(part 1, I’m sure, even though I haven’t considered writing part 2 yet)
I grew up in a home with both my parents and three older brothers. My maternal grandparents were a part of our lives, and for a very long time they lived only four or five miles away. As I got older, they did the snow-bird thing and bought a condo in Florida for the winter months, but returning to live nearby during the warmer seasons.
As I said, my brothers were older, ranging from 8 years to 18 months older. I was the butt of many jokes and received much pain and distress from them during my growing up years. The biggest of which was teasing over my weight. Unfortunately, as many who grew up fat know, that didn’t remain in the house, but I got bombarded from all angles, including school and out in public. I grew up before fat-shaming was a public conversation. I grew up before “healthy at any size” was a glimmer in anyone’s eye. I grew up before parents were warned that fat-shaming (or “weight” shaming) could cause permanent psychological damage.
I was a shy, quiet, introverted child. I enjoyed school only because I liked learning and I liked the teachers. I rarely had friends and although I don’t remember specifically, I’m sure I hated recess. I hated being outside, I hated getting sweaty (which I always got), I hated hearing my thighs rub together in my pants. I hated being bullied and teased by the other kids. And despite what parents might romanticize, not once in my entire childhood did any one of my brothers come to my rescue for anything, in school or out. In fact, one of my brothers broke my heart by “adopting” a neighborhood girl (a friend of his), calling her his “sister” and completely ignoring me, as if he couldn’t bear to acknowledge me as his sibling.
To make matters worse, I was the only fat kid in my family. It was like I didn’t fit in, and I feel like my brothers reinforced that with the way they treated me and my weight. Let us not forget that my entire growing up years, I heard nothing but commentary on what I was eating, that I was too heavy, that I didn’t exercise enough, etc. I heard it from my parents, from my grandparents, from other relatives. And to show all of them, I snuck food as often as I could. I snuck into the kitchen and stole food…I hid food, I went out and bought food (when I was old enough to do so). I was the epitome of the sad fat kid. I was happier to be alone, happier to be ensconced in my books or my writing or television. I was happier to not have friends and not go out and not wear clothes that didn’t fit.
When I got old enough (twelve years old), my parents sent me to fat camp (Camp Camelot anyone?). They had little money and I was mired in guilt over them having to pay for the camp. So not only did I feel shame and guilt over being fat, I felt shame and guilt that my parents had to scrimp and save to send me to a camp to “fix” me. And although I’m sure I lost some weight, there’s no question that I gained it all back…and then some. The familiar statement from a fat person who went on a diet. No question either that my guilt and shame skyrocketed, because not only did my parents save to pay for the camp, but I also failed at getting and staying thin. I failed at getting thin no matter what they did to try to “fix” me. And every time they opened their mouths and told me that I needed to lose weight, I hated them. I wanted to be loved, period. I wanted to be loved even if I had a fat ass or a fat stomach or big thighs…and I didn’t feel loved. I felt like they would love me if only I looked like the other kids, who were average size. (I swear my parents loved me and I’m sure I knew it, but this is from the perspective of a fat child who felt ostracized because of her weight.)
I had all the regular issues in middle school… the kids I hated, the small circle of friends, the boys I crushed on, the dreaded hot weather, the sweating, the angst. The hatred for PE class. I told my therapist the other day that I also turned into a brat. Prior to this age, I was a momma’s girl. I hung on to my mother’s figurative apron strings every minute of the day. The only time I was ever really away from her was during fat camp, and I hated it. Anyway, during my twelfth and thirteenth year, I was a brat. I was bratty to my parents and I skipped a lot of school. I hung out with the guidance counselor or I went home. I once wanted to leave school so badly that I walked home, alone, along a major highway probably ten miles. I also took a cab once. I’m told now that I was probably bored in school, and rebelling against conformity. *shrug* Then when I turned fourteen, I got a job. At that age I had to apply for a special work permit to get a job, but I did it. My brattiness melted away because the job gave me responsibility, even at an early age. The owners of the shop where I worked apparently thought highly of me because they allowed me to open the shop by myself. I remember the way they looked (he was short, had brown balding hair, she was a short redhead…and they were both fat!) though I don’t remember their names. I also remember that I needed to have dark brown pants to wear, but I couldn’t find any that fit me. My mother had to make them for me. At fourteen. They were not pleasant to wear and I suspect they looked it. But the best part? It was an ice cream shop, which meant it was highly air-conditioned. All. The. Time.
From there forward, I worked a job somewhere. The ice cream shop. A hardware store. My mother’s office. Other offices. Temp jobs. Computer jobs. I worked for money. I worked to buy a car. Then I worked to buy a house so I could move out on my own.
As I got older, the push for me to lose weight did not stop. I didn’t often speak my mind, mostly I hid or pushed all the pain and anger down inside me. And I never said a word when my grandmother would judge people–women or girls–on their weight. Family, friends, strangers in a mall or a dressing room. With every judgement, I felt it personally, because I looked like those women and those girls. So everything they said also felt like it was directed at me. I’m not saying they stopped saying things to me about my weight, I’m merely saying they branched out. Or I got more sensitive to it and they’d been doing it all along. I’m not sure. I only remember that one time, I said something. I spoke up… and I said, “Mom, Nana, how would you feel if you overheard someone saying those things about me? Because I’m fat, too. And you’re saying that woman is so fat and shouldn’t be wearing a bathing suit. How would you feel if someone said I was too fat to wear a bathing suit? Or that I was too fat to find a husband? Or I was too fat to walk down the street?” I suspect I shocked the shit out of both of them. I can’t say they changed right then and there, but things did start to change. The question is, was it me or them who changed?
I still hadn’t had a date, but I was learning to find my independence. It was heady stuff, but I was still terribly shy and introverted. With the new jobs, though, I was forced to interact with new people, more adult people, and my feelings about my capabilities changed. I wasn’t the fat kid, I was the good employee. I also found the up-and-coming world of the internet. I found people who had never met me, who had never seen me, and I introduced myself as a character that everyone would love. There was no conversation about weight, and I imagined and projected myself as a sex-pot. But then again, everyone else imagined and projected themselves as something they weren’t…so we were all in the same boat.