Life is a tightrope walk between wanting to eat one more slice of pizza and wanting to be that “perfect” girl on the beach with a toned body, relaxing in her bikini. Well, at least, that is what my life has been like. I’ve been trying to balance these two desires ever since I can remember.
The first time I can remember being aware of my size was third grade. In my school, parents sometimes volunteered to come in and help out in the classroom at the end of the day. It was a light-blue jean wearing, mini-van driving, proud PTA mom that introduced me to the word that would haunt me for the rest of my adolescent life. We were decorating and eating cupcakes in the classroom when I decided to reach for a second one. As soon as my arm started to extend from my round body, this lady swatted it away. “You surely don’t need another cupcake, Maria. Cupcakes have so many calories in them and eating too many will make you fat. And trust me, given your size, you’re getting quite close to that outcome.”
I was eight years old the first time I was called fat.
Now, being an eight year old, I didn’t quite comprehend what this lady was saying to me. However, I do remember knowing that being fat was a bad thing and that I was this bad thing. I went home that day and asked my mother what being fat was and if I indeed exhibit this fatness. Trying to handle the situation as best as she could, my mother told me that we could try eating healthier foods for snack and playing outside longer, for perhaps I was unhealthy in my diet. However, being unhealthy and fat are two different things and I was not fat.
Looking back, I was overweight for my age. And through making this conscious decision to play more and eat healthier, I did lose most of the weight. This lady did help me with that. However, she also made me aware of my body size and the fact that society will always have an opinion what the ideal body should look like. She spoke words that have been tattooed on my soul and still continue to cross my thoughts daily.
While making these healthy choices in third grade did help me lose weight, it didn’t make the problems stop. At the end of sixth grade and going into seventh grade, the weight slowly crept back on.
Everyone will tell you that middle school is awkward. Girls and boys start being aware of the fact that they could possibly develop feelings for one another while braces and pimples run wild. This was a transition period from elementary school to junior high and suddenly there were over 400 new faces in the hallways and sitting in chairs next to me in class. New people to hopefully make friends with and a couple enemies sprinkled into the mixture. Making new friends is hard, being overweight and trying to make new friends is even harder as I learned on the first day of school.
In Junior High, we were lucky enough to have science classrooms that came equipped with lab benches and equipment. Every bench had enough seats at it for four classmates to sit at and my teacher decided the best way to assign seats was the classic alphabetic order. Due to this, my lab partners were 3 boys – all of which knew each other because they had all gone to the same elementary school. Sitting down at the table, I was intimidated but hopeful that these boys would be good partners for the activities. Unfortunately, I was wrong.
After taking attendance, our teacher told us we could pick one partner from our lab table to work with. The second Matt said, “Nick, you’re with me. Sean, you can be with her” and Sean said, “No,” I knew this was going to be a rough year. Matt, Nick and Sean’s reasoning for not wanting to work with me? Well, I didn’t have to guess that it had to do with girls having cooties or them just wanting to work with people they knew because they told me why. Matt flat out said, “I don’t want to work with her. She’s ugly and big.” The words still sting to this day. These kids didn’t know me. They didn’t know that I was a fair partner who did her half of the work or that I was actually better at science with them and would probably have helped them get better grades in the long run. No, they decided they didn’t want to work with me after 5 minutes of sitting next to me based on how I looked.
In the end, I was Sean’s partner and we always aced tests that Nick and Matt struggled on. Sean and I slowly became friends as we also had Spanish class together. While seventh grade marks the second time in my life someone told me I was too big, it also was the time that my ballet classes increased in length and meetings per week. I had danced my whole life and was obsessed. Through going to classes 5 times a week and continuing pointe work, I lost all of the weight that I had gained over the course of the year. By April, I was fit and muscular and looking pretty good if I do say so myself.
Guess who else noticed that I was looking good? Nick. One day in April, he approached me at the table and asked if I wanted to be partners. I agreed only because if I hadn’t, the teacher would have come over and forced us to be. While working with him, he reached over and said, “You’re so pretty and smart.” Horrified and being my sassy seventh grade self, I said, “I know.” Over the next few weeks, he kept up with the compliments and I avoided him. Luckily, at the end of the year, we were placed into different classes and I haven’t talked to him since.
I learned from that class that people seem to have a conception that only skinny girls are worthy of attention. Nick didn’t like me when I was fat but, suddenly, when I lost the weight, I was what he desired. There is one thing that Nick and many others are horribly mistaken about though. Just because my outside appearance changed, didn’t mean that my inside appearance evolved. I was still the same nice, sweet girl I’d always been. From that day forward, I have always had an incredibly hard time letting new people get close to me. For somehow, I am convinced that just because they meet me when I am skinny, doesn’t mean that they will like me when I am fat. I am afraid of gaining weight because I don’t want people to reject me but also afraid of being skinny and attracting fake friends.
Unfortunately for me, this weight loss didn’t last for the rest of my high school career. It came to a screeching halt in eleventh grade when I had to take half a year off of dance due to tendinitis and a stress fracture. Needless to say, I stopped exercising to help heal my body and ended up gaining a ton of weight. I knew I was getting bigger but I didn’t know how to stop it. To make matters worse, one of my best friends at the times was such a snob about size. Whenever we went shopping, she would always remark on how she was a size XS or S or a size 0 or 2 and how “they just don’t have my size because I’m small.” Hearing these comments day in and day out started to take a toll on me. I felt too big because I wasn’t a size 0 or 2. I was a 6. The day she told me that she “couldn’t believe that our other friend was a size 6,” hurt me.
In addition to this friend, I had another friend who also seemed to struggle with her weight. However, her way of coping with her insecurities over her weight was to talk about other people’s weight. I once made a comment on how fat I was while trying on a dress at the mall and her response was “Yeah you’ve put on a lot of weight over these last few months.” To say that these words added to my insecurities would be an understatement.
I was insecure going to prom in my dress because it was strapless and I thought my arms were way too big to pull it off. I was terrified walking across the stage to get my diploma because I didn’t want everyone looking at me thinking I was the “fat girl.”
Now, I am a sophomore in college and my relationship with my weight is slowly getting better. There are days when I’m insecure about going to dance because I’m afraid I look way bigger than the other girls in my class. One day, we did partnering and I almost had an anxiety attack over the fact that the guy had to put his arms around my stomach. I was terrified that he would be feeling my stomach, thinking that it wasn’t tight enough and that I was a gross human being.
However, I am slowly having more good days than bad ones. I am finding ways to exercise that I enjoy such as kickboxing, dance and yoga. I started meal prepping to help control my portions and ensure that I eat healthy when I come back late from class. I am starting to look in the mirror and like my body again.
I didn’t write this essay to criticize and shame the people who have made comments about my body along the way. I am writing this essay because while our culture has acknowledged how the media and the modeling industry impacts young girls concepts of weight, no one wants to look at herself and see how she made that impact on another. That soccer-mom, my friends and the boys at my science table probably have no idea how long their words have impacted the way that I see myself. Our words are powerful and we must use them with caution.
For telling a girl that she is fat, never has and never will, solve the problem and make her skinnier.