From my classmates, the heckling began when I was just ten years old. Officially, I was never a “fat girl.” However, I was one of those “unfortunates” who developed early … going from nothing to a B cup the summer before 5th grade. My hips came in the next year and I still remember the taunts of “Buffalo Butt” from one particularly popular, but nasty, girl in my class. I recall the dread of being weighed and measured for gym class in front of the boys, who were kinder, but cruder. I had yet to outgrow Barbie and Skipper, but when the pictures came back from my Grandma’s birthday party, I was already analyzing how my thighs and butt looked in a swimsuit. Those photos were destroyed.
From adults, it all started my freshman year of high-school, 1985. I had my first meeting with the school guidance counselor to discuss my “educational objectives,” and after he finished listening to me talk about my love of words and reading, my favorite authors, and how I wanted to focus on art and creative writing, he shook my hand and said “Trysha. I have to say something. You are very smart. And you know, you should always wear purple; you are so pretty! But you need to lose some weight, and then you’ll be beautiful.” This was a man whose job it was to focus on my brain, not my aesthetics, and he was telling me my looks mattered more than my intelligence and talent. If I had been less attractive but still fat, would he have kept silent, encouraging my studies alone? I was 14 years old and a size 12. I didn’t wear purple again until I was in my 30’s.
Over the years, the comments continued from friends, boyfriends, physical education teachers, doctors, etc. I wasn’t fat, but with many people offering their unsolicited opinions of my shape, you couldn’t have convinced me that I wasn’t. During my first attempt at college at 19, I increasingly felt I wasn’t able to please people, so I stopped trying and put on too much weight. It’s been an even bigger battle ever since.
I was diagnosed with a reproductive/metabolic disorder as a teen, but it didn’t become an issue until I went over some less-than-magical number on the scale. Now, more often than not, it feels like I’ve reached the point of no return; at times, losing weight feels virtually impossible. I lose, I gain, I yo-yo. Does it excuse me from ridicule, just because I can provide a doctor’s note, verifying I have reason to be fat? Um, no. Would the average Joe on the street see my ass as any less fat if I could prove that every time I am prescribed a dose of oral steroids my metabolism becomes even more jacked up and it takes me six months to bounce back? Somehow, I don’t think so.
Despite my medical issue, I can’t help but think that if I had felt better about myself when I was younger, I wouldn’t be in the same place that I am now. I would be happy going right back to that size 12 that used to look good on me. Language and “constructive criticism” effects people regardless of intent. I could never be a tiny woman; if I tried to pull off less than 150 lbs on my frame, I’d look like a sickly stick insect. I’m from good peasant stock; built for comfort, not for speed. Ample boobs and butts are divine gifts bestowed upon me from my Italian, German, and French ancestors. My own daughters are built like runway models; willowy and trim tiny girls. Should that change when their inevitable curves come in, I am committed to help them see themselves as beautiful, regardless of appearance. I will be the first one to admit that my feelings about my weight have affected virtually every aspect of my life. I’ve used my size as reason to sit on the sidelines, as grounds to settle, even as an excuse to push good men and true romance away. I won’t watch my daughters do the same. But in order for me to follow through on my intentions, I have to lead by example, and come to an acceptance of myself, which is difficult.
There’s a line from the movie “Circle of Friends” that always makes me nod and smile; Minnie Driver describes herself as “beef to the heels like a Holstein cow”. I applauded Camryn Manheim when she dedicated her Emmy to “all the fat girls.” I love it when Mo’Nique says “I’m pretty in the face and thick around the waist!” It seems these women have come to love themselves as they are, and I’m trying, very hard, to do the same. Some days I succeed, some days …not so much.
Beauty is not a number whether it be on a tag or a scale.
Spread the word. I am, starting with myself.
Trysha L Mapley is a professional sarcasm dealer and aspiring writer living in sin on the Great Canadian Hellscape with her blended family. She can be found in her kitchen and on the pages of several Gooseberry Patch cookbooks.