What sometimes feels like several lifetimes times ago (or, more accurately, the early 1990s), there was a girl in Texas who never felt like she fit in. She was friendly, bright, did well in school and had many interests, but because she was The Chubby Girl, she always felt like she fell short. Growing up and really wanting to believe that you can be anything you want to be is sometimes difficult when others seem to look at you like an ‘almost, not quite’ individual because you’re fat. I know from experience: I was obese until about age 21, when I decided I was tired of being the girl people seemed to discount because of her weight.
No doubt, this is a sensitive topic. Recently a mother in New York wrote an essay published in Vogue about her controversial, bordering on cruel techniques in aiding her young daughter’s weight loss. The backlash that followed raises some valid questions and concerns surrounding the topic of childhood obesity (Slate ran an interesting piece on this). What’s the “right” way for parents to manage this situation? Growing up, my family always made me feel important, loved, and encouraged: I never felt any less loved than my younger brother, who was dealt the good fortune of never being overweight as a kid.
Beyond home, however, was a slightly different story: I got my share of teasing and at times felt marginalized because of my weight. At church of all places, other kids were cliquish and rude: even now, I can recall verbatim some of the mean things other kids said to me and it still hurts a little bit. It makes me even more upset when I think about the awful things kids are saying and doing to one another nowadays, with the reach of gossip and vitriol forever changed by technology and social media.
Growing up The Fat Kid (or the Gay Kid, or the Biracial Kid, or The Poor Kid for that matter) is not easy. Teaching children that it is unequivocally not OK to tease, taunt, demean or otherwise bully other kids who are different from themselves is something that we can all do, even those of us who aren’t parents ourselves. ‘Fat shaming’ in the media, the onslaught of countless fad diets with dubious success rates, and the glorification of physical ‘perfection’ are certainly contributing factors to the screwed-up relationships many of us have with our bodies, myself included. Sometimes, it really just sucks to feel trapped in the cycle of negative thinking surrounding one’s physical self, a cycle perpetuated by a world that only reinforces the notion that to be different from some idealized construct of perfection is ‘bad’, and that it’s acceptable to chide others who deviate from this ideal.
I wrote awhile back about my interest in fashion and style, a hobby that dates back to my elementary school days (embarrassing, yet hilarious photos of some choice ’90s-era getups can be viewed here). Even when I was at my heaviest I liked to shop and put together outfits: clothing was my suit of armor, a tool I used to detract attention from a body that made me feel uncomfortable and ashamed. Fashion has always been my way of expressing a version of myself that looks somehow better than how I might be feeling at the time. There are examples of unconventional style experts and encouraging signs of a much-needed departure from the Vogue standard of beauty, but we still have a long way to go as a society concerning genuine love and acceptance for all people. Here’s hoping for a future where The Fat Kid isn’t labeled as such; where encouragement and support can be found at home, at school, and everywhere else.