I went over the heads of the things a man reckons desirable. No doubt invisibility made it possible to get them, but it made it impossible to enjoy them when they are got.
~The Invisible Man, H.G.Wells
I’ve dealt with food, weight, and body image issues my entire life. It’s quite common for someone with my history. After marrying i put on enough weight to be just a shade under super morbidly obese. Weight loss surgery helped me attain the healthiest, lowest weight of my adult life, but likely triggered my first full-blown bipolar mania.
Being slim for the first time in my adult life triggered an avalanche of issues. Since early pubescence i’d heard comments like:
You’d be so gorgeous if…
You have such a pretty face…
I’d date you, except…
As i progressed into full sexual maturity, my ambivalence regarding my size bought a nice chunk of real estate in my brain, built a house, and called it home. Consciously, i hated being fat. I felt awkward and lumpy and bumpy. The other girls were graceful, with firm, smooth skin. They all got boobs and their periods long before i did, which was embarrassing when we’d be in the change room before and after gym class, and they all wore bras and borrowed tampons from each other. And just to make it all extra fun, i’m extremely tall. So, i took up a lot more space than my female peers, or any girl in the entire school, in any school i attended. There were a couple who carried more weight, but they weren’t also size Amazon.
Unconsciously though, fat worked for me. After all the abuse, it kept people away. It was flawed reasoning, as it targeted the wrong audience, but at that point i needed a wall. A wall of unwashed flesh didn’t stop sexual predators, but it did something for me that i’ve only recently begun to realise.
It made me invisible.
I didn’t get asked out on a date until i was 18. And that was by a very large and socially awkward, but very nice 27yr old. I’m not sure he’d ever had a date before, either. It was a fancy New Year’s Eve party with other older adults, no one who would be in my peer group was there (probably a blessing). He bought me a wrist corsage i think, and was shy and quiet. I might have given him a kiss at the door… Thank you?
I say i wasn’t asked out on a date, but boys certainly approached me now and then. When no one else was around. They’d throw a little attention my way and then expect a little something in return. Oh, how shocked and angry they were when i either shot them down, or just got away from them as quickly as i could. Fat girls should be grateful and shower them with fucks, i guess. Not this fat girl, though. One of the benefits of being a multiple is the fearless, mouthy teenager i had inside me – and the terrified younger ones who knew a little something about slipping the sweaty, expectant gropes of sexual opportunists.
So i missed out on all those coming-into-sexual-maturity rites of passage. No one sent me notes asking if i liked them. No one asked me if i wanted to “go around”, the vernacular from my local peer group for dating exclusively. I was never invited to drive around town after school. Before i hit adulthood i was asked to dance exactly 3 times. The first time was at a Christian summer camp. I carry most of my extra weight below the waist, so i can appear to be slim if you see me sitting at a table, which i was, plus it was dim, dance-friendly lighting.
He shook his head and walked away from me when i stood up to join him on the floor.
It’s not all bad though, the other 2 experiences were nice. In grade 7 a boy i was friends with approached me. He was a class clown, and he walked over to me as i sat alone on a bench, and banged the wall above my head for me to join him.
You know, like Fonzie in Happy Days. I laughed. I know he did it for me, and i’ve never forgotten it.
In grade 9 i went on an exchange trip, from my tiny town of 1500, to one of the largest cities in my country. The boys there were a bit more, metropolitan, shall we say? Hundreds of students lent itself to a better chance of finding someone who didn’t mind dancing with a fat girl. And he didn’t mind at all. In fact, the dance he asked me for was a slow one, Night To Remember, by Prism. Height wise, he came up to my shoulders. I’m laughing right now, but it’s a good laugh – what a sight we must have been. He was a lovely boy.
My first relationship was at 21, with a girl i met at a Catholic halfway house. She was a raging alcoholic who constantly cheated on me, and once came to my place of work in a jealous rage and did over $5K worth of damage to the store. It was toxic AF. After that i decided i was done with women (i most certainly wasn’t). I met a young man through my best friend, and decided it was time to lose my virginity*. It wasn’t great, but we did it a lot. After our weekend romp he was quick to tell me he’d just gotten out of a bad relationship, and wasn’t looking for anything serious.
The look on his face when the fat girl told him she was fine with that…
See, 1 shit relationship was enough for me to learn that i didn’t want another.
After that, i chose people i would have sex with, and maybe play at us being a couple, but they were always people that –if they left me– i wouldn’t grieve their absence.
