When did you first “feel” fat? When did you first get the feeling that there was something about you that wasn’t quite right, as far as other people were concerned? Do you remember the exact moment?
I remember my moment vividly. I was in grade six, so I guess I was about 11 or 12. It was close to the end of the school year. Me and my friends were getting ready to start grade seven, and that meant junior high and leaving the safe nest of grade school. I was known as a “browner” or a brain … the kind of kid all the teachers loved. All the kids liked me too, as far as I knew. I got everything with everyone, had lots of friends, and was generally happy.
There was this boy in our class who was famous for his big imagination and for writing stories. It was always a treat for us when we heard him read one of his stories aloud, and it was always a big production. What made them even more enjoyable was that he would use us as characters in his stories, using our particular names. His friends were usually his regular characters, but every once in awhile, he would slip in one of us he had never used as a character before, and it would be a big surprise for the lucky class member. I had never been cast in one of his stories before … until that day.
I forget the actual subject matter of the story. I know it was a horror story, because he was famous for his horror stories, and he liked to subject his characters to gruesome deaths, which delighted everyone. When he got to me, however, he didn’t use my name – he just said the name “Cannonball” -- and somehow, everyone knew that meant me. I remember everyone looking at me and laughing. I felt my face go beet red. I smiled and pretended to laugh along with them, but I remember how horrified and obtrusive I felt. Up until then, I had been accepted and admired. Suddenly, something had changed. I had been singled out for something, and it wasn’t anything good. I realized it was solely because of my body.
Little did I know that was just the start, and it was actually an ominous clue about what was to come. The following year, when I started grade seven, I was subjected to a horrendous amount of bullying about my size. No one came to my defense; most of the kids just laughed along with the bullies or joined in, or they were too preoccupied with their own social lives to care about what was happening to me. It was quite the learning experience, and one I never forgot. I got the message: to be different was to be a target. To be different was almost like death.
When did you first get the message that your body was not acceptable? Who did you get it from? How do you feel about it now that you are an adult and can look back at it with adult eyes?
Cruelty and ridicule are not the proprietary domain of children. Plenty of adults can be just as prejudicial and discriminatory. At least kids have ignorance for an excuse … adults don’t. Adults are fully capable of assessing their actions and choosing whether or not to perform them.
The next time someone makes you “feel” fat, consider who the message is coming from and why they might want to make you feel that way. What’s in it for them? What are they getting out of making you feel that way?
Whenever someone makes your size an issue, it’s not about you. It’s about them. A normal, happy person does not feel the need to single anyone out for criticism or ridicule. They are doing it to deflect attention from themselves -- because THEY feel deficient in some way.
I may not have realized this when I was a kid, but I sure as hell know it now. I vowed a long time ago that I would never let anyone make me feel deficient because of my size again. And I never have, and never will. That's not a self-congratulatory boast or brag and I don't need or want any pats on the back for it. It's simply a fact.