It was health check day at my primary school and I was about six years old. When my turn was over and I came out of the classroom-turned-doctor’s-office, one of my classmates asked me how much I weighed. I told him the exact number, because up until that moment, I had never thought of it as something to be ashamed of. The other children started laughing. Some of them made gagging noises. That was the first time I realised people thought there was something wrong with my body.
From then on, the yearly health tests became my biggest nightmare. After a while, I knew exactly what to expect. Every time, the doctor would whip out that bloody growth chart, point at it, and tell me that my weight was more than above average. The boys in my class seemed very aware of that as well and would take every chance to let me know that they thought I was disgusting. They didn’t want to work with me, they didn’t want to touch me, they didn’t want their books or papers to touch mine. As if they could catch it that way. The girls were a bit more subtle, but they always had an excuse to not include me in the little plays or dances they organised.
The older I got, the more obvious it became that the body I was living in was making the world very uncomfortable and that it was something that needed fixing. Sometimes it would be ‘helpful’ comments, like when my dad told me that employers prefer to hire skinny people and that no boy would ever want to date a fat girl. Other times people would just be plain cruel, like when students at school asked me if I was pregnant.
If I act like I’m not fat, nobody will notice I’m fat
Up until a few years ago, I never talked about my weight to anyone. For some reason, I hoped that if I acted like I wasn’t fat, and as long as I never mentioned it, people wouldn’t notice it and they wouldn’t say anything.
Needless to say, my strategy didn’t work. People did notice and they absolutely did have something to say. One time, me and a friend were at a restaurant. Somehow, our conversation lead to me asking him if he thought my outfit was boring. Without hesitation, he said, No, I don’t, but I do think it would be better if you lost some weight.
It didn’t even take him half a second to come up with that reply. It sounded as if he had been waiting for an opportunity to say that to me for a very long time and the moment had finally arrived. I was speechless. This came out of nowhere and we.were.having.dinner. How can you think it’s okay to say something like that when someone’s eating? Or ever, really. I felt nauseous and I was completely frozen. I wanted to disappear.
Then, he had the audacity to wonder why I had stopped eating. He asked me if I thought he was being rude and I said no. I shrugged and tried to act like I didn’t care, when I wanted nothing more than to go home, vomit, and not exist. By that time, I had already gotten really good at acting like I wasn’t hurt by those comments.
If someone were to do this to me today, I would get up and leave. Because yes, it IS rude. It’s also a perfect example of how people think that they can, no, have to, comment on fat bodies. They just have to let you know how they feel and what they think you should be doing. And you as a fat person have to accept it because ‘they mean well’.
My ‘repulsive’ body
To anyone who has ever criticised someone’s weight, here’s what I am dying to know: What exactly do you expect is going to happen? Apart from looking like a complete and utter dickhead, what are you hoping to achieve? Because personally, I’ve been fat for the better part of twenty-eight years. I have been called everything you could possibly imagine. I have been yelled at and laughed at hundreds of times. I have been told that, if I didn’t lose weight during my year abroad, I didn’t need to come home anymore. And guess what, baby? I’m still fat. So what exactly is it that makes you think you are going to change that? And let’s not pretend that people who say these things actually care about fat people’s health. It was never about that, it’s just an excuse to have free rein.
My brother once told me that he and some other people had discussed my not having a partner. They had reached the conclusion that I had a pretty face, but that my body was repulsive. That was fun. I will forever be impressed by how family members can say the most hurtful things in the most nonchalant way. We would be having a nice family moment, I would be having fun and just as I was letting my guard down a bit, all of sudden one of them would go, Seriously Gladys, when are you going to do something about this? It’s embarrassing.
The one family member who never commented on my weight was my grandfather, who is also big and has always been extremely confident about it. I’ve seen that man strut around many a pool in a tight speedo with the confidence of a Calvin Klein model. I’ve seen him try on twenty pairs of trousers in a clothing shop and he never seemed to care that much when none of them fit. I’ve seen him break several lawn chairs and laugh it off. I’ve heard him tell an entire group of people that his doctor had called him fat, and why exactly did he pay for a consult to be told something that was very obvious to everyone with eyes. One time he had to duct tape his trousers at work because they had basically ripped in half. If he ever felt bad in those moments, he never showed it.
I remember being both shocked and envious of his nonchalance. I admired it but I didn’t understand. The thought of having those conversations or being in similar situations almost made me want to die of embarrassment, so how was he just going about life like this? I will say that I do believe there is a difference in how society treats fat men versus fat women, but still. He was the first person I knew who was okay with being fat and although I have not quite reached his level of confidence yet, I’m getting there and that’s partly thanks to him.
I thought I didn’t deserve to be loved
I used to believe every word people said to me. Every time I had feelings for someone and they did not feel the same way, I assumed that I was too fat for them. Why would they want me if they could be with someone slim? To be honest, I’m still convinced that that was the main reason in most cases. And obviously that’s their loss, but a lot of people don’t consider fat people attractive and if they do (based on my brief time on dating apps) they most likely have a fat fetish and only talk to you because they have always wanted to bang a fat chick (I have actually been told this on several occasions).
