“Elephant Youngs! Elephant Youngs! Nothing So big as Elephant Youngs.” I’m eight years old standing on the hard packed snow of my third grade playground smiling through frozen tears as these taunts are flung at me by a pack of classmates while other kids laugh and point.
“Those are the clothes for the fat kids…they go over there.” I’m ten. Shopping with my mother at the Filenes at the Peabody Mall in Massachusetts because they have a “half sizes” department. Half sizes is a gentle euphamism for “clothes for fat kids” which is exactly what I over hear the saleslady call them. My mouth goes dry and my stomach clenches as I realize that she’s talking about me. me.
“I Feel the Earth Move UNDER my feet I feel the sky TUMBLING down TUMBLING down.” I’m twelve and jumping from the merry go round on my 6th grade playground. Every time I land with a thud sending a cloud of dust up around my purple toughskins a group of girls perched on a nearby jungle gym would burst into this particular chorus of a popular song. Oh I get it! You’re saying I’m so FAT I make the ground move!!! Aren’t you CLEVER!? Yes I know I’ll never wear my alligator shirts tucked into my jeans much less wear a grosgrain ribbon belt that matches it like you do. Really? I don’t need you to point this out to me but THANKS ever so much for doing so.
“Hey Fatso get your bike off the grass!” I’m 13. Riding my bike across the campus of the school for the deaf where my parents taught when the child of a visiting parent screams at me, probably assuming I’m deaf and can’t hear the insult.
I heard it. I always heard it. And at a young age I learned. Laugh with them. Make a joke about yourself first. Point out your fat before they can. Laughing at yourself first means they can’t laugh at you. Years later this is some of my best material. ‘oh! oh! you’re so FUNNY!” friends and acquaintances will gasp, tears in their eyes as I tell the story of “being driven over state lines to find clothes big enough” Or how I signed up for Brownies because I thought there would be chocolately snacks served. Yes. Being fat. A comedy goldmine.
When you’re fat, each day is a battle with your drug of choice: food. Friends come and go, jobs have good days and bad days, parents age and die, friends get sick and are gone, but a bag of Ruffles never lets you down. Each day is a day you think “please let this be the day I start to just think of food as fuel for my body and nothing else.” Humor is still my first line of defense. I work with some seriously skinny women who often comment on “forgetting to eat lunch.” I love to reply that not only have I never forgotten a meal in my life there’s never been a meal I haven’t anticipated eagerly for hours ahead of time. When a slender colleague remarks that she’s “Sooooo fat” from all the holiday festivities I counter with “you’re not fat until you feel the zipper on your jeans open every time you sit down because the force of your belly is too much for it to hold.” Oh she laughs at that one. She doesn’t know I was serious. When you’re fat eating out on a business lunch can be a landmine field of anxiety. Once while dining with my boss and an elderly patron of the theater, my boss commented that “oh this restaurant gives you SO much food who could possibly eat it all?.” You know what’s coming next don’t you? Her eyes fell on my plate which by now contained only the garnish. I look at her and smile and her discomfort is clear. Hey. It was lunch. I ate. All of it. Deal. When skinny girls eat it’s like a National Geographic special for their companions. “Wow! where you do put that! Oh I love to see a woman with an appetite!” No. no you don’t. Not really. Because trade that skinny girl for a fat girl and the delight of watching a woman eat her meal is gone and replaced with the raised eyebrows and the unspoken “um. did you really need to eat that?”.
I’m nearly 43 now and I’ve lived a lifetime or two since those days on the playground. Yet unlike those populare ‘fat lit’ books my story is not that of the dumpy frumpy funny fat girl who finally knuckles down, loses the weight and discovers the joy of a thin life. Those books? Can kiss my enormous fat ass frankly. I’ve gained and lost entire people on Weight Watchers, given my life savings to jazzercise, ridden literal thousands of miles on my road bike,dabbled in nutrisystem, diet pills, and perky on line “food diaries.” Guess what? Still fat. This essay will not end with the chubby girl finally getting thin and living a splendiferous life full of Jimmy Choo shoes and Kate Spades handbag. This essay doesn’t really have an end. The Elephant is still here. She’s here to stay.
But damn. She’s funny.