I’d gotten the message that fat girls were to be used for sex, and should be grateful that they were used for anything. But subconsciously, thanks to the people that live in my brain, i’d decided to flip the script.
Of course, all these years included me trying everything NOT to be fat. Every diet, self-help book, course, diet-guru, all of that. None of it ever worked well, or for very long. I didn’t yo-yo, i stayed fairly steady. That was, until i had my second child and still didn’t have a partner of any sort. (To be clear, i never wanted anything from either one of the men who fathered my children.)
Something changed in me, then. I’d done a fair bit of therapy and was getting to know myself at that point. I’d tried a lot of things, joined all the programs, and i’d actually picked up a thing or 2. Plus, i had a few supportive girlfriends (platonic), so i wasn’t so alone.
I went back on a diet i was very familiar with, and for the first time –KEY– i joined a gym. Things started clicking for me. I discovered a kind of exercise i like. I like machines. I liked the cycles, and i loved all the weight machines. I even got into the stairmaster, fer crissakes. The weight fairly fell off, and i entered the dating world for the first time. Wow, what a shitshow. I discovered the he-said-he-had-a-great-time-and-he’d-call-but-he’s-not-calling guy, and the i-bought-you-dinner-so-where’s-my-handjob guy, and all the catfishing motherfuckers who lived on telephone dating services. No internet then. Yes, i’m that old, shaddup.
And then i stumbled across the deep, mellifluous tones of the man i asked to marry me. Not right away, okay? Much later.
I was in love for the first time, and was loved in return. We were committed and building a life together. That was a vulnerability i’d not experienced since leaving home. I think in retrospect, the scariest thing about it was that, unlike my parents, he wasn’t even remotely abusive. He loved me and he didn’t hurt me, but i started pushing back anyway. The most important people involved in my rearing had purposely caused me incredible harm, so why wouldn’t he?
I started packing on the weight; rebuilding my wall. Pushing him away before he could hurt me – because iknewiknewiknew he would. It was only a matter of time.
All of that was done unconsciously, understand me, but also understand that i’ve never stopped trying to figure my shit out and be happier and more helpful to loved ones specifically, and humans in general. I knew the weight gain signified a problem, but as i continued working on myself i also gained insight. Unfortunately, by the time i’d wrapped my mind around the issue, i was 300+lbs overweight. And i had a new baby that needed me at my best. I needed some serious help to get my feet back underneath me and set back on my path.
I had weight loss surgery and lost it all. Which is when everything got even worse.
Suddenly i was receiving all the attention i’d craved as a young girl. As i took up less space i became more visible. Ain’t that a kick in the head? My bipolar disorder, which had largely lain dormant, perhaps cowed (word choice intentional, cuz funny) by the physical load i carried, woke up, took a look around, and decided the time had come to party. I got a job in the entertainment industry, one where i was the centre of attention, one where i was visible and expected to present myself as at least a very attractive, if not overtly sexual, object. Men wanted me, women wanted me, and people just wanted to be around me. It was cocaine and weed and fine wine and MDMA all rolled up into 1 heady drug, except better.
I was a socially acceptable size, which made my looks somehow beautiful. It was like i’d always been told. People were nicer to me. It wasn’t just men who wanted to get with me who were nicer, either. It was everyone. People held open doors for me, offered to carry my groceries. When i was fat, with 2 kids and struggling with 10 bags of groceries, i was on my own. Now, with 3, and 2 of ’em screaming they dang heads off, i’d get help if i only had 2 bags. People would stop on the street and tell me i was pretty. I actually got out of traffic tickets, just like in the movies. And people would give me stuff: my meals would get comped or they’d wave my cover charge or if there was swag being handed out, i’d always get some.
When you take all of that, and you mix in mania, it wasn’t long before it equalled disaster. In and out of hospital, in and out of treatment, i wound up jobless, with my marriage in tatters, children who hated me, and zombified on nearly a dozen various medications.
Oh, and 100lbs heavier.
I’m sure i would have been ignored again, except i was already hiding in my house and refusing to come out.
But it was okay, because this was when i finally found a therapist i could work with, and my life started changing for the better. That extra hundred has stuck around for the 10+yrs i’ve been working with her, though.
But that’s also okay, because it’s taught me a great deal that i needed to learn.
My next piece is going to be unbearably uplifting, so you might want to skip it.
We are so much bigger on the inside,
You, me, everybody
~ Bigger On the Inside, Amanda Palmer