I offer these words to begin a conversation I feel we need to have – about how we see our selves, others, and the treatments that result. I offer these words as a political statement: every story has worth and perhaps with one sharing another will be encouraged to do the same. Maybe we can work towards a bridge across our experiences without consuming the life of another.
The plan is to write a series of blogs – with great ambition I have decided one per day until the surgery – that details many stages of my transformation and the new worlds I have traveled since losing weight. I do hope you’ll join the conversation.
Part I – Big Body Matters
In Kindergarten I weighed 120 pounds. I remember the school nurse lecturing me and making a phone call to my parents. I didn’t understand then why this was a big deal or why we should have to talk about it so much. I knew I was bigger than the other children, but that didn’t seem to matter before I entered school. I realized quite quickly that it did matter. My body, or rather the ways in which my body occupied space (too much), did matter to those around me. It was too large. I moved too slowly. I breathed too heavily.
The taunts started at five and lasted until twenty-three, when I began a journey to lose weight.
School was hellish. I imagine it is for most of the misfits and wayward souls. I could be wrong about that, though. I don’t think I am. People screamed out my name (Stephanie) as Step-on-me “or don’t because the fatass will break your back.” Boys grabbed at the folds of excess weight in the hallways and laughed. Sometimes when walking through the halls people would oink or moo behind me. Always there was a reminder that I didn’t quite fit into the world the way people wished that I would. I couldn’t fold in on myself, and I didn’t want to shrivel underneath their words.
I cried on the last day of classes when I watched my high school fade in the side mirror. It was joy. I weighed over 300 pounds yet still found a space to believe in a different, less painful existence. I thought things would be different now – as if those halls were the only place folks are expected to cut themselves down under bodily expectations. Of course this was quite wrong and foolishly naïve, but we need hope to get us by and sometimes we store too much of it in the wrong place.
What happened in hallways shifted onto the streets. People love to scream out of their car windows. “Buy a treadmill.” Of course fatass endured. I still don’t exactly understand the appeal of that particular taunt because, realistically, most asses are fat. It wasn’t just walking around my city - this happened everywhere. Folks in restaurants stared with morbid fascination while I ate. The clerk at the grocery store scrutinized each purchase made. The doctor shamed me. Employers asked if I thought I was “up to the pace” of retail. Eyes followed me around the mall where I worked, as if I were there for their entertainment – a body created for them to measure themselves against and praise their own form against my own. I was an unwilling spectacle.
Yet I presented myself as proud and fierce. I learned in school that if you broke in front of them you didn’t inspire mercy – you just waved blood under the nose of a very emaciated hound. They bit deeper when you broke. Perhaps guilt made them dig deeper, or power. Either way, I presented strong and full and sometimes convinced myself that I was. Underneath it all I hated myself. I stood in front of mirrors and cried a lot. I refused compliments that centered my physicality. I admired other, more beautiful bodies and day dreamed they were my own. And I was angry. I was angry nearly all of the time.
Most of all I was angry at myself for being angry, because I knew the taunts and occasional assaults were the result of minds supersaturated in a field of normality politics that excludes all – even those who embrace the rhetoric. I knew that centerfolds poisoned minds. I knew that money affords things not available to all. I knew that it wasn’t as much about me as it was about the relentless stream of messages that proclaim how we and others should be. And I knew these things deep in my soul, but that doesn’t change the effects of cruelty or the brutality of self-hate. It doesn’t mitigate the moments where you desperately wish to be someone different.
In the end it came down to a decision – lose the weight or continue to break myself down in front of glass and in the lonely corners where folks couldn’t see (and sometimes where they could). Now, that sounds simple. I want to clarify that the decision, the journey, the maintenance … none of it is simple. It is mired in hard choices, demands for resources, and new sets of shame and guilt alongside celebration. It is, quite simply, a road you never stop walking. It is a voice that carries, and it is rich and terrible in both beauty and trauma.