I’ll start pretty early on. Of course, 30+ years later, I can’t remember if it was at the bounce house or some typical death-trap-style school carnival ride, but the (legitimate) carny simply looked at me, then looked at my dad and said: “too fat”. Part of me remembers bursting
out into tears and trying to run away, and another part of me remembers how visibly upset my dad also got at the time. He was my number one protector, for years, against the world’s fat haters.
Growing up, I was always the biggest in my class and my circle. Typically, I was always one of the tallest as well (in my mind, this also factors into my story). Leaving the park that day, I can only imagine the anguish my dad experienced.
He’d go on to defend me for years against a particularly cruel neighborhood teenage duo as well who, in the 80s, looked precisely like Beavis and Butthead. Their names were Wayne and Larry and they loved heavy metal and tour t-shirts; no, they will not be protected with aliases. For years, Wayne and Larry would taunt me, throw things at me, try to intimidate me in countless ways. Their favorite sport, by far, however, was chanting “lard ASS” over and over almost every single time they saw me. This went on for almost all of elementary school. Imagine your 2nd grader sobbing about being called that, day after day.
I think after years of controlling himself, my dad finally snapped. But it wasn’t on Wayne or Larry – it was on another one of their friends who had moved into the area who had also taken to calling me lard ass every.single.time he saw me. His method (I’ve forgotten his name) was to haul ass by on his bike, yelling it at me. One day, he peddled by not realizing my dad was also outside. I need to take a pause here to share that my dad could run like the wind – seriously, it was always an impressive thing to me. My dad raced after the guy, on foot, CAUGHT him, pulled him off his bike by the collar of his shirt and proceeded to beat his ass. I have a vague memory of my mom coming out to stop him; the other neighborhood bullies and some other neighbors just looked on. Inside, I was cheering, terrified, relieved, shocked… The teenage piece of shit was crying, on the floor. All these years later, my memory still cheers at the thought. When we left that house, the reprieve from the daily verbal abuse was welcome, but it would never stop.
You probably know this: kids are cruel. But so are adults. In jr. high, I played soccer with the AYSO. It was a mixed team, male and female. Still, I was the biggest and tallest one. I played (surprise!): defense. I could kick like hell and (like my dad, though over far shorter distances) run like a maniac in order to defend the goal. I remember three things distinctly from the 2-3 years I played: 1) my mom had to find me the same “colors” for the team outside of the general uniform; none of their sizing fit – so, while in the right colors, I never looked “like” the rest of my team; 2) during one game, my supposed friend Lazaro (a star player and someone I found to be quite hunky) – pissed that I didn’t block something – told me I had “enough fat” on my legs to basically defend anything (i.e. I should throw myself in the path of anything that moved to assure us a win); 3) while battling another team, the opposing coach became enraged that a card was being thrown for one his players purposely kicking the shit out of me and, for no reason other than to try and silence and embarrass me, screamed “… come on, you’re like 4 players put together..” (read: you’re so fat that can’t really hurt you). What do you say to an adult? I was maybe 13. I remember a combination of tears and rage. Pure rage.
High school, college, as a young professional. It would never stop. Especially since, as my dad’s health declined over an agonizing number of years, my weight soared. At my heaviest, I was almost 400 lbs. Even at 5’9, there’s no hiding that. Especially at 5’9, there is NO hiding that. Later in jr. high, a group of girls would try to pick fights with me on a weekly basis (stabbing me with pencils, following me in the halls with various taunts, surrounding me at lunch); I didn’t even know them – I was simply an easy target. In high school, guys would cast knowing glances between themselves, look my way and say, “there you go” (silently communicating: there’s a fat girl for you). Going out as a college student, groups of girls would literally laugh in my face after looking me up and down; they couldn’t fathom that a big girl could have style. Men were even more cruel. While walking South Beach late one night with a BFF, one guy felt compelled to run out of a pizzeria and offer me, “..a slice…no, wait, what about a whole pizza?” (he and his friends dissolved into hysterics). Another episode around that same time involved a father and son – a team. While roaming the aisles of Costco, I caught the 5-6 yr old staring at me. He whispered something along the lines of “look at how fat she is” (kids are notoriously blatant in their disregard for other humans) to his dad; instead of admonishing him or telling the kid to (minimally) not be rude, the dad joined in and they continued to saunter by me, both snickering and making comments about the kind of food I was probably buying.
Even as a young professional, there was no shelter from heinous acts of rudeness. While working at my first job (in Orientation), a parent came in and I could tell she was fascinated by me. She stared, asked what I did there, then told me how pretty I’d “be, if…” Yes, she went there in the lobby of our office with other staff and students all staring on. She “had been big” too and felt that somehow granted her the entrée to offer her sage assessment – in public. Yes, even other fat people could be complete assholes (I’ll save my thoughts on this for a separate blog). I ran into my office after that, enraged again and crying.
Growing up fat in Miami may have been one of the world’s cruelest jokes. I remember thinking to myself over and over (for YEARS): was I a horrible person in another life? What could I have ever done to deserve this? The wicked teasing, the in-my-face name calling, the not-so-whispered commentary, the looks – especially the looks – were re-lent-less. Unless you’ve lived it, I can’t even explain the depths of evil you are forced to witness and experience as a person who isn’t accepted by society.
Really, I wouldn’t want you to.
But, for all of the emotional tolls growing up fat took on me, I know it made me an incredibly intuitive, kind, and compassionate person. Ironically, I love people. I find us completely riveting (really, we are all crazy). I studied Sociology undergrad and grad – probably due to the fascination that developed as a direct result of people’s’ awful treatment of their fellow human being (i.e. moi). My guiding thoughts around respect and expectations for how we should all treat each other were forged in what were really abysmal times of anger and disappointment. Living on the periphery has always given me a bird’s eye view of life and, for that, I am grateful.
I feel like I have been an unintended pioneer (only by virtue of surviving and not settling into any number of stereotypes society expected me to be) of what is now a movement around “size acceptance”. My blogs will continue to share my evolution on this frontier.
Based on my experience, “size” is one of the last and possibly never-to-be-truly protected identities.