I’m Fat

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. 

The Journey

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 Our wedding, 2002After 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 neuralgiaBut 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).

About JavaMom


  1. I really really relate to this. For much of my life, I was tall and thin. In high school I got teased that I was a perfect 36″: 12″ 12″ 12″ Then life and time and a brain injury intervened and–I just don’t recognize myself anymore. I’m trying to get my new body image in my mind, but I’m not sure how one does that.

  2. I’m glad you’re getting a hold of this. As the mother of a daughter I constantly worry about the messages she gets about body image. I grew up in L.A. which was no clam bake for me either. Anyway I hope some people will read your post and think twice about what they teach their children.
    Have fun at the beach!!!

  3. Thanks for this. The only fair way to combat media supporting the way impractical body ideals we’re holding is to put genuine media like your post out there to stand against it. The journey you’ve put down to words should be familiar to everyone who has ever let a doubt into their head… which is everyone.

  4. julesgkp says:

    wow. so proud of you.

  5. Good for you! I guess since I’ve always been overweight, for me it’s a matter of just being the same – which I don’t like either all the time, believe me.

  6. Good for you for being brave enough to write about this. I plan on making mention of this issue (mine, not yours) when I write about a swag bag I was given – assuming I ever get around to a post-Blogher post – and the subject gave me pause too.

  7. Wow. What a fabulous post and reflective journey writing this post must have been. Congratulations! I’m so glad we are friends!

  8. This post is beautiful for many reasons. But one very important reason it is beautiful is because YOU are beautiful—inside and out. I have many of these same feelings and think about it a lot. Too much, probably. I am proud to count you as one of my friends and hope that you get positive feedback and feel better about yourself. Because you should. Because you are wonderful. And beautiful.

  9. dude. you are lovely.

    and here’s the thing: i spoke to you and remembered that. thank god i have your card to back it up.

  10. I know how hard it must have been for you to get that all out there. I’ve been in similar situations. I’ll never forget going on vacation with my husband (who is wonderful in many ways, but took my post-kids weight gain pretty hard) and just deciding to not worry about how I looked in a bathing suit for ten days and have a great time. I thought I was being brave and sensible, and I was proud of myself. At the end of the trip we got into the biggest fight ever, and the root of it (I discovered much later) was that he was terrified that by me being “out there” with my weight, it meant that I had accepted it and wouldn’t change it. Sigh. It took him a long time to realize that it would be his support that would help me, not his disapproval. You’re very lucky you’ve got someone in your life who understands that now.

    You’re beautiful in ALL of those pictures. Brava for telling your story.

  11. MintCool says:

    Fabulous post. Indeed many of us have a few things happen healthwise or otherwise, then have a couple of kids and find we are fighting to our fighting weight. Think of all the great things we miss out on if we “wait until we are perfect”. Everyone is freaked out about SOMETHING about themselves and are thinking about that while you are thinking about yourself. I’m glad you and I were roomies at BlogHer and had so much fun and so much in common! Cheers to you!!!!

  12. Thank you so much, all of you, for your kind words and support tonight. I took a deep breath before pushing “publish” and then I was waiting to see what the response would be. I’ve had friends respond on email and in Facebook, and wonderful responses here as well as on Twitter. To think I have been agonizing alone only to find that so many people have either this same fear or a similar one that they have grappled with. To me, it felt gigantic, and to so many, it was like, “really, THIS is what you’ve been so worried about?” Having done it, I know can say — if there is something you’ve been grappling with, it may be worth it to write it out!

    And thank you again, dear commenters, both to the ones I know in real life, and those I have not yet met! Your comments are ESPECIALLY dear to me on this post.

  13. I LOVE “Designing Women” and that episode was my absolute favorite. I’ve seen it so many times. Suzanne’s speech was so moving and Delta Burke was so brave to do the episode. Big shout out to you for being equally brave for doing this post.

    I’ll just echo what others have said. I don’t know you, but you look beautiful to me. Most of us struggle with this issue and can relate. I’ve never been “fat,” but gained 25 lbs after cancer treatment and two pregnancies. It took me almost a decade to get fed up enough to do something about it and I finally lost it on Weight Watchers. It’s been tough to keep it off and I’m back in weight loss mode now — trying to get rid of 10 lbs that have crept back on. It’s a constant struggle.

