The word “overweight” is so delicate, clinical. It doesn’t even begin to describe the reality of a child who lives it. The better word is fat. It’s cruel, it’s mean, it’s in your face. You can hide behind overweight; you can’t escape fat.
It was easy for me to be on camera and talk about having been overweight as a kid because people looking at me now wouldn’t necessarily think I have a problem. I went on camera and smiled; I felt confident. But then there’s this picture with Mickey. I brought it to work to show my co-workers the same week. I posted it on Facebook. When presenting the photo, I felt insecure, scared, ready for the laughs. I knew what would happen when I shared the photo — the same thing that happened when I was a kid. This time no one physically beat me or called me names, but inside I became the scared little girl awaiting judgment; waiting to be rejected based on my looks, my size. I confronted the fear and the uncomfortable feelings because that’s how fear is mitigated. And for so many years of my life I felt ashamed of my “fat kid” pictures, never wanting to share them with friends or love interests. I was ashamed of myself for years because no matter the changes on the outside, inside I’ve always been the same person. That person does not change as rapidly.
“When I ask her if she likes how she looks now, if she’s proud of what she’s accomplished, she says yes…Even so, the person she used to be still weighs on her. Tears of pain fill her eyes as she reflects on her yearlong journey. “That’s still me,” she says of her former self. “I’m not a different person just because I lost sixteen pounds.” I protest that, indeed, she is different. At this moment, that fat girl is a thing of the past. A tear rolls down her beautiful cheek, past the glued-in feather. “Just because it’s in the past,” she says, “doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.””
This is an excerpt from a Vogue article about Dara-Lynn Weiss, who decided to put her 7-year-old on a diet and go public about it. Her memoir, The Heavy, came out in January, and she was also on the HuffPo Live panel with me. (Ironically I had already interviewed her for Babble about her experience with her daughter, which completely mirrored the situation between my mother and myself.)
I empathize with Dara and Bea because my mother and I lived through the same thing, except without the glare of public criticism. I’m happy that we were given an outlet to talk about our experience. I’m proud that I shared this photo. I never fought back as a kid, so I’m doing it now. Plus, if I can’t embrace who I am, how can I expect the same of others?
Today I watched the documentary Bully and want to quote a girl named Kelby who refuses to leave her small town despite the threats and attacks made upon her for being a lesbian:
“All it takes is for one person to stand up. You’re not just standing up for you , you’re standing up for all the kids who go through this every single day.”