Fatty, fatty two by four, can’t fit through the kitchen door.
Their names and faces are lost in history, but their words remain my constant truth. School yard chant buried deep under my skin, wrapped around my heart, that creeps through my brain, popping up like a boogey monster whenever I look in the mirror.
Fatty, fatty two by four…
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words — that warp and twist you in ways you can never imagine. And yeah, decades later, their words still hurt.
I’ve hidden away from mirrors for most of my life. As a fat kid, I’d be shocked when my outer image did not reflect the person I felt to be. Inside my own head, I was a slim fairy princess dancing through forest glades. My outside appearance was a very different story. Thick concrete legs with rolls of flesh covering heavy muscle and towering above my classmates; I was, as they kindly said, ‘big boned.’
In a weird twist of fate, as we entered high school the girls all grew taller than me, still slender and willowy; and I did not grow an inch more. I was now ‘stocky.’
Now as a short and curvy adult, who is sort of athletic, I still feel like that kid. And no, I’m not talking about the fairy princess. Somewhere along the line I grew to accept the reality of my body – yes, it was strong, yes, it was powerful, and inside my head, I became that fat kid.
Who told me I was fat?
Magazines, TV, movies, all filled with glossy images of slender models and celebrities told me I did not look like them; therefore I was abnormal. My peers, with their slim thighs that could snap like twigs between my fingers, told me this. Repeatedly.
But who told me most of all?
I wanted to be what I saw around me because I felt that’s who I was; my physicality was always a shock to myself – a large, lumbering freak on the playground surrounded by my much smaller classmates. I took my understanding of what it was to be a person (as a kid, that was female, fair, slim, petite, and pretty like most of the girls in my class) and applied it to myself, dwelling on my shortcomings to the point of dangerous obsession.
My parents encouraged me to diet and exercise to ‘be healthy,’ and by age ten I memorized calorie charts, underwent 3-day fad diets, breakfasted on grapefruit coated in aspartame and black coffee, consumed little but laxatives and diet cola, and tried nearly everything to lose weight.
Flash forward a few decades, and I still am.
I’ve had moments of feeling attractive – usually when my weight hovered near 113 pounds, and I’d faint while standing up because my blood pressure was dangerously low. As a high school student dieting morphed into full blown anorexia and concerned teachers stopped me in the halls, asking how I was doing, and about the ‘special project’ I was doing on eating disorders. They would say I looked fine, and as they glanced at my wide hips and mature bust, and I knew they were lying.
I did not look fine at 143 pounds, I could never look fine at 143, especially when my peers hovered near a slender 119. All the weight-height charts agreed, for my height, I should have been a svelte 105. I would’ve been happy with 113. From then on it became a numbers game – pounds, sizes, and inches, I won’t bore you with details, but you know the drill. Input vs. output. Total calories consumed must always be at a loss. Through my ‘research’ I learned countless ways to lose weight and could’ve taught a whole course of my own. Vomiting (techniques, and medicines, applied). Laxatives (purging 101, beyond ExLax). Exercise (advanced techniques with enhanced cardio). And simple, yet, effective starvation.
400 calories a day. Black coffee for breakfast, a small apple for lunch, and tuna and melba toast for dinner. 400 per day, times 365. That’s what I existed on in my final year of high school. I completed my courses, got good grades, won awards and earned a scholarship.
Fatty, fatty two by four,
can’t fit through the kitchen door.
Somehow, miraculously, the anorexia transformed (along with the black depression and anxiety that accompanied it) to a quest for healthy eating, vegetarianism, out of my concern for animal welfare. That soon evolved into veganism, extreme exercise, and nearly non-existent eating.
And I was finally 113.
I lived on white rice, dried seaweed, and water. My hip bones jutted from my skin, my belly was sunken, and my breasts were reduced to flat sacks on my chest.
And I felt pretty.
My clothes hung loose, and my thighs were finally slim like the models in magazines. My ass, breasts, and periods were nonexistent, and my hair was falling out, but I was finally slender. Frail. Waif-like. And attractive.
A fairy princess.
It wasn’t for long.
Flash forward through time, and relationships, and pregnancy and birth, and my body has returned to its original state – heavy curves, on an athletic build. Some might call me Amazonian.
I still see myself as fat.
At this point, I no longer own a scale. And I still avoid mirrors.
But recently, I picked up my camera. As someone who was always camera shy, and one to avoid selfies at all costs, I’ve recently turned the lens toward myself.
It all started one day when I snapped a photo of my leg, thick and tanned and scratched from rugged living and posted it on Facebook. Truthfully, I was trying to see if the shorts I was wearing went with the top I’d put on. (I’ve always been a terrible dresser, and anything other than plain black t-shirts intimidates the heck out of me.)
When I checked in later to see if I was making a fashion faux pas, the replies were overwhelming – fashion advice, yes, but compliments on my muscular leg. The full curves. The thickness and power.
Suddenly, I was no longer fat.
I was fashionable.
As a long-time fan of vintage pin-ups and their contemporary recreations, I’ve always loved how clothes accentuated full curves and thick thighs while the models posed in ways that highlighted their – um – assets. I knew I could never recreate a classic pin up scene (unless the clothing was all black), so I studied the poses of the models and started to turn my camera toward myself. In snippets, one part at a time, I’d tip and adjust my cell phone in selfie mode to get the ‘perfect shot,’ lining up, shooting and repeating until I got an image I liked. I deleted the rest. I even shared a few with friends, a sort of ha ha, nudge, nudge, look at this and laugh.
Then I couldn’t believe it. The photos I’d shared had earned compliments, va-va-voom moments from old friends, and even I kind of liked them. But what was happening was I was starting to like myself.
I had captured my own curves, isolated and framed, in a way that I’d never seen before.
Although walking past a mirror is still an exercise in existential angst as my sagging belly and flabby arms come into view, I find myself trying to see the parts that I’d photographed in isolation, now working as a whole.
I am starting to see the beauty in myself.
For the first time in my life I see myself through my own lens; and although I will never be a slim fairy princess, an Amazon is just fine.
Photo Credit: @Carly Zee All Rights Reserved