The first time I remember being fat-shamed was in high school. I was old enough to drive but not wealthy enough from working weekends at the local grocery store to have a car of my own. So I often borrowed my mom’s. During the summers, in particular, I would drive her to work so that I would have her car and then pick her up at the end of the day.
One hot and steamy day, I decided to go inside and let my mom know I was there as opposed to waiting for her in the car. She was a social worker at a nursing home at the time, and I can still smell the antiseptic and the pudding that combined in the air to make a unique smell that I’ve since always (perhaps unfairly) associated with old people.
My mom was happy to see me walk in and introduced me to some of the residents. Most smiled and nodded and some were even excited to meet me. There was one old cranky man, though, who did not share their joy. He took one look at me and asked how someone as small and petite as my mom could have such a chunky and fat daughter.
I was crushed. She was mortified. The thing about being overweight is that you can’t hide it. I always knew I was built more like my father than my mother. She was slight; he was robust. I was already worried that people might notice that I was larger than my mother and that single comment by that ignorant man brought all my worst fears to life.
I left in tears and my mom reassured me for months and years later that that man was just a miserable old human being and he lashed out at anyone and everyone. She begged me not to take his words to heart. I do not remember his name, but I bet my life that she does.
Last month, I had dinner with someone I had not seen in a while. It was nice to catch up and relive old times. Then, as the wine was making its way through my system and I was getting a nice buzz and starting to really relax, this someone started to tell a story of his boss. His fat, mean, boss. “Family Guy” fat. Pretty big. Then this someone turned to me and said, “No offense,” and kept on talking.
I shrugged. I was not offended. Unless…unless…oh my God, do you think I am that fat?, a voice in my brain said. You think I am a gross, cartoon character of fatness?
I wanted to crawl into a hole in the floor and die. I was embarrassed and ashamed and even angry that my weight was still a hot-button issue for me. Years of therapy and nutritional counseling and soul searching, and yet the feelings of shame and sadness for being overweight were exactly the same.
I smiled and made it through the rest of the dinner. At one point, I excused myself to go to the restroom where I sat in the stall, lid still on the toilet, and wondered how I got here. How did I gain enough weight back that I could be viewed as fat again? How did I allow myself to be in a situation where I did not see the insult coming? What do I do now?
The first thing I had to do was pay the bill. The second thing I had to do was go home. The third thing I had to do is cry. I did not do them in that order. The tears came before I was home.
No one deserves to be fat-shamed. No one deserves to be any kind of shamed. I am embarrassed by my weight, and it has been my cross to bear since before high school. I struggle daily, whether people see it or not. I have an addiction to food just like some have an addiction to alcohol or drugs. I am working on getting the help I need.
I do not want to ever feel ashamed about my weight again. More importantly, I do not want my daughter to ever live through the kind of struggles that I have had to deal with my whole life. So please, please, please…think before you speak. Say what you mean, but be kind and never ever think you know someone based on the face they choose to show you.
Let’s be kind to each other—if not just for us, then for our children. Then maybe some of the pain will be worth it.
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This post is part of the Here.Now series, which seeks to destigmatize mental health,
and is made possible by UJA-Federation of New York and The Jewish Board.
You can find other educational mental health resources here.