Last Thursday, as I was returning to my office after my 8:00 AM class, a former student from two years ago was standing by the doors to my building, on the phone. She took the phone away from her ear and screamed, “Oh my god! You got fat!” The old me (which is to say the younger me) would have sulked at the comment in the privacy of my office. The new me (which is to say the older me) smiled and asked how she was doing, the comment not fully registering in my head. Without requesting advice, she told me to consider weight loss surgery, and I steered the topic toward the well-being of her family and friends. She took this as a cue to ask me about dating, and I said it’s going surprisingly well. Her response: “That’s because you’re attracting chubby chasers.” When I excused myself, she asked if she had offended me; I said no. “You just always seemed cool, like someone I would chill with,” she said. “I talk like this to my friends. That’s how you know I like you.” Thanks, I said, and bid her a good day. (Geeze, how does she treat her enemies?)
A few weekends ago, I reconnected with an old buddy of mine who, when I ordered a burger and fries for dinner, called me “fatso”. And over the weekend a neighbour called me fat (and other expletives) because I was petting a stray cat she claimed was hers and alleged that I was going to steal it. One just has to laugh at these comments. It’s not like I have to be broken out of a wall to leave home or use double doors to get into my office. Willy Wonka doesn’t have to whistle for the Oompa Loompas to roll me out Violet Beauregarde-style or squeeze me out of a shoot like they did for Augustus Gloop. Yes, I have put on a few pounds since I moved away from a neighbourhood where many friends lived within walking distance; my life has become a bit more sedentary, which is why I’ve thrown myself into gardening: to get some natural exercise. (Don’t worry, no plants were crushed in the throw.)
Let me tell you something: big people know we’re big. We don’t need the public to remind us by exclamations, questions of concern, or suggestions for weight loss. Weight gain is a private issue, one between me, my body, and my doctor. I understand some of the comments “come from a good place” or are made of “care for our health and well-being” and whatever else people come up with to grant themselves permission to make comments about a large person’s body. (We don’t do that to other people of difference: OMG you’re black! OMG you’re poor! Old! Short! Tall!) As Suzanne Sugarbaker of Designing Women-fame, once retorted to a concerned Julia and Mary Jo, “Skinny people make it seem like I have to shop at Georgia Tent & Awning.” They said they just didn’t want her to get her feelings hurt by others. Really? As if unwelcome comments don’t hurt a person’s feelings. (Since meds, I don’t have much ability for feelings anymore. Don’t worry about hurting mine. Thick skin, you know.)
Here’s the deal, mind your body your way and I’ll mind my body my way. Unless I’ve stolen food from off your plate or ripped a pair of borrowed jeans or am dating you, consider your comments out of place. Actually, I take back the dating part. Margaret Cho has a joke that if you care what I look like when you’re sleeping with me, you shouldn’t be sleeping with me in the first place. It has taken me a long time to understand that joke, but now that I do, it seems less funny than it does deep and true. If you don’t get it, and if you’re disgusted at the sight of large bodies, then your disgust at my body or of the bodies of millions of American of size, is your problem, not mine.
As Willy Wonka once said, “We are the music makers. We are the dreamers of dreams.” That includes big people, too.