For the longest time I felt like I wasn’t deserving of love. Like it was something I would have to earn by becoming lovable first. If I had a holiday planned with someone I had a crush on, I would create a weight loss plan and promise myself that I would lose a third of my body weight before the holiday, so that they would finally see me as the irresistible swan that I had transformed into and they would fall for me (it never worked). I felt like I didn’t have the right to expect love from anyone as long as I was fat. Society makes you feel like you need to know your place. You can be the best friend, sure. The funny friend, even. But for someone who looks like me, there’s always room for improvement. I believed all of that. Until I didn’t anymore and I started realising that it was never my fault.
What if I’m not the issue?
I can’t remember exactly when or how I started my body positivity journey. I think it was a combination of fat activists on Instagram, confident friends who called themselves fat and were proud of it, and a lot of Lizzo. It might sound silly, but the fact that there was this fat woman who dressed and behaved just like other pop stars and who even had songs about being fat, blew my mind. Because I started following so many women who looked like me, I also started thinking of my own body as normal because I saw it every day.
These past couple of years, I have made a 180. I cannot tell you how much has changed. Before, I would look at pictures of me and my friends and spend hours comparing their legs to mine. I would crop my fat bits out of pictures until basically only my eyeballs were left. Now I see those pictures and just see myself. When I look in the mirror, I no longer see something that I need to fix in order to be accepted. I see myself and I look good.
I once watched an interview where Lizzo talked about how she would fantasise about grabbing a knife and cutting all of the fat off of her body. That hit me hard and I started sobbing. I used to think the exact same thing. Now, I look at my thighs and stomach and I just see….my thighs and stomach. And you know what? I like them.
The funny thing, the gag, if you will, is that I secretly always thought I was beautiful. I never felt like I needed to change to love myself. I recently found a list of Reasons to Lose Weight that I carried around in my wallet as a teenager. I realised that every single one of those reasons was about wanting to be accepted by my family, wanting a boy to like me, wanting clothes from a specific shop to fit me, wanting to not be bullied… It was never about me loving myself because that was never the issue. I was never the issue.
Fatphobia is everywhere
Fatphobia is ingrained in society and I deal with it every single day. And of course, there are people who are a lot fatter than me who get even more hate. It’s everywhere, including in the medical world. I’ve read countless stories of people who were suffering from an eating disorder, went to their doctors and got told that they were not thin enough to be taken seriously, or even that they looked great so they should keep doing what they were doing. This is so messed up and infuriating.
Several of my friends have been misdiagnosed and their hereditary diseases were ignored for years because doctors just told them to lose weight. Yes, it’s really fucking annoying to not fit in rides at theme parks or to have to worry about the seatbelt on the plane not being long enough, but it’s not just that. People die because of fatphobia.
I honestly think that most people who’ve never been on the ‘wrong’ side of the weight curve don’t realise how many fatphobic things they say on a daily basis. When you tell me that you’re scared of gaining weight, or that you gained weight and you feel terrible, all I hear is how the thought of looking like me is your biggest nightmare. I absolutely understand that everyone is suffering from society’s impossible beauty standards and that everyone has their own struggles, but these comments have become quite triggering to me because they all contribute to the massive scam that is diet culture and fatphobia.
Oh and please stop saying you ‘feel fat’. Fat is not a feeling. Although I have decided that I will start using the exact same language and that every time I’m hungry I will tell people about how skinny I’m feeling. I have friends who are thin and they are still talking about how they want to lose another clothing size. I would just love to see people’s faces if I started telling them, Oh I really need to gain another thirty pounds guys, I want to reach my goal weight. They would think I had lost my mind. But why does that sound ridiculous to us, and the opposite doesn’t? (Hint: it’s fatphobia.)
I have done and said fatphobic things as well and I think that goes for everyone. It’s just the way we have been raised and trained. When my friends made fun of other fat people, I joined in. It’s terrible and I’m very ashamed of it now, but it felt good to not be the one the hate was directed towards and to be part of the ‘normal’ people.
I’m just existing
I once got called ‘courageous’ for being in a play. The person told me that they thought it was incredible that I dared to be on stage, because they were big as well and they would never have done that. I know they probably thought that it was a compliment, but…no. What you’re actually telling me is that you think I shouldn’t be doing this and that I’m almost delusional for thinking that I deserve to be on a stage too. I’m not brave because I believe that I deserve to do the same things as other people. Just like when my P.E. teacher told me that I seemed ‘very confident, considering…’ I was confident. I’ve always been quite confident, even when everyone seemed to think I had no right to be.
When you live in a fat body, everything you do is considered a statement. Showing a lot of skin? You’re promoting an unhealthy lifestyle. Not showing a lot of skin? You’re obviously insecure because of your body. Demanding to be treated like a human being? How dare you force obesity on people.
