“Wow!” You don’t look it.”
That’s the most common response I hear when I mention to a new acquaintance that I grew up weighing around 240 pounds (sometimes more, sometimes less). That response makes me feel like Katherine Watson in “Mona Lisa Smile” when—out of frustration and disappointment—she shows her class a girdle ad that says “You couldn’t choose a better way to be free.” I want to yell at them the same thing she did, “What does that mean?!”
Are they surprised that I don’t have sagging skin? Or do they mean that I’m more confident, more stylish, than they imagined a lapsed fat girl would be? Or is it just one of those meaningless things people blurt out when they don’t know what to say? Probably, it’s a combination of all three.
It’s usually said in the tone of a compliment. That’s the only reason why I resist yelling because I’m pretty sure they’re trying to be nice. But, as far as compliments go, it’s pretty pathetic. I can’t help but feel that it’s one of those subtle indicators of our culture’s prejudice against overweight people.
The irony about my weight loss journey is that it’s made me more sensitive to how heavy people are treated by our culture. Before I started losing weight, I blithely wrote off the people who looked down on me or disregarded me because of my disproportionate size. Now that I’m out of plus sizes, that same prejudice makes me want to pick up arms in defense of the fat girl that I was. While I believe Michelle Obama’s intentions are pure, her campaign against obesity has made me feel like it is necessary to start another campaign: A campaign for better treatment of and more understanding for obesity-inclined people. No matter what number my bathroom scale blinks at me, I will always be one of those people.
Just like a lapsed Catholic will always have a place in their heart for the Papacy no matter how long its been since they attended mass, as a lapsed fat girl I will always have this sensitivity and awareness.
The next time someone you know mentions that they used to carry a significant amount of weight, I hope you’ll refrain from replying “I never would have guessed by looking at you.”