Saturday, August 2, 2014

CGG August: Write Your Face Off #2: Who You Callin' Fat?

I'm going to work at participating in the writing challenge issued by my ginger spirit boob animal guide Brittany Herself. You can find the entire list of August writing prompts at her blog if you want to peek ahead at what I'm up to, or just, you know, stay tuned.

August 2, 2014 Prompt: The first time you were called fat. When was it, and how did it change your life?

I can't honestly say that I remember the first time. It was just a thing that everybody knew. I remember it being understood, like it was understood that I was a girl, or that I had brown eyes, or that I had hands; it was understood that I was fat. It was also understood that this was the worst possible thing I could be and the thing that brought shame to my family. As a child, this was part lack of self-confidence and part conditioning. I grew up in an environment where I was told I was smart and outgoing, although I never felt outgoing at all. I was told that I was an extrovert, someone who wouldn't hesitate to speak her mind, someone who never met a stranger, but the idea of being any of those things was always terrifying. I faked it a lot. Still do. Still terrifying. Eventually I got the message that being the funny fat girl was better than being the boring fat girl. It will horrify my parents to learn that the overarching message I received from them about women was that only thin women are worthwhile. My mother took me to ERA marches and punk concerts. Those things and more sent great messages when they occurred, but they weren't the messages broadcast at me day in, and day out. Day in, and day out, my mother was the most beautiful woman in the room, at all times. The beauty pageant competing, golden-voiced, fashion modeling, anorexic, bulimic, self-torturing woman with ribs prominent enough to be counted sent a much more consistent message. My father taught me to code and navigate by the stars, to think critically and rely on science. Day in and day out, he didn't even acknowledge women as people if they were outside of the Playboy standard. These were the contexts in which women were approached. 

At various times my parents and grandparents offered me money to lose weight, enrolled me in weight loss classes, told me boys would pay attention to me if I lost weight, and so on, and so forth. So I can't say I remember the first time someone actually called me fat. I remember the first time I put on a body-conscious sweater dress in high school, and when my younger brother saw me, he gasped "But I thought Jennie was FAT!"

So did I. Looking back on pictures from that time, I had young teen pudge. I can remember sucking in my belly and thinking "if only that would go away, I'd be pretty!" If only I knew then that I was a strong young woman. If only I knew that I was worthwhile and valuable for lots of reasons, none of them body-specific. If only I had been able to see my own 14-year-old self the way I see my incredible 14-year-old daughter. I'm trying to teach her what I should have learned, myself.

I'm in the middle, at around age 14