They Shoot Fat Women, Don’t They? was the title of a 1989 episode of a TV show called Designing Women. In the episode the character played by Delta Burke, Suzanne Sugarbaker, always proud of her beauty queen looks, realized that she was now seen as “the fat girl” by her friends at a high school reunion. She was awarded the “Most Changed” trophy at her fifteen year reunion, as a snark at her physical appearance, and she accepted the award with a lovely speech letting everyone know that she was going to take it as a testimony of how she has changed from shallow beauty to a woman of intellectual and emotional substance rather than the hurtful comment on her weight gain it was originally intended.
I remember reading an article about this particular episode a long time ago, because the episode was written specifically to address Burke’s real-life weight gain. She was a gorgeous, sexy slender woman when hired, and her weight gain became a problem on set between Burke and the show’s producers/writers. Burke’s weight gain was due to a combination of physical and psychological issues and the more she felt pressured about it, the worse it got. Since then, her weight has see-sawed and she has launched a line of plus-sized clothing. At some point she shifted from running from her weight to trying to help others who were heavy feel better about it.
I’m outing myself as a fat woman. I have been terrified of old friends seeing photos of me online in the shape I am in currently and I have decided to end the terror now. I’m not happy with my current appearance, but it is what it is. I continue to struggle and work on it and I’m proud of myself for the things I don’t let it affect and pissed at myself for the things I do let it affect. I’ve really enjoyed reconnecting with old friends online over the past year and I’ve decided if I’m going to be genuine, I’m going to have to have to stop hiding. Yes, some are going to say/think unkind things. There is a certain ex-boyfriend out there who will certainly do so and probably thank God he didn’t marry me after all. There’s a reason why he’s an ex.
But as I’ve come to learn over the past year, most of us really don’t give a damn how any of us look these days, we’re just glad to reconnect about the common experiences we had growing up together and then the experiences we’ve had apart in geography but yet in common in experience as we’ve moved through those milestones in our careers and personal lives. I am so much more than my outer shell, I always have been, and I always will be. We all are. No matter how thin I get again, I will never look at anyone’s physical appearance the same way again.
All my life I have struggled with body image. Growing up in Miami surrounded by half-clothed people, how could I not? When I was 105 pounds in high school, I was always self-conscious of my not-perfectly-flat stomach. Heck, I guess it started even before that, it started when I was in ballet class at Martha Mahr studio, where we were required to wear a thin, black elastic around our waist so she could see if our stomach bulged at all beyond the elastic. I did not win the genetic lottery when it came to stomach muscles, even at my thinnest, I never had that perfectly taut stomach. I stopped wearing bikinis for the most part at age 11. I wanted to go wind surfing with friends in high school on Hobie Beach, but I was constantly terrified of how I would look to others in my swimsuit. Do you have any idea of how much I would kill to have that figure and weight again these days? That weight would not be realistic for me as a grown woman now, but I wish I could shake that insecure girl by the shoulders and say “get out there and enjoy life! Put on that bathing suit and have fun!” I still hate wearing a bathing suit now and have many more reasons to be self-conscious, but I refuse to let my insecurity get in the way of my kids having fun at the pool and the beach, so I boldly go forth in my swimdress in public where I would not have taken my 105-pound-self before 20 years ago.
In college, I had my highs and lows, but I had to get my high down quickly as I was there to be a broadcast journalist and we know fatties were not allowed on TV — in the age of Oprah we’re a little more forgiving now.
I was so afraid of the Freshman Fifteen that I actually lost weight my first semester. But I gained a little my sophomore year. All it took was a comment from my steady boyfriend about his “mother being concerned about (my) weight” for me to go into a tailspin about it. I lost the weight thanks to a very stringent diet and doctor-prescribed pills. By my senior year I was anchoring the morning news and reporting for the evening news.
In my early twenties, I realize now that I managed to date a series of guys who wanted me to be their trophy girlfriend and who terrorized me about any incremental weight gain — a 5-10 pound weight gain was enough to threaten our relationship. And I’m ashamed to admit that I allowed myself to buy into that. I’m much too smart and always have been much too smart to fall victim to that. But I did. And I regret it. Fortunately I never married any of those men and I was wise enough to always have a certain threshold which I would not cross — you can only step so far until I cry foul.
In 1995 I was in a terrible hit and run accident that knocked both my knee caps out of place, cracked my ribs, nearly dislocated my neck, gave me very bad whiplash, and a prominent bruise from the seat belt that was looked like a purple beauty sash – Miss Car Accident 1995. My car caught on fire and I was fortunate that one of the witnesses to the accident was a nurse who ran over and helped me. I was taken to the hospital by ambulance and for the first 20 minutes or so my brain was so scrambled that I wasn’t sure what year it was, I was off by 10 years. This accident ultimately led to three knee surgeries over a two-year period and chronic neck and back pain and the beginning of a history of migraine headaches. This accident, naturally, derailed my walking program and did lead to weight gain. I still have residual effects from the accident and can be perfectly fine and then one false move and can have knee pain for weeks.
One very positive thing about this accident — it in a way, led to JavaDad (still at this point, just a childhood friend) and I getting together as a couple — although it took a while. When the pain meds would wear off in the middle of the night, 3am to be exact, and my chest would spasm with pain, he would let me call him in Miami to help keep myself calm until the next set of pain meds kicked in. He had, already, by this point, told me he loved me, but we couldn’t quite get our act together to be in the same state yet, so we didn’t end up dating until three years after the fact. But the act of devotion of talking to me on the phone at 6am his time while I was in pain, meant a lot to me After the car accident, my weight went up and down, more health issues have come and gone, including two very difficult pregnancies and my son stretching my stomach muscles 5 inches apart (I need to get that surgically repaired) and my trigeminal neuralgia. But the biggest struggle has been with my mind. I still hate thinking of myself as a fat woman.
I tried to hide from it. But then I had to accept it. And I had to stop letting it stop me from doing things.
Which I have, except when it comes to dealing with people from my past. I never thought a fat woman could rise to the top of the Junior League, but these wonderful women saw that I am more than my weight and the League is not about appearances despite all jokes about cardigans and pearls — we are about developing the potential of WOMEN, not judging body types. I have made many wonderful friends here in Virginia who have never made me feel conscious of my weight (although yes, I have met some women who did discriminate against me due to my weight). But I have always been afraid of “what will people back home think” if they saw me now? Well, I don’t know. I’m a woman whose had a successful career (two, in fact), married a childhood friend who has loved me at 105 pounds and has loved me at significantly more than that, has two fantastic kids, is involved in her community, edited a book, lauched a blog, and tries to be good to her friends and family. And struggles with her weight. What do the people back home think? I’ve decided to let go of the terror and let it be. I will no longer hold back on posting photos and sharing videos. If you are my friend, you’ll now know that I struggle, but you’ll already know that I’m so much more than what the camera sees. I suspect you struggle with something, too. And you know what, I wouldn’t be any less of a friend to you for it — whether you are balding, divorced, never married, fat, too skinny, never had kids, unemployed or whatever other thing you might fear being judged for in this society where we can judge each other for so many things by the time you reach our age, take a deep breath and let it go. Whatever it is, accept it and then move on and make the best of your situation and your life. I’m refusing to let terror hold me back any more — I hate to think of the opportunities and joys I’ve squandered already and I refuse to anymore.
And for everyone who is thin or athletic, I hope the next time you see a fat person riding a bike, going for a walk, working out at the gym, you’ll silently think, “Good for you for being out there and doing it!”
And JavaDad, I love you. Thanks for loving me through thick and thin (or thin and thick).