Dear Fat Woman on Vacation,
You looked so gorgeous in your vibrant shirt and blown out hair. You looked happy and confident as you and your husband got on stage for a couples’ contest. I could tell that you are a fun and outgoing person by the way you carried yourself in front of hundreds of people. You’ve somehow managed to stand up and be confident despite the messages that fat girls like us get from the rest of the world about staying invisible.
I was excited to see you kick ass at whatever the contest was. I almost got pulled on stage myself but my shy, introverted nature simply doesn’t allow me to be as free and open as you. The emcee announced that there was going to be a dance competition. You looked excited! Maybe you and your husband have taken dance lessons in the past or you love Zumba. I saw you say something to him with a smile on your face and a twinkle in your eye. You owned that stage!
Then it was announced that the competition involved the husbands picking up their wives at the end of the dance. My heart stopped for a moment. There was no way that your husband was going to be able to lift you. I thought about how this was wrong on so many levels. Why would they choose you as a participant? Why couldn’t they change the dance to involve something more accommodating to your size? Surely, they wouldn’t have asked someone in a wheelchair on stage knowing that it was a dance competition or someone who was injured. Why did they take you knowing the embarrassment you would face in front of the crowd when you realized that your weight would become part of the show?
My questions were later answered.
When you heard that you would need to be lifted, there was a brief uncomfortable smile on your face. I’ll bet you were considering your options. Run off stage and stay in your room the rest of the vacation? Leave the stage and sit back in the audience with everyone staring at you? Keep a smile on your face and hope for the best? Grab the mic and tell them to fuck off?
You tried to leave the stage, you got halfway there and the entertainment staff grabbed you by the arms and brought you back with smiles on their faces. You complied. Your only other option was to make a bigger scene and further the humiliation. At this point my heart was racing and I was feeling queasy, my sister. I wanted to jump on stage and kick all of them in the balls, grab you by the hand and run with you to the beach where we could get some Pina Coladas and share stories about what it’s like to have to laugh and participate in our own humiliation. But I sat and watched and hoped and prayed that you would get out of this unscathed.
There were five couples on stage, all of them average sized. One by one the couples did the dance and ended with the wives being easily lifted in the air and a round of applause from the audience. I’ll bet you have never been easily lifted by anyone. Neither have I.
Then it was your turn. Your face was red and you looked nervous. Your husband looked sympathetic as you whispered to each other. Then you smiled a genuine smile. I could tell that you came up with a plan to deflect from this situation. The music started and the two of you started dancing. You laughed and threw your head back with a devilish grin. I was so relieved. You had this!
The music stopped. Now was the moment of truth. I saw your body starting to make a move. The thing that was going to make this whole situation okay. Everything was in slow motion. Out the corner of my eye, I saw four men on the entertainment staff run on the stage toward you. You put up your hand to stop them. They didn’t listen. They didn’t respect your body. They didn’t ask or care about your consent. They lifted you up into the position that the other women were lifted into so easily by their husbands. Except it took four men to lift you.
You looked scared, angry, resigned then sad. The crowd went wild. They laughed uproariously. Isn’t that hilarious? The four strong men took a bow and left the stage without even saying a word to you. You stood there shocked until you were directed to get back in line.
Did you realize that you were unwittingly part of the entertainment that night? The way that the situation was handled was obviously rehearsed, a show that happened weekly. Each new week brought a new group of guests, unaware of the previous week’s show. Each week a new woman to humiliate and use on stage as part of the act. Another week, another fat women for hundreds of people to laugh at. I was so enraged! For you! For me! For all of us! Why is it okay to make us the butt of the jokes? And why do we have to laugh along?
You went through the rest of the competition with blank eyes and a tired smile. The crowd voted through applause who should win. You got the most votes. I was wondering if it was because your lift was the funniest or if they too felt sad that you were humiliated. I didn’t clap. I was angry. I am still angry as I write this letter. These arrogant, misogynistic fat-phobic men took the light from your eye that night. I pray that you were able to recover and bounce back to the outgoing, confident person that you appeared to be. I know if that were me, it would take a lot of emotional work for me to recover.
Dear Fat Woman on the Stage, you are all of us. You live in a world that is not ready to accept the diversity of size. You are blamed and teased because of your weight, but are offered no solutions. You started as a young, innocent child who was trained to see herself as an ongoing project, a never ending disappointment because of her strong, healthy bigger body. Over time that body was subjected to diet after diet, failure after failure. The emotional and physical stress that dieting took on your body ironically lead to it getting bigger and bigger. You are the butt of jokes. All problems you face are attributed to your weight. Your weight defines your existence. You pray that someone can see past your body and love you for who you are on the inside because you have been taught that no one will ever find you attractive just as you are. You are the result of an insidious diet culture that is inescapable.
But, my sister, when I looked at you on the stage that night, before your humiliation, I saw that you were no longer a shrinking violet. I saw a woman who made a decision to take up as much space as she needed. A woman who found love in a husband who loves her because of her appearance, not despite it. I saw the looks between you two and could tell that he supports you. The road to self acceptance is not easy or smooth. It is not a linear path, rather it twists and turns. I could tell from your spirit that this incident blew out your candle for that night, but that you have learned how to reignite it.
I didn’t see you after that night, but I haven’t stopped thinking about you and how we are one in the same. I imagine that you took the night to lick your wounds and some of your old thinking reemerged but by morning you decided that you deserved to fully enjoy every moment of your well earned vacation. I’ll bet you went to the pool the next day and drank your Pina Colada and laughed with your husband. I’m sure that you soaked up the sun and read a really good book.
And I am positive that you got up for the Zumba lesson by the pool and showed the rest of the place how it’s done.
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