“5 foot 6 and 3/4 inches,” chirps the nurse as I stand against the stadiometer, “you’ve grown!”
I smile earnestly. “Good! I’m trying to reach 5 foot 7 before I stop growing completely,” I say moving over to the scale.
“Well, you’ll get there!” The nurse replies with a laugh.
As a 20-year-old woman, this isn’t very likely, but the mood is light in the small area of the doctor’s office where these general checkup steps are routine. At the scale, she looks at my weight and says just as warmly, “165 pounds! You’ve lost weight!” She checks over her paperwork again, surprised. “Oh! You’ve lost a lot of weight.”
This reaction to my weight is not very new to me, and hearing it no longer gives me the anxiety it once did. Since the last time I saw this doctor nearly three years ago, I have dropped a total of 40 pounds. It’s not something I’ve chosen to be transparent about, it’s just nearly impossible to avoid discussing. When asked how I lost it, I have nothing to say. In the time that I’ve lost the weight I’ve stopped being vegetarian as well as tracking what I eat, I’ve gone to the gym considerably less, and most significantly, I don’t think about how to systematically lose weight at all anymore. Mostly due to the fact that by the time I had begun to lose weight I had given up on the idea completely. I had been attempting to lose weight since I was old enough to understand the desire to be thin. For most of my life, I had been fairly slim, with an extra bit of tummy fat that seemed both childish and genetic to my family. It has always been my personal enemy, though, however cute my mom found it. I remember attempting 75 sit ups a day in hopes to get a flat stomach at 13 so I could flirt with older boys like my friends, and raging against my developing body at 15 because I had gained 20 pounds over the last two years (read 20 pounds as boobs and thighs). Through these years, I never lost a single pound, and throughout my development into womanhood, had gained nearly 100 pounds in the process.
Being a fat teenager in a U.S. state with very little problem with the issue (especially in my white middle-class suburb) was not only awfully uncomfortable, but it made me doubt myself completely. I spent my four years of high school anxiety-ridden over the creak of desks underneath my weight, surrounded by thinner, more athletic, counterparts, who treated me like a floating head as to avoid the elephant in the room that was my weight. Boys, for the most part, talked to me only in the dead of night, interested in my character but embarrassed by my body. I thought this was all normal. I spent years thinking I was ugly when I wasn’t. I was just fat, and it floored me then (as it does now) that those things are equitable. For a few months, I worked at a store infamous for poor treatment of fat and unattractive workers, and could not even get myself to think about how the fact that my hours were mostly on-call shift was not because they didn’t need extra help, but because I wasn’t on “brand” in my looks and weight. My most recent and painful revelation was actually on my last trip to the aforementioned doctor’s office, where the doctor revealed to me that when I had come in for severe stomach pains at 18, he had had me tested for thyroids, though I showed no symptoms or signs for this in previous blood work. In a world where doctors regularly misdiagnose patients based on weight, the walk home from my doctor was one of bitter thoughtfulness. I hadn’t been tested for thyroid because it was logical, I had been tested because I was fat, and fat must have a cause and a cure or it’s not a valid state.
While those around me didn’t seem to see it, I WAS being treated differently because of my weight. And though a lot of it was mental, it wasn’t all in my head. Society treats fat girls with a feeling of shame and distance that is quite hard to articulate. We are expected to laugh at another person’s weight gain and hide our own. While I believe that all women are not allowed to be content in themselves, for fat women this is even less so. In no way is pride in your body allowed, unless you ass is fat, your big boobs don’t sag, and you don’t have a problem with the use of a girdle. And what are the repercussions of this? As someone who is no longer technically obese, I no longer feel it is my place to speak on the issue which destroyed my self-confidence for years. I constantly wonder why this is. Though I know I did not have the worst situation in terms of close societal pressures, as most of my parents concerns were mostly behind my back and I was never bullied by classmates or coworkers, it is still a perspective I have on life that isn’t so easy to dismiss because I dropped a few pounds. I still shop mostly online because dressing rooms give me anxiety, and I’m still never quite content with how my jeans fit on my waist. At shows or in bars, I still expect men to use me as a stepping stool to talk with my friends they deem more worth their time, and this summer was the first time I’ve gone to a waterpark in seven years, and I love water parks.
I’m not the thinnest girl of the bunch even now, but my relationship with weight is a lot different. And maybe that’s environmental. I began losing weight when I moved to Paris, after all. Here, there’s a different relationship with food, exercise, and even fat people (I rarely see French people my age that look my size or bigger). But a lot of this personal relationship change is because, at this point, with my extra pounds shed, most of my issues with weight are mental, as the physical aspects are gone. And there is nothing wrong with that. Like any lived experience, you are allowed to process it however you see fit. The issue might be gone, but it leaves its marks in one way or another. I guess I never expected to talk about this because weight is said to be private. It doesn’t have to be, but it does have the tendency to be vulnerable and feel like as much of a one-man battle as any other bodily issue. But talking about it has given me some freedom, and to fat girls and previous fat girls alike, I hope you have a chance to talk about it in the way you choose to. Because you are not alone. No matter how much you are conditioned to think so.