Everything I needed to know about fat hate, I learned in high school.
It was the later part of my high school years when my body went from curvy to buying a prom dress David's Bridal because it was the only place that carried my size. I wore a lot of velour tracksuits at the time, which hindsight (and MySpace pictures) assures me was a terrible decision.
It was also in high school that I learned it was a crime to be fat, that it was literally the worst thing that you could be.
There was a young man in my class that had decided to target me specifically. He took every opportunity that was presented to him to tear me down with the typical fat jokes that you would expect from a high school male. I talked to the teacher and he shrugged it off as “part of the high school experience.”
For over a semester, his words (and the resounding laughter of my classmates) chipped away at me, especially since other people started joining in. I walked with my head down, avoided eye contact at all cost, wore baggier clothes, and tried to hide as much as I can.
I talked to the guidance counselor and dean of students who urged me to “understand my role” in the situation. She urged me to try and fit in better and to keep from drawing any attention to myself. I felt deflated and still remember the hot tears that stained my cheeks as I walked to my next class after our very productive meeting.
I was fat and that was when I learned that fat people were the people that it was socially acceptable to make fun of. After all, if you didn't want to be bullied then why not lose weight?
My mother, who was a professor of psychology and a researcher at a nearby university, dragged out her soapbox that night at dinner and explained to me the cold, hard truth about living in a large body:
"People will say things to tear you down, because there are no consequences."
If you make fun of the fact that I am a woman, you are labeled a sexist or if you make fun of my Jewish heritage, you are labeled anti-Semitic. Even those that harbor those secret racist or sexist or xenophobic ideals, often keep them to themselves because society self-policies itself. Think of the pizza restaurant in Indiana that shut down after saying it wouldn't cater a gay wedding thanks to the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Or more recently, think of the the Canadian bar that caused a social media firestorm after posting a transphobic image of Caitlyn Jenner. We call out the people (and their businesses) out who embody those labels and try to abolish these toxic ideals.
There is no label for people who hate fat people. There are no dire consequences for someone who openly mocks a person's size. Thanks to people like supermodel Tess Holliday and actress Melissa McCarthy, we are starting to self-police with toxic body talk. Take this protest from the ladies in London who felt an advertisement displayed in the tube was playing on the body insecurities of men and women, and had a little something to say about it.
Knowing that society was slowly coming around didn't make me feel any better when I was in the drive-thru at Starbucks and learned that my face was plastered all over the front page of the now-shuttered Reddit page, FatPeopleHate. The irony that I was in the drive-thru was not lost on me.
The thirteenth most active subreddit has 150,000+ sunscribers, all of whom gathered to mock me. In a matter of minutes, over 150 comments had materialized, with highlights including:
- “She ate a shit ton of food and now she’s a hamplanet. Funeral to be scheduled soon.” (Someone replied to that comment with “I love happy endings”)
- “Fat insecure cunt.”
- “Her face is repulsive, her smile is offensive, her body is an unreasonable burden, her personality is a train wreck, and all I can see when I look into her eyes is a try-hard lunatic.”
- “Lol face lift and still has an udder fat pig”
- “That is the stuff of nightmares. This ham has crazy eyes too. The only thing more annoying than a big ugly fat girl is a big ugly fat girl who thinks she’s cute. That arm fat tells another story, porky.”
- “Her face makes me want to punch. Make that fat bully cry.”
- “What a fat fucking pig beast”
- “It doesn’t look human”
- “She’s useful to that guy she’s with until he gets the courage to come out to his family.”
I felt like I couldn't breathe and pulled over my car to read every single comment. The images they took from Instagram had over 30,000 views on Imgur. Their insults ranged from juvenile to pure hatred.
The hated a woman they didn't know. They hated the woman who parked her car across three lanes of traffic so the baby ducks could cross safely. They hated the woman who worked part time at McDonalds in college to help fund her humanitarian trip to Haiti. They hated the woman that wanted nothing more from the universe then to send as many positive vibes into as she can.
I thought back to that 21-year-old girl who would drive to the Steak N Shake a town over just to cry into a milkshake in her beat-down car and the girl who wore baggy velour tracksuits in high school to hide her body from those eager to criticize it.
After battling myself for my own happiness, I refused to feel that self-confidence is something you need to earn. I also refuse to believe that someone can tell me what to wear in order to limit their exposure to my body. You don't like my thighs in these awesome printed shorts? Oh well, I don't like your shitty attitude.
And more importantly, I will never again let someone tell me how to feel about myself. You think I should feel ashamed for being fat? Well, I think you need to quit talking to strangers like you were badly raised.
My Instagram was flooded with comments from people (who were also posting on FatPeopleHate) that they were “just worried for my health” and that I was “allowing people to kill themselves with food” If anyone told me that they were worried for my health, I told them that maybe they should take a look at their emotional health if they feel the need to bait strangers into Onternet fights.
Oh, I'm promoting obesity but you still like the pictures of the thin, bikini-clad girls slathered in tanning oil, effectively frying their skin? Oh, OK… just so we're clear.
It amazes me what a man will say to a woman that he is not sexually attracted to. Because he despised my body, I had nothing left to offer the world in his eyes.
The go-to criticism for my page was that I was “promoting obesity” but one of the images the mouth-breathing neckbeards decided to post publicly included one of me running a 5k in all my 250+ pound glory. I was mocked for running, but I was also mocked for being fat. I couldn't win, but this wasn't a game that anyone could win.
They were uncomfortable with women they couldn't sexualize and women who dared to call themselves beautiful. They were uncomfortable with women who defined what beauty was for themselves, refusing the narrow standards that so many women fail to achieve.
The more that I asserted that I didn't need them to validate my own self-confidence, the more irate they became. The Internet mouth-breathers couldn't fathom how I didn't feel that I had to “earn” my bikini body or “earn” my loving-myself-so-hard-its-pouring-out-my-face attitude.
This, more than anything else, was what I wanted for every single person who saw the images I shared or read the words that I wrote to feel for themselves. I wanted them to fall so madly and deeply in love with themselves that they would never believe another negative word that someone had to say about them. I wanted them to never hesitate to smile at a stranger or to wear a bikini. I never wanted them to turn down a chance to dance in public or wear something strapless.
Because of FatPeopleHate, I wanted the entire Reddit community to know that I will never second guess posting a picture of my marvelous body in a bikini because I know that there is a chance that it would end up in the dark depths of the internet, where humanity ceases to exist.
I will never second guess calling myself beautiful because they feel that I haven't properly earned that label. I will never allow another human being to make me feel inferior because they are uncomfortable with what I have to say. I'll just talk louder.