- of how-tos in article and book and website form. It is the rock upon which a huge segment of our cultural dialogue stands. It is the thing for which every fat person, I increasingly believe, is blamed to varying degrees. 

How I got fat is only one thing about me that sometimes feels like the only thing, but it is not. I try to shut out the noise -- the people who claim concern for the health of overweight people as an acceptable screen for criticism, the people who would tell me about myself without asking me what I've figured out first, the people with rhetorical volume on ten who could dial it down to six. I try to shut out the movements, factions and myriad judgments. I kick at a boxing bag. I eat more some days than others. I keep on moving, because that's what I need to do to live with any sense of worth, of course. 

Because I only know how I got fat, I'm telling you, Internet. I don't know how other people did it, but I know that I don't really know, and I sure don't know why, either. And it's not that they should have to explain it if they don't feel like it, because it's really none of my business. But after years of being silenced and shrinking while at the same time being aware of taking up entirely too much space, if that is what happened for them, too? I think that they should know that they can. 

Other stories on the web: 

Dances With Fat is Ragen Chastain's blog. It is well-written and on-point -- lots of points, actually. Her post 386,170 Unhelpful Things refers to the negative messages she receives about her body. 

Snarky's Machine writes at Shapely Prose about being Cha-Cha-Cha-Chaka Chubby

Dara Chadwick at You'd Be So Pretty If... writes about Destination Self-Acceptance, why she doesn't weigh herself, and the effect she hopes this has on her daughter. 


Contributing editor Laurie White writes at LaurieWrites. Her photos are on Flickr

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