When I was fat, I was always apologizing.
“I’m sorry,” I’d say as I squished between people on the subway. “My bad!” I would yelp if there was a tight fit to get into a table at a restaurant.
Even when I ate or shopped, I always felt guilty about my size. It seemed as though I couldn’t do anything quite right and I always attempted pairing these apologies with a knowing glance or a sympathetic nod. ‘I know, I know’ I’d think. ‘I’m the problem.’
I jokingly called it fat man’s guilt. I always felt like I was taking up too much space, inconveniencing thinner people as they went about their skinny days and attempted to daintily navigate around me.
I was incredibly insecure and I know that I mostly have myself to blame for the lack of self-confidence. I could have (and probably should have) found the strength to exist beyond the borders of my waist and my self-doubt in order to find some semblance of happiness. I internalized and repeated so much negative self-talk, which stemmed from a lifetime of disordered eating and harmful habits, and I just didn’t even give myself the time of day or the helpful reassurance of self-tolerance, let alone self-love. I didn’t want to put action to my desire to lose weight because I just didn’t think I was worth it or that it was possible. Basically, as annoying as any thin or average-sized person found me, I found myself infinitely more disappointing.
But honestly, average-sized people really didn’t like me either. In a society that places value on thinness, attractiveness and often unhealthy habits, it was hard for me to get around all of that and forge the path to high self-esteem when it felt like everyone was rooting against me…. while simultaneously claiming that any cause for concern or insult was for my health.
There was always the inevitable look. I still don’t know what to call it, though it was a glare of judgment that sized me up. Pun intended. Their faces said “big” and their eyes said “ew.” On subways, people avoided sitting next to me or standing near me. In restaurants, servers often would “recommend” certain items for me. I always felt weird when ordering at restaurants or eating in public. I always, always attempted to overcompensate with certain aspects of my personality in the hopes of it building my worth as a friend or partner. More aggressively, I was called fat, obese, disgusting, or gross on a weekly basis.
When I use the word fat, it is a descriptor, an adjective. It does not have a connotation beyond the fact that I was large. When a thin person uses the word fat to describe a large person while insulting them, that is painful and it is accompanied with so much hurt. Calling someone fat is something we’re taught not to do as kids, but also something that society teaches us is more acceptable if it’s in the name of comedy or if you decide a person isn’t attractive or if you’re attractive enough to get away with it. Thinness is a privilege. It is power.
It’s the option to call someone fat, to insult them, under the guise of being concerned for their health. It’s the ability to speak out against body positivity, against self-love, to be able to jokingly call yourself fat, to be hit on in bars, to see yourself and your body in every magazine/movie/TV show, to fit and feel welcome without having to experience that look.
Most often, I was insulted via the internet, usually on dating apps. Obviously, I’d occasionally get some insults from online commenters (writing a blog or an article really attracts the trolls) but I was able to deflect those by knowing that these were just people hiding behind a computer screen, people who knew they were doing the wrong thing but found it amusing. On dating apps, it was nasty and probably even more hurtful because I was treated as though I wasn’t even human.
“Hey what’s up?” I’d ask. “Not my type,” he’d reply. This happened frequently. If my Tinder account were a desert, there would have been tumbleweeds blowing through my matches, or lack thereof. Eventually, I’d learn to look out for warning signs in bios, things about being fit or only attracted to certain types. What’s strangest is that I usually didn’t have the heart to defend myself. Bullying and harassment combined with a low self-esteem make for a pretty pitiful pair. I was even sympathetic to their vanity. Fat man’s guilt.
Eventually, I lost weight, and by lost weight, I mean I lost 80 pounds in a little over a year. Honestly, there was no one final straw. There was not a specific thing or moment that really happened to change my whole entire view of food and exercise. I was mainly just much more motivated. Looking back, I was probably really, really tired of apologizing.
The thing about losing that much weight is that it can’t be done healthily or sustainably simply for the approval of other people. The key to my health and happiness is my own belief in my self-worth. I eventually had the desire to put my health first and to change my habits so that I’d be doing the best thing for me. That was for me to decide on my own time, not for anyone else to shame me into. I did it by myself for myself, not because someone insulted me or claimed that they were just worried about my health.
That’s all well and good, and I really am happy, healthy and thriving thanks to many different factors. The bottom line, though, is that I should not have had to lose weight to be treated like a human being… but that’s exactly what happened.
People started smiling at me, scooting next to me on the subway or paying me no mind in restaurants. The look I’d get was one of approval, not of disgust. I didn’t just have to be funny to be recognized. I was eventually considered “attractive.” Guys seemed to come out of the woodwork with compliments. In fact, guys that called me fat and bullied me in high school or college, guys who never, ever gave me the time of day, were now into me as if I were two separate people, as if I had amnesia. The weird “you got hot!” moments were kinda flattering, but they also made me want to scream out of solidarity with my larger former self. I felt bad for him and knew what he went through, even if they did not.
I don’t apologize anymore. I allow myself to take up space without guilt, but I don’t take up very much, so I am now privileged in that regard. This isn’t to say I’m not still very self-critical because I definitely am, but now I also feel like I’ve seen the high and low (literally) of weight and body-shaming and I’m prepared to follow my critiques with rational thought, possible action and positivity. I tend to be much more self-critical about healthy things or in better ways (with my performance at work, with my workouts, etc).
I don’t regret losing weight, but it shouldn’t have taken 80 pounds, a year of hard work and even more years of judgment and name-calling for people to be nice to me, including myself.
That look and the nastiness that comes with it need to stop. It’s a basic principle, but it’s something that our society teaches us to keep doing in more subtle ways. It’s why representation is important, why preferences are bullshit, why health is something more private than public, an inward-facing state. Body-shaming is something that we perpetuate as a culture and I really caution other people to look inwardly and identify how they’ve been guilty of giving someone that look, of enforcing their personal beliefs and opinions on someone else’s body or self-image, of being a dick on a dating app. Nobody is perfect, but it would be better for all of us if we treated each other just as people and stopped policing what we believe to be imperfections.
I wish I hadn’t apologized. I wish I’d believed in myself. I should never have been sorry to take up space, no matter how much space I was taking up. Guilt-free.