Little fingers pointing from many directions at the word "fat"

How "Fat" Became Just a Word

I had a fear of children for as long as I could remember. They were these unknown creatures that were prone to outbursts. Kids would say anything that came to their minds without regard for people's feelings. Having grown up in an environment lacking extended family, I did not have the fortune of understanding children. Well, at least as much as one can understand those little beings.

My discomfort was particularly prickly when I was out in public. I was the easily identifiable obese woman in their immediate vicinity. I assumed that I would get at least one comment about "the fat lady". Time after time I was right. It did not matter how much I prepared myself. There was that embarrassing moment when the word "fat" rang out along with a little finger pointing my way. The word "fat" was a powerful indictment. I was clearly guilty of being obese.

Recess rhymes with stress

"Fatty, Fatty, 2 by 4. Can't get through the kitchen door!" The thing about kids is that I was obviously one of them at some point in time. Long ago, my schoolmates would taunt us fat kids with this simple rhyme. I write "schoolmates" because it was not only kids in my same class. Elementary recess was a time when we could mix with children who were in the same grade, but a different class. The bigger kids were separated by a sidewalk - that was the invisible boundary that kept us second graders away from the kids in the fourth through fifth grades.

The boundary was invisible, but I was not. Occasionally, a sixth grader would yell mean things about the fat girl on the swings. Boys would snicker and poke each other when I wore shorts. My thighs were fat. As elementary school children, we definitely did not know the definition of syllogism, but society caused kids to believe that if fat was bad and I was fat, then I was bad.

Fashion for the fat kids

Kids who are fat are just like adults who are fat. We know we are fat. We have plenty of people telling us that to our faces. Doctors, family members, gym teachers, music teachers, art teachers, neighbors, ads, and commercials emphasized to us that we were big-boned or chubby or husky.

When I was a kid there was no fast fashion or size inclusiveness. The fat kids had a separate section in the department store. It was invariably right next to the section for thin, regular-sized kids. Going shopping was a traumatic experience for me.

The clothes were not stylish for little girls. They were variations on a shapeless mumu top with pull-on, elastic waist pants. The idea was to cover up the fat with as much fabric as possible and to have that fabric drape over the chub. The saleslady, and it was always a woman, would coo over the pint-sized version of clothing for heavy women that were just as uninteresting as the ones I was forced to wear.

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Judgement from other shoppers

I was fortunate to have a mother who had many, many talents. One of them included seamstressing. She dressed me in larger-sized clothes that flattered my body and did not make me look like I was ready to retire. I was not a fashion plate. I simply did not stick out as much as I could have.

Her ability to create lovely clothes allowed me to skip much of the clothes buying process. The humiliation of being seen in the fat kids section was unmentionable. I could try to stay right on the edge of the plus-sized section and slide over to the girls or junior sections. That made it easy to pretend that I had a chance of fitting into the nicer clothes that only came in smaller sizes. It rarely worked. I could hear the word "fat" loudly whispered under shoppers' breaths while they shook their heads in disapproval.

The event that changed how I viewed the word "fat"

One day, I came across a cruise brochure filled with full-color photos of obese people having fun. I could not believe what I was seeing: Fat people having fun in Las Vegas. They were in their cabins. They were at the bar and restaurant. They filled the pool while wearing 2-piece suits with the fat uncovered. Not only was fat uncovered, the word "fat" popped up casually in the descriptions. Nothing judgy. Just the word "fat" used to describe people and accommodations.

None of the cruisers looked uncomfortable or ashamed to be associated with the word "fat." Immediately, I signed up only to have a work commitment get in the way. However, I was lucky. There was a Las Vegas event weekend even that would change my life and how I viewed the word "fat."

From the moment I signed up for the event, the word was everywhere. The word "fatty" was also used a lot. For someone used to all of the metaphors, it was a strange adjustment hearing obese people calling themselves and each other "fat" without something nasty coming before or after the word.

People were described as fat. Accommodations were fat-friendly, as were healthcare professionals who see obese individuals as individuals who were also fat. The word "fat" started to lose all of the negative connotations I grew up believing. Over the course of 3 days I started to see myself as and call myself fat without a touch of self-hatred present. I left that event changed and with an invisible shield against the word "fat."

He called me "fat"

It is one thing for me to believe that I was immune to the word and another for it to be true. Leaving the safe and supportive environment in Las Vegas meant dealing with the outside world where "fat" is meant to be an insult. It only took standing in a line for me to know that "fat" is just a word.

The moment our eyes connected I knew what was going to happen. The line was long and customers were tired. It was hot and unusually quiet. I saw his mouth forming the word. I felt it coming at me cutting through the heat. "Mommy, that lady is ... FAT!"

It hung in the heat like clothes on line drying outside. The entire line shifted from side to side. The mother was embarrassed and turned her son around. She quietly told him that it wasn't nice. He turned around and said it again. She shushed him again, and her eyes avoided my gaze. He said it one last time. I spoke up. I said, "He is not saying anything wrong. He is just describing what he sees. The problem is that he does not listen to you." And it was in that moment that the word "fat" stopped being a judgment.

I realized that little kids called me fat because they saw me and I was fat. Most of them were simply saying what their little eyes could plainly see. I stopped fearing the word "fat" and little kids at the same time. So whenever I see, hear, or say "fat," it is what it is. I am obese. I am fat and "fat" is just a word.

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