Twelve years old, awkward and overweight, I marveled when AOL dial-up arrived on our family PC. That first afternoon when the irresistible, and not yet cliched, announcement “You've got mail!” occurred, I wandered into a teen message board where I chatted with, allegedly, twin 14-year-old girls from Canada. (I knew those basic facts about them because of a new-to-me acronym: A/S/L?)
When I proudly relayed the news to my parents that I had, that very afternoon, chatted with these twins. My parents, being responsible, sensible, and readers of stranger danger internet stories, were alarmed and explained that you couldn't know who you were talking to; someone could be pretending to be 14-year-olds from Canada but actually be an adult predator with nefarious intentions.
I was a largely cautious and mostly obedient child, so that warning should have dissuaded me from irresponsible internet usage. Instead, my pre-adolescent mind simmered and bubbled as I quickly realized that this potential for deception and anonymity was the very miracle of the internet. Not only could someone be lying to me about themselves, but I could lie to other people! I could become anyone – and most importantly, that anyone could be slim, thin, svelte, slender, petite.
On the internet, no one would know I was fat.
At first, as a teenager, that's how it was. I could make new internet friends or flirt with strangers. I could post political opinions on message boards. I could write poetry on OpenDiary or LiveJournal. I happily assumed that no one – no one! - would discount me or ignore me because I was fat. I gleefully imagined that the internet wouldn't be the same as middle school or high school where my fatness held me back from recognition or popularity.
The disillusionment was swift and heavy. There were places on the internet, plenty of them, most of them, where if I was too opinionated, if I disagreed with the wrong guy, they'd guess my secret. “I bet you're just a fat bitch,” read some of the nicer messages.
Those words stung every time because they felt so true. My ideas were worth less because I was fat. I was worth less because I was fat.
And then... I didn't believe that anymore. There was no one thing, one moment when it all changed. There was crying, therapy, discovering the fat positive movement, having a partner who loved me and my body, blogging, crying more, getting rid of scales, ending the constant focus on dieting, expanding the compassion I had for others to myself.
Once I could accept that fat me was worthy, lovable, intelligent, and still enjoyed conversing with strangers on a variety of topics, my internet presence shifted. Today, if it comes up, I tell people who don't know me, who won't ever see me, that I'm fat. There is no more pretending to be less than I am.
Now, as an openly fat woman who uses social media and will still occasionally delve into a message board or comments section, I have collected a few truths to help me navigate this minefield. Here are a few things I keep in mind to help me embrace being a fat woman on the internet (and in life):
I am the embodiment of men's worst fear.
They may talk a tough game, but just imagining me strikes fear into the hearts of many. The moment that OkCupid bro struts into Starbucks, his internet meet-up related nightmare will be realized. If he is brave enough to stay, he'll be seen having chai (not coffee, please) with a fat woman. It's okay, though, mister, even while you feel scared, keep in mind that, much like encountering a shark, if you proceed calmly, you will probably leave the encounter with all your limbs still functioning.
I have the right to selfies.
No stock photos, no kittens, no beautiful sunset. I mean, yes, post those, but you have just as much right to have your profile be of your gorgeous face and bod. Good light, good angles, a dash of Instagram filtering - please, honey, of course, I do that. Always take your best selfie, kids, no apologies.
Those attempted insults don't work.
I'm not shy about sharing my opinions, and I expect to come across opposing viewpoints. However, when the main thrust of the argument is “you're a fat woman, so stfu,” I no longer accept that as a valid counterpoint. Move on to your next attempted silencing technique, but don't expect it to work. I refuse to feel shame about my body or believe that my gender and size disqualify me from participation.
Own your language.
Let's say you have a thing for plus size ladies, BBWs, the Rubenesque woman, the pleasantly plump. Maybe you like 'em with some meat on their bones, after all, there is more cushion for the pushin'. With me, drop the euphemisms. You think I'm hot? That's grand and I'm flattered, but please don't assume I need you to sugarcoat discussions of size (or, worse, that I'll be impressed that you've concocted a justification for why fat women can still be sexy).
I'm fat. You're welcome.
Finally, world, you're welcome. I'm glad that me and my body are here writing on the internet or hanging out with you offline. It's grand to help give voice to some of the experiences of fat women and to speak out about our worth. It's my pleasure to show up and be the fattest one in the room, to be your funny fat friend (and, goddamn, I can be hilarious), to pull out my fantastic, jaw-dropping cleavage, to offer the softest, warmest, most soul-comforting hugs, and to know how to make and bring you over the very best cookies.