How to be an ally
Sometimes people try to be nice and understanding but by doing so they’re minimising the trauma that’s being inflicted on fat people. I know you mean well when you tell me to ‘just not care about those comments because people will have something to say anyway’, but when you’ve had to deal with so much abuse for simply existing, it’s not that easy.
Of course everyone gets nasty comments sometimes, but the people who tell me to just not worry about it have clearly never been yelled at by strangers that they need to lose weight. These people have never had to gather all of their courage to wear a top with no sleeves to a festival only to get in the car and be greeted with, Wow your arms are massive! It’s always open season on fat people and when you actually believe that you are the problem and that you deserve to be treated this way, it honestly breaks you.
Fat people need allies and I’m very proud to say that most of my friends are actively fighting against fatphobia. In order to protect myself, I also need to surround myself with people who at least try to understand. I get that a lot of people are still very much in the grip of diet culture and I can’t blame them, but I’ve come too far to be around people who talk about those things all the time.
As a friend or partner of a fat person, I think it’s important that you try to be mindful of their experiences. Fat people need to think about things that are not even crossing your mind. I stress about the seats on the plane being too small or the belt not being long enough. I’m not comfortable on those cheap plastic patio chairs. In fact, I can almost hear the legs screaming, We won’t be able to hold on much longer, girl. When you take me to that cute boutique and you wonder why I’m not trying anything on, it’s because I know that there is not one single item that will fit me.
Me and a friend are planning on going to Iceland soon and we want to go whale spotting (don’t). My friend doesn’t need to think much about things like that, whereas I have spent hours already comparing different organisations, looking at their pictures, trying to find out which company won’t make us wear specials suits because I know I probably won’t fit in them and I’m not in the mood to be embarrassed like that in front of a group of people. In fact, until a couple of years ago, I probably would have lied and said that it didn’t sound like fun to me and I didn’t want to do it. Just like I ‘hated’ swimming.
It’s a process
Honestly? I still get very angry when I think about the things people have said and done to me. Sometimes, I still feel resentment towards my friends and family and that’s not fair. We’re all learning and God knows I’ve said some BS that I’m ashamed of today. I also know most of them regret ever thinking or saying those things, but that doesn’t take away the trauma. I never deserved this. I didn’t deserve to spend all these years worrying about the most ‘flattering’ outfit. I didn’t deserve to wear blazers in a heatwave because I didn’t want people to see my body. And neither do you.
I originally wrote this post in Dutch a couple of years ago. Back then, I named it I’m a big girl. That was not a spontaneous decision. I decided ‘big girl’ sounded nice and soft, and I could say it without feeling bad. The word fat was out of the question, let alone the Dutch translation. Back then, it was too painful to use that word.
Today, I’ve almost reached a point where I can use it the way it’s meant to be used without cringing, but I’m not one hundred percent there yet. I know it’s nothing more than an adjective, just like blue, blonde or tall. I’m the first person to tell other people that. I’m getting used to actively using it now and I try to correct people every time they act like it’s a bad word (however, please do not call someone fat unless you know they’re comfortable with that term. Maybe that person is still struggling with it and in that case it can be very hurtful).
When that piece first got published, the reactions were overwhelmingly positive. I received so many messages from people who were also on their self love journey and it made me so happy. Although one family member did ask me why, if it had truly bothered me so much, I didn’t just go on a diet. No matter how hard you try, some people will just never understand.
I’m proud to say that, as I was translating and rewriting this piece, I discovered that some of the things I shared in the original text are not true anymore. In the old version of the blog post I wrote about how I was still scared to leave the house in sleeveless tops, how I was still terrified to go to the beach and how I didn’t want to be the only person at the table to order dessert. Two years later, I’m completely over those things. This is proof that one day, the things that seem impossible to you today, might not even scare you anymore.
You deserve to live your best life TODAY
Our society is still incredibly fatphobic and that is a massive problem. The problem, however, is NOT fat people. Stop commenting on people’s bodies. Stop complimenting weight loss. Mind your own damn business.
Please please please don’t let fatphobia stop you from doing whatever you want to do. Get rid of these clothes that have never fit you or that used to fit you ten years ago that you keep telling yourself you will wear again one day. Stop putting things off because you only want to do them when you’re thin. You are not a ‘before’ in a ‘before and after’ advertisement.
It breaks my heart that there are so many people who spend their entire lives worried about their weight or thinking that they’re not beautiful enough. I know it’s hard, I do. It took me more than twenty years to get to this point and I’m still working through a lot of pain. But I never, ever thought that I would reach a point where I would be comfortable sharing this and here I am.
In case nobody has told you this: you deserve to unapologetically live your absolute best life no matter what body you currently reside in. You deserve to be naked and enjoy the sun and love and dance and eat and wear whatever the fuck you want and take up as much space as you want in this world.
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