    I hope this “confession” helps lead you to greater acceptance of yourself and even greater health — whatever weight you are.

  14. I’ve had a “weight” post rolling around in my head for months now, but this is so beautifully written I’m going to put mine on hold for awhile. I’m trying to think about my struggle with weight not as a drive to be thinner, but as a struggle to accept the size my body wants to be. And that’s hard.

    Mwah. Thank you for writing this.

  15. Thank you for “coming out” so beautifully. I think the saddest part of your post was reading that you gave up bikinis at age 11 because you thought your tummy stuck out too much. Years and years ago, I remember a book titled “Fat is a Feminist Issue,” and I’m afraid it’s one that still haunts us – I know very few adult women who have not shared your struggle to some extent.

  16. Beautiful post and good for you for overcoming such a major fear in your life. Your car accident sounds HORRENDOUS. Having read your post, I’m just grateful you survived it, despite all the pain and injuries you’ve had. That’s so scary. I hope you’re not in so much pain anymore. I think almost everyone can relate to your struggle. I struggled with weight gain earlier in my life too and it was awful. I used to fear that no guy would love me since I was pudgy, but my dear hubby fell in love with me anyway. And shortly afterwards, I stopped overeating and lost weight. Go figure! Now he is struggling to lose weight and I realize that the issue of weight is a constant challenge in our lives. But I think it’s great that you’ve decided not to let it stop you from living and being happy. Life’s too short to agonize about those things.

  17. Beautiful post.

    As someone who suffered from an eating disorder I think the emphasis we put on weight is sad. Get healthy, for you, and not for anyone else.

  18. Kimberlyn Reetz says:

    To know you is to love you. Back in college, I was always bowled over by your stunning appearance and loved getting all dolled up with you to make a wickedly gorgeous splash at whatever parties we were attending. But it has never been your outer beauty (legendary though it may be!!) that was your greatest gift. It is your kindness of heart, your sincerity, your tremendous and energetic ability to LOVE that has always inspired me most about you. And that can never be dimmed by age or weight, time or distance. 😉 Cheers sister.

  19. Not only are you beautiful no matter what weight you are, you are an amazingly strong person! Just reading about your horrific car accident and what you endured through that ordeal…WOW! Sounds like your husband is your soul mate and you have come full circle to find happiness. Thanks for baring your soul to us. You go girl!

  20. What a powerful and emotional post, J.J. Thank you for sharing, and know that I count you as one of my most beautiful bloggy-pals–inside and out.

  21. Cynthia in IN says:

    You are gorgeous inside and out. This post proves it! Bravo for a well written and from the heart writing that concerns so many people.

  22. Thank you for sharing this.

  23. You rock,
    and you’re beautiful,
    and strong!

  24. Sorry for reading this so late, but I just wanted to tell you what a wonderful post this is. I’m in this family of athletes, and growing up was always “the fat one.” My moms version of accepting me was that I was “voluptuous”. Now I’m in much better shape than any of them – not thin, but have realized that is not the goal, it’s being healthy and happy with yourself, being able to do what you want to do.

  25. Sorry I am late to comment here but I wanted to give you a big hug for this post! I have many of the same thoughts/struggles.

  26. How did I miss this post? (Actually you published it when I was between houses and freed from Internet addiction for a few days.) But thank you for linking to it on DC Metro Moms so I could experience your eloquence and beauty in words…as well as IN PERSON at the next mom blogger gathering. You are gorgeous. Seriously.

  27. I was just googling in hopes of finding tips for surviving the beach as a fat woman and this post was in the results. It made me cry. I never hear stories about other people like me, people who were thin until they were adults when something happened. For me, it was when I had my daughter and her father left me. Whenever I look in the mirror I’m ashamed and disgusted. Like you, though, I don’t judge anyone at all by their looks… except myself. Thank you for your post. It makes me feel a little better about me.

  28. Thank YOU for coming by and commenting, because it means a lot to know I could have an impact on someone else. Just realize that your daughter thinks you are the BEST THING in the world! And you can hide from the world, but that does no one any good, so you might as well just get yourself a bathing suit and have fun on the beach with your daughter! I had to make a decision to not be a hermit and just go out there and DO! I continue my struggle with my weight and my appearance, but I’ve decided to keep accomplishing my other goals. Weight is only one of the many facets of who we are! Hang in there!