There was a scale in the bathroom – one of those pay $.25 and get your weight carnival-esque type machines. I avoided scales. It had been years since I stepped on one. I decided to try. I weighed over 330 pounds. I knew I had gained some since leaving high school, but I didn’t realize it was so much. I was crushed. I felt nauseous. My self-disgust reached new heights in the public restroom of a parking area on the highways between New York and Rhode Island. My only sanctuary was the metal walls of a stall that millions of strangers had visited over time.
I turned to my friend and asked her if she could tell that I weighed so much. She said she could but it was ok because I was beautiful in my own way and fuck anyone who said different.
***Please, if you take anything from this blog, I hope you take this --- avoid telling people that they are beautiful “in their own way.” Avoid telling someone that, while they are not pretty like girls in magazines, they have their “own look” about them. You shine a light on the fact that they don’t fit, and while these words come from a place of good intentions they are poison. They are a condemnation. It is not about supporting the status quo. It is not about buying into ideals. It is not about wishing to fit a fabricated and violent mold. It is about breaking those things. It is about not being compared against something that's done nothing except haunt you. It is about not feeling as if there is something wrong with you. It is about not being made to feel like the unwilling spectacle or cabinet of curiosities even around those closest to you.***
I went into those public metal walls and I closed my eyes. I imagined cutting myself away with scissors and tying the pieces back together. Even the scars would be an improvement.
I almost drove back, but I always felt at home at shows. In a room of misfits – tattoos, mohawks, torn clothes, missing teeth – I didn’t feel hyper-visible. When the dance began it didn’t matter what you wore or looked like, it mattered that you could keep pace and move or stand back in grand appreciation. I always kept the pace up; it was part of my resistance. I decided to go.
I was wearing a mauve shirt cut wide at the shoulders with a black camisole underneath. This particular shirt had black felt birds scattered around the neckline and I loved it because it was hip. Finding great clothes when you’re obese and on a strict budget is pretty much a modern purgatory filled with shame, frustration, and often times a good deal of bathroom and/or fitting room breakdowns.
It seems retailers and fashion designers are hell-bent on dressing obese bodies in denim button downs with embroidered birdhouses, because it hides the body. It screams that the body isn’t sexual – it isn’t a threat and it is laughable. It is something to decorate in mellow patterns because that body shouldn’t want to stand out – it should want to hide and fold itself into pastel colored pop tents. There is something ultimately comical about affordable plus-size clothing – always in pastels or grayscale with three-daisy buttons or some other ridiculous and infantile accompaniment (like birdhouses). When a body is dressed in these garments it becomes safer. These clothing styles state that the wearer is like a grandmother or a child, they are not a threat, and warm. They are not witty, sexual, or confident. Skirts are never cut short or tight, pants often have elastic waist bands, and shirts avoid low necklines. The goal is to cover the skin as much as possible, to suffocate it underneath layers that deny the existence of mass.
Of course there are many great shops dedicated to plus-size fashion, and there are some cute styles there. You pay for those styles. Such stores are not as common as the local Sears and they are far more expensive. This too states that if you are fat you are going to pay. You are going to venture away from the skinny shoppers and you are going to spend an entire paycheck on two outfits – all so you don’t look like an Easter egg when you walk out the door. Even stores that have a plus-size section divide the store so that the thin folks and the large folks don’t look through the same racks. As an obese woman you are relegated to an over-there space – it is easier to keep track of the bodies then, and it keeps bodies in their “place”.
So, I was wearing this shirt that I was really quite fond of and in the midst of the dance the shirt was pulled widely around me. The boat neckline that was such a refreshing change from the chokingly high crew neck wasn’t a smart choice for a rock and roll show. Let me explain that, while I often had individuals grab my body or clothing maliciously while oinking at me or making some other such barnyard noise, this was not what happened here. When you dance you lose your footing, you start to fall, and you grab hold of whatever is near. When you dance you are surrounded by bodies – all sweating and bumping against one another. A casualty of the dance is torn or stretched and pulled clothes. Yet I felt vulnerable and exposed and deeply shamed. No one was looking at me (that I knew of) because the high from the show was too thick. But there I was, my shirt drooped to near waist and I wanted to cry. I had a brilliant time dancing, but all the parts I had been trained to hide were in view – the sleeves had fallen so my shoulders were showing, my fleshy arms available for all. The camisole, while covering my breasts, was dreadfully tight and clung to the roll of fat below my chest. I remember quickly drawing the shirt up and tucking as much of the neckline as I could under my bra and camisole straps. Then I ran out the nearest door, both from heat and the determination not to be seen.
But the door led right to the entrance of the tour bus. This was serendipitous in its own way because it gave me the opportunity to meet the band. Yet while hugging two of my (then) favorite musicians I was painfully aware of my body overflowing around them. I flushed with shame when I asked the lead singer to sign my ankle (it was symmetrical to a tattoo a have on the other leg) and I had to hold onto the shoulder of a friend to both stay balanced and support my leg with my other hand.
I decided on the way home – both riding the waves of euphoria that follow a great show and considering how my body shame took such joy from me – that I had to change something. Something had to give. I had come to this realization multiple times before. I lived my life dreaming of a different body. I even wrote a story about a magical portal that takes people to a factory where they can assemble their form from doll parts for the price of their empathy. It was a price I probably would have paid then. Unfortunately, the real-time monetary price to lose weight – and make no mistake, it takes incredible financial resources to healthily drop pounds from your form – was too high. It would be another two years before I had the ability to do so.