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Fat Shaming and Me

One of the memories I have that has never left me is from 8th grade.

I was wearing a t-shirt dress. It was a bona fide Ralph Lauren (polo insignia on the left chest and everything) light purple t-shirt dress with yellow pin striping. Imagine a polo shirt, only really long. Like down to the knee long. I was in my 8th grade English class. I don't remember much about that day other than one of the 9th graders saying to me, "Look at Keely. She's so slim in that dress."

I was devastated. Because I wasn't slim. And I knew it. I wore the dress anyway. I thought it was beautiful, and it was. But I didn't have the body for it. It was my dead sister's dress. She had just died months before. When she died and we finally cleared out her room, some of her clothes got packed away, some got donated, some went to me, her younger sister. I always coveted that dress. I was secretly delighted to have added it to my own wardrobe.

After that day, I never wore it again. As far as I know, no one did. I threw it away within minutes of getting home from school.

Earlier in the same year, I had another "thanks for pointing it out" moment. I was sitting in algebra class, wearing my 501s and a rugby shirt I loved. But they weren't made for a girl with my shape. While sitting at my desk, learning about algebra, my "muffin top" had managed to seep out between my shirt and my jeans. That's right, I was the girl whose fat just oozed out of her clothes. Just in case I wasn't aware of how horrifyingly ugly my shape was, a class mate of mine highlighted it for me. Literally. He reached over with a highlighter pen and drew a line on my muffin top.

I've struggled with my weight since I was a pre-teen. The women in my immediate family were all overweight: my mother, my sister, me. I knew I wasn't perfect. Believe me, I knew. Every magazine, TV show and movie showed me how imperfect I was. I spent the better part of my life trying to be, well, better. I starved myself. I exercised. I joined the cross country team. I swam. I rode my bike. I joined the track team.

All I wanted was to be thin, but I didn't have the will power. After eating as little as I could stand for a week, I'd binge on everything I could get my hands on. I quit the cross country team, it was too boring to just run. I stuck with swimming and track, I actually had fun there.

If you haven't figured it out by now, I already knew I was fat before the t-shirt dress and the muffin top incident. I was more than aware. But after that, I thought I was hiding it: I threw away any tight fitting clothes I owned. I learned how to stretch out a t-shirt so it wouldn't pull up over the top of my pants when I raised my arms. I learned how to buy pants that would sit just low enough (in the era before low-rise jeans and pants, by the way) to let me wear a size lower than I should have.

Basically, no matter what anyone said about me and my body, I already hated it more and had said it to myself. I already had learned how to fat shame girls because I'd been doing it to myself.

I have the advantage of age: I've seen the world come around in terms of how women are treated. Wait. That's not true. Fat shaming still exists. Age shaming still exists (why can't she age gracefully? she obviously had work done! OMG, she got so fat after her baby!)

I still do it to myself. I'm getting ready for a birthday dinner for a friend. And in evaluating my closet, I realize I'm telling myself "no, you'll be too lumpy in that" when planning my outfit.

So today, finally, at 43 years old, seemingly eons after those experiences, I'm wearing a dress I bought because it was cute and looks ok on me. I haven't worn it, despite having owned it for almost a year, because I thought I looked fat in it. But for some reason, I've finally figured out that resorting to wearing my capri pants/tshirt standard combo doesn't make me look less fat.

I get it, I'm overweight, and I'm trying to change that. Not for appearance reasons, but health ones. I hate getting tired when playing with my kid. I hate not having the energy or desire to do something fun outdoors because my body can't do it. And I'm working on that.

But tonight, I'm going to put on that dress and go to dinner and just have fun. Because the people who love me don't care. And neither should I.

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