People can be monsters, and I don’t mean in the Lady Gaga sense. They can be downright vicious to others without even realizing the irreversible damage they cause in the process. Though I keep it hidden away in a corner of my mind, I have a lot of memories of this kind of often subtle ruthlessness. I spent most of my young life as “the fat girl.” This is what I remember.
I remember the rough cobblestone steps leading up to my grade school. I sat on them clinging my green vinyl lunchbox for all of recess when my classmates didn’t want to play with the fat new girl.
I remember how my first grade teacher would scowl and scrunch up her dark eyes when she watched me trying to tie my shoes. “How you struggle!” She sneered. She didn’t realize how much.
I remember how other kids in the school would pass me in the hallway and say, quite simply, “You’re fat.” Cue my self-consciousness forever.
I remember how my teachers would pass out school pictures to the class when they came back from the photographer. I knew I was about to get mine when they tightened their lips and dropped their eyes. Then they’d hand my pictures to me with the clear cellophane window face-down. They were that bad.
I remember how I would bury those pictures in my Jansport backpacks and sneak them in my bedroom. I’d hide them under my bed. So many times I suppressed the urge to tear them to pieces; I would think of how my mother paid for them and feel guilty. Then I would feel guilty that my mother didn’t have a pretty daughter who she could proudly pass pictures of to friends and family. A couple weeks later, she would find them, a little crumbled up compared to when I got them. I don’t know where most of them are now.
I remember my mother taking me to Sears for new jeans to wear to my fifth grade dance. They were one of the only stores that sold Girls’ size 18. I remember she bought me a swishy purple top that changed color in the light. Some eyeshadow and lip gloss to match. I remember feeling the excitement that only naïve little girls experience, before their hopes get dashed.
I remember the only boy that danced with me that night — his chaperoning mother made him. He shimmied next to me a few times, always scooting further and further away across the dark gym floor.
I remember the magic of being at my first dance suddenly died.
I don’t remember going to anymore dances after that. They never seemed like fun to me.
I remember I hated clothes shopping.
I remember being 11 or 12-years-old and going to Fashion Bug with my mother. Anytime I tried on anything sleeveless or with tiny sleeves, I’d slide back the lock on the dressing room door hesitantly. “That would look good with a jacket over the top,” my mother insisted. That was her way of telling me my arms were too fat.
I remember just about breaking into a sweat the week before doctor’s appointments and how I counted down the days with dread. I hated stepping foot on the scale.
I remember that my doctors never addressed my problem. “Eat right,” they told me as I slid off the paper on the exam table. Highly effective, to be sure.
I don’t remember how young I was when I tried fad diets like the Hollywood 48 Hour Miracle Diet and Herbal Slimming Tea, but it was too young. Any age is the wrong age for that stuff.
I remember that they didn’t work. At all.
I remember being 5’5” and 199 pounds when I entered high school. I wasn’t big enough to be antagonized by classmates, but I was big enough to be completely invisible.
That’s not entirely true. I remember being in a study hall, trying to help someone with Geometry homework, when I suddenly became conscious of some of the grungy-cool boys making fun of me in the back of the room. They were pretty terrible to me. No one defended me, not even the skinny, preppy teacher. I felt like a trapped animal.
I don’t remember a day passing after that where I felt completely safe or comfortable in school.
I remember for the rest of my high school career I walked through the halls with my head down, fearing everyone’s reproach. I remember how badly the popular people and the badass boys scared me after that encounter. Whenever I heard any snickering whatsoever, my heart went into spasms.
I remember having “friends.” They usually weren’t the other fat kids. They were skinny kids who wanted a fat friend to make them feel better about themselves. Or they were kids who wanted to take advantage of a straight-A student.
I remember pouring my heart into friendships, always generous with gifts, goodwill, and limitless gratitude. I remember most of my friendships ended when I was no longer useful in some way. Then I would be invisible again.
I remember how that would mess with my mind and my heart.
I remember looking at beautiful fields filled with blue skies and tall trees. I wondered how someone as ugly and unwanted as myself ended up in such a place. Why? I asked myself. Why did I continue to exist when everyday people better loved than me were dying?
I remember asking myself that question a lot. In the car. In bed at night. In classrooms filled with whispered conversations and spastic giggling. I didn’t get an answer for a long time.
I remember hating gym class. I wasn’t fast or agile or a jock. I got very red very easily and it was embarrassing.
I remember I would never change in the locker room in front of other girls. I would go hide in a shower stall or a bathroom stall. I imagined how they would harass me as they stood in their sports bras and boxer shorts. To me, everyone’s body was better than mine.
I remember how I tried to change my body from the outside in. I stuffed myself into multiple body shapers, sports bras, and camis before I put on my clothes. The red grooves they would leave on my body day after day were terrible.
I remember when I tried to change my body from the inside out my senior year of high school. I remember I succeeded. Everyone thinks that getting skinny is the fat girl’s happy ending, but it’s not; it’s the second act of a tragedy.
I remember trying on my first pair of Size 1 jeans in front of the mirror. I still thought my arms were too big and my hips were too wide.
I remember all of the people at home who assured me, “You never had to change,” after I lost 80 pounds. I wanted to spit in their eyes.
I remember meeting new people at college, far away from home.
I remember one of my new friends — a fashion major — telling me, “You have a great body.” I almost cried. Whether out of happiness or anguish, I’ll never know.
I remember new friends expressing their jealousy of my size. That never made me feel good.
I don’t remember the exact day I realized using a girl’s weight to extrapolate anything else about her is ridiculous, but I assure you it is.
I remember releasing my forehead to my mat in yoga class and offering up my weight turmoil to a higher power. I couldn’t grapple with it anymore.
I remember when I stopped watching every morsel of food I put in my mouth. A little bit of cream cheese was less detrimental to my health than all of the anxiety I created about being skinny was.
I remember realizing there is so much more to life than worrying about food, but I think the questions of when to eat, what to eat, and how much to eat will recur throughout my life. I don’t think my old anxieties can ever go away entirely.
I remember realizing being skinny didn’t matter to me anymore, but being healthy did. Then I realized they are not one in the same, but that I never wanted to go back to the way I was before. That wasn’t healthy, either.
I remember a healthy mind is just as important as a healthy body, and I let myself put a few needed pounds back on.
I remember when I realized I was beautiful, and even if I didn’t have a flawless body, I had a totally functional one. I liked that better.
I remember when I finally realized that I have the power to make my own happiness, and I haven’t stopped since.
I remember finally getting the long-awaited answer to the question of why I am privileged to live in this world: it’s to tell you that you, too, are beautiful. Never let anyone get into your peace of mind. It’s incredibly difficult to get them out without destroying it.
Though the people that caused my anxiety over the years probably don’t remember what they have said or did, I can never forget. What sort of memories are you leaving behind?