I was wearing a black romper and a pink sweater with black ballet flats, and a curated “messy” bun. My makeup had lasted all day, finally settling into those glorious few hours where I looked both polished and effortless. My fat body doesn’t make me feel ugly anymore, so I felt like I looked great.
I did look great.
I was happy, smiling, even when nothing was funny. We had enjoyed a wonderful day of shows and shopping in a city we don’t visit very often, and dinner was the last thing on our agenda before we returned to our hotel to watch a movie and rest.
Our table chatted happily, sharing a plate of calamari as we waited for our entrees to arrive. My son drew pictures of hermit crabs on the back of his menu. We all laughed as my picky toddler happily gobbled up the fried squid, believing it was chicken nuggets. My husband rested his arm on the back of the booth, absent-mindedly wrapping a loose strand of the back of my hair around his finger, giving my neck a light squeeze, then winking when I looked over and caught his eye.
It was one of those evenings that you remember for a time through a hazy lens, then the memory fades altogether. It was lovely, but it was completely ordinary. Absolutely nothing of note happened at all.
Which is why the emotional punch in the gut felt so misplaced.
Two women at the table next to mine chose to openly size me up with their eyes, gesture toward me, and discuss my fat body in somewhat hushed (but not quite hushed enough) tones, eyes rolling and tongues wagging, as my father looked on. They made no attempt to conceal the content of their conversation.
They didn’t stop when one of them noticed my dad’s steely gaze or when I glanced their way. It was clear they had no shame in being “caught.” They felt completely justified, apparently believing that my audacity to exist at my size was enough to invite their cruelty.
We were all there, mere feet apart, to eat dinner prepared in the same kitchen by the same hands, but somehow, for me alone, it was the wrong choice.
After all, doesn’t my round belly prove I have already eaten more than enough?
Don’t I know that I deserve to go hungry until my back is not adorned with rolls of flesh, until I don’t have to use carefully applied makeup to create the hollow under my cheekbones and the shadow under my jaw?
How can I feel that my chubby little fingers deserve to lift even a single forkful of my delicious meal to my mouth until they are slender?
I deserve a garden salad, dressing on the side. I deserve ice water. It’s okay for me to have dinner as long as it isn’t decadent, and I order a heaping portion of self-loathing with every meal.
But I don’t deserve filet mignon and green beans amandine and white cheddar potatoes, especially not in public where these women have to watch me eat it, bite after bite, shoveled into a mouth they incorrectly imagine has already eaten more food since breakfast than they have all week.
Must I be so gluttonous? So defiant? So repugnant? So … fat? Don’t I know they’re trying to eat?
For a split second, I wondered if I should at least have the courtesy to be ashamed of myself. Should I choose to live as though their assumptions are gospel truth, to deny my hunger until I’m out of their sight, despite having eaten not one morsel that day prior to dinner? A few years ago, I might have.
Actually, I know I would have.
I wouldn’t have ended up one bit thinner, but I would have done a better job of being apologetic for the space I inhabit. I would have hated me more than anyone else possibly could.
On that night, though, I was angry with myself for allowing that thought to enter my mind. I’ve worked too hard to disconnect my size from my worth to work backwards now.
I will not ask for a to-go box, or leave one delicious green bean on my plate. I will not allow them to have another minute of my evening. There is no way I am letting them force me to leave hungry. I will pick up my fork and my knife, turn my fat back to them, and eat.
Unlike the old me, I will not give these women the benefit of the doubt. If they just wanted to discuss my body, they could have done so discreetly. They chose to make it clear. I knew exactly what happened here because it’s happened a million times before.
This repulsed attitude toward fat people is standard for some people. Everywhere I turn, there are reminders that many people believe that my fat body is utterly unacceptable, objectively undesirable and universally unattractive.
Thirty-four years have taught me that a lot of people think I’m just not doing a very good job having a body. They’re wrong, but I don’t have time to explain to every judging eye how much intentional work it took to disentangle my physical size from my emotional health.
People often cry out, “But you aren’t healthy! It’s your health I’m thinking about! Why should I respect your choice to stay fat and not be healthy?!”
Strangers know nothing nothing about my health or my choices, but even if they did, it wouldn’t matter because of this one fact: Health is not a requirement for basic human kindness.
Did you read that?
Health. Is. Not. A. Requirement. For. Basic. Human. Kindness.
It is wrong to treat someone poorly on the basis of their health.
How can this even need to be said?
A few years ago, I decided that misery is not the penance I must to pay for daring to be fat. I chose happy, and I’ve never turned back. I have shirked my social obligation to hate myself, and I will never choose misery again.
Here I am, thriving, despite being fresh out of despair and self-loathing.
I haven’t paid the sorrow toll in a long time, yet I’m still cruising down the same highway as the very people who believe my only suitable choice is to hate this vessel that carries me because this vessel is just too big.
How infuriating my beautiful life seems to be for people who are broken enough to believe that I should be wretchedly unhappy. How confusing for people who believe that fat is the ugliest thing a woman can be to see me with an attractive partner and adorable children.
Despite the world’s every attempt to make us feel insignificant, fat people refuse to play small. We truly live. We have sex, wear beautiful clothes, achieve, dream and raise families. Fat people do everything thin people do — we just take up a little more space while we do it. We are not living half-empty lives; we are filled to overflowing, and that is a hard pill for some people to swallow.
I wish I could tell you that I am so strong, such a body positive warrior, so secure in my fat body that I am unfazed when I face vicious judgement that I didn’t invite or deserve.
But that would be a lie.
I am not willing to become so hardened that the barbs and arrows can’t penetrate my skin. In order to maintain my belief that even the cruelest person has love and goodness inside, I must stay soft. Staying soft means I let myself feel things, even when they hurt.
I might be too fat for a lot of people for the rest of my life. But I will never be a person who is capable of sitting five feet from an innocent stranger and endeavoring to make them feel ugly, unworthy, or unacceptable.
Tell me … why should I be ashamed of my body when it houses a soul I am so proud to call my own?