You know … FAT.
The first time my teen patrons heard me refer to myself as “fat” they seemed unsure how to react. A group of teenage girls had gathered around a table in front of the desk I was working at and were discussing what might be considered typical adolescence topics: boys, hair, clothes, and their social lives. I heard one of them say, disgust in her voice, “I’m so fat today!” When I casually looked over to see who was speaking I saw a teenage girl who could not have weighed more than 110 pounds. I saw a teaching moment at hand, so I interjected, “You’re not fat. I’m fat.”
Conversation at the table came to a grinding halt as six heads swiveled as one to stare at me. They stared at me with confusion. I was new in my job and this was one of the first times this group of girls had ever seen me. Their previous relationship with our library could have been classified as hostile, or at the very least, tense. They stared at me now as if I were deliberately baiting them into making a nasty comment about me.
I smiled at them and they giggled nervously, some averting their eyes from my friendly gaze. This was one of my first verbal interactions with the high school crowd of girls who frequented my public library most weekdays, so I wanted it to be a positive one. I could tell the girls did not know how to react to this statement and could not tell what my intentions were, so I made sure my smile was extra warm.
“It’s true,” I continued, keeping my voice sociable and pleasant. “I am fat. It’s just a word, that’s all. It’s not an insult. It’s no different than saying I have brown hair.” I pointed to my hair at this point and smiled a little wider.
They giggled again and shifted nervously in their seats. “That’s why you shouldn’t call yourself fat,” I said, motioning vaguely to the girl who had spoken earlier. “It’s not because being fat is terrible or insulting, but because it’s not factually true.”
“Um, yeah,” one of the other girls said to the speaker. “That’s right, you’re, um, not fat, I guess.” There was a moment of silence, as the statement hung almost visibly in the air. I wondered if this was the first time any of them had ventured to say this out-loud: you’re not fat, had been brave enough to not join in the chorus of body hate, the repeated mantra of “fat, fat, fat!” that so often surrounds so many of us.
There was no giggling this time; they just continued to stare at me as I smiled at them. I went back to my work and a few minutes later, I heard them return to their conversation. This was an icebreaker day in my relationship with these patrons, I like to think that from that day on they thought of me as a person who, at the very least, told the truth.
By the end of the year, I know they thought of me as an ally and an advocate, an adult who could (who would) speak up for them in a library setting. I hope they also thought of me as a fat person because, as I told them that first day, that’s just what I am.
I have viewed the word “fat” as a negative word most of my life. I have feared it and reviled it, and now that is the word that describes me. I appreciate hearing someone else using the word unrelentlessly in a positive manner, although I admit it may take me a few more decades to feel positive about myself being fat.
I know this is a comment board, and therefore I do not need to address this like a letter… but what the heck, this is my comment and I can do as I please.
I am also (gosh even writing it seems hard, if you can believe that) fat. I found your blog accidentally while searching for books with themes of fat acceptance or with fat main characters. Within the packed and overflowing lists of unrelated Google matches I found your blog. Unsure at first (for the title intrigued and surprised me) I jumped in and found a world unfun and beautiful prose.
You (my fine blogger) make the world a better place. I hear your words and your insistence and while I may not agree with you on all points (no two people ever will) you have opened new doors to me. I may never be able to say the F word out loud like you do but I certainly feel a little more pride after reading your blogs. You have a good heart, and I plan on reading everything you write until I die (or get bored which is equally possible).
I plan (in vain probably) to be a published author one day, and I plan to take some of what I have learned from you along with me.
Thanks for being awesome.
I remember I was wearing a dress and one of my regular teens at the library asked very surprisingly “Are you pregnant?” I responded: “No, I’m just fat.” The group of about 20 teens, mixed ages and genders, looked up in horror as though I just cannibalized an infant. “It’s okay, I said, I know I’m fat. It’s not a bad word.” Then they all came to my defense as though I was doing some kind of self-deprecating humor. “You’re not fat, you’re fluffy. You’re chubby.” I didn’t fight them on it, because I know they had been taught that fat was a bad word or only for bad people. It’s so hard to unlearn that.
A few years earlier, a ten year old girl came asking me for a diet book because her mother had told her she was fat. This girl was barely 100 lbs. She wasn’t fat, she was just soft. Puberty hadn’t hit. I laughed outright, and tried to comfort her. I told her that she wasn’t. I said “I’m fat. I’m twice your size and shorter than you.” I explained to her that once puberty struck, the roundness she was referring to would take on a womanly shape. Eventually her mother came over. I explained to the mother that the girl might have mistook something she had said and misunderstood what she had meant. The mother, in all seriousness, admitted to calling the girl fat and poked at the girl’s squishy tummy. I looked pointedly at the girl, then at myself and finally at the mother. Without losing my sh*t, I told her. Your daughter isn’t fat.