There is a joke that I have heard many times. It makes me cringe with shame every time I hear it. Yes, even now. How are fat girls like mopeds? They’re both fun to ride as long as nobody sees you.
As a fat girl, I always knew my place. There are rules that fat girls live by. We all seem to understand these rules, though they are rarely expressed openly. The general gist is “You are an embarrassment. Take what you are given, be thankful, and don’t expect anything more. You don’t deserve it.” This is a fat girl’s place. A friend of mine refers to it as “taking crumbs.”
The first lesson I remember about knowing my place came when I was 13. I was friends with this guy. He was 14, QB of his HS football team, popular, and really good-looking. I had a big crush on him. We used to hang out a lot that year. We’d sit around his house, or wander the suburban streets. His mom and little brother loved me. I remember going to his games and sitting with them. And then one day, alone in my house, he kissed me. Really kissed me. You know, we made out. I was so shocked and so pleased. I told 3 girls. But they didn’t believe me. Because he was hot and popular, and I was…well…fat. One of them asked him if it were true. He denied it. And there it was. Fun to ride (not quite…I was only 13), as long as nobody sees you. I, of course, still wanted to be his friend. (Apparently I was glutton for all sorts of things!) But he drifted away until his mom sent him out of state to go live with his dad. I thought he stopped talking to me because he was mad at me for telling people and humiliating him. Which, to a 13-year-old fat girl, seemed well within his rights. I was sorry for him. Sorry that I was so fat that he had to hide the fact that he kissed me. Sorry that I wasn’t the kind of girl he could brag about. Or even just tell the truth about.
But when it came down to me, I was not sorry that I had been abused or mistreated. I didn’t blame him for lying at the expense of my feelings and honor. I did not feel outraged that he had denied my humanity. I didn’t see my own humanity. I didn’t think it was worth honoring.
I learned my lesson well. I didn’t kiss anyone else until I was in college. And even then I knew my place. I knew not to tell anyone. I knew not to embarrass any man who was gracious enough to throw me crumbs. I shut my heart down. I was prepared to keep it idle forever. After all, I didn’t like me. I certainly didn’t expect any man to like me either.
When I look back on that experience over 20 years later, I can see that boy differently. I can imagine that his embarrassment about kissing me stemmed from his own insecurity. And I can imagine that he stopped being my friend because he didn’t want to face me after throwing me to the wolves. But his lie seemed so legitimate at the time. I was fat and he was cool.
At 34, I can finally look back at 13-year-old Kate and see that she didn’t deserve that. I didn’t deserve that. That it was cruel for him to lie at my expense. To make me seem like a liar so that he didn’t have to admit that he had kissed a fat girl. That he was attracted to a fat girl. (Of course I was a liar. Just not about that.)
But when it comes to liking someone, even as a beautiful, sane woman, I still occur to myself as an embarrassment. And while I managed to change the size and shape of my body, my brain still remembers that I have a place, and it reminds me that when I forget my place, I am punished with shame. And there are feelings that accompany those thoughts. Despair and fear and a kind of pathetic resignation toward the futility of loving.
I don’t know how to unthink those thoughts and stop feeling those feelings yet. With regard to love, I don’t know how to see myself as a human being worthy of being honored. I have stopped taking crumbs. Which rational Kate knows is an important first step to being loved. But the fat girl in my head doesn’t know how to accept actual love. She doesn’t see how actual love could be a possibility for her, and subsequently, me. She keeps telling me that I have two options. Crumbs, or eternal loneliness. Which is redundant, really. Because taking crumbs is its own kind of eternal loneliness. Worse than a life alone, it even keeps me separated from myself.
I do not want to be alone forever. I have a ridiculous amount of love to give away. But neglecting my own heart and humanity for a little affection is not a channel for love. Charity begins at home.
I wish that I had loved myself growing up, even though I was fat. I wish I had not spent my life continually putting myself back in the place I was told I belonged at 13. But if I had loved myself then, I wouldn’t have been fat, and I wouldn’t have been put in a fat girl’s place. I ate to numb the self-loathing and disgrace. Self-hatred and food have always been tied together in my life. Or at least as far back as I can remember. I don’t know which came first, the hatred or the eating. But I suppose it doesn’t matter. I cannot change the past with wishes. And today my food is under control, and my body is beautiful. Because I did the work. Because I continue to do it every day.
In order to change what I did with my food, I had to change what I did with my food. It stands to reason that in order to change what I do with my love, I will have to change what I do with my love. I don’t really know how to do that yet. There are things about my life that exist in my blind spot, and I don’t know how to see them. But I guess the first step is knowing that I have a blind spot. And that I want to look at those things I can’t see so I can create something better for myself. So I can change how I see myself, my humanity, and my love. So I can stop living like my place is small, dark, and hidden. I want to start walking in the sunshine. It’s my sun too.