The first time I experienced fat-shaming I was in the 1st grade, barely seven years old. As part of the President's Fitness Test, my gym teacher pinched my mid-section with a cold, metal clamp and then forced me to step on a scale in front of my classmates. She yelled out "77 pounds."
After that, my peers used the number to taunt me. They'd snicker, "How are you, 77?" or chant the number over and over on the playground.
Two years later, I'd survived failing the 1st grade, losing all of my belongings (except for two outfits and a mixed cabbage patch that was eventually destroyed by mildew), being homeless (where we lived in our car, hotel rooms, and missions), being fondled by one of my male cousins, and my half-sister's mental abuse.
I'd also made it through the near divorce of my parents -- I coped by cursing like a sailor and stuffing my face with king-sized candy bars and pepperoni pizza -- so it should have been no surprise when the doctor told me I was 125 pounds, the size of an average adult. However, it was a surprise, and I collapsed into my mother's arms.
The teasing only grew worse each year. In the 3rd grade, one little girl asked me if I was pregnant. When I told my teacher, she said coldly, "You're not, right? So, why do you even care?"
In the 4th grade, one girl told me that my family was so fat that we should die. By middle school, I'd become bulimic. Some days, I would eat as little as possible--a piece of cheese, a hamburger patty, or three crackers. This led to my best friend, Adam, daily surveying my plate and chastising me about how little food I was eating.
I lost over 40 pounds. Everyone told me how great I looked, but I felt irritable, depressed, and weak--carrying my books and walking up the stairs were sometimes a chore. I couldn't keep it up. I gained the weight back.
By the time I entered high school, I'd joined Weight Watchers with my mother, who was 450 pounds. She dropped a whopping 130 pounds (and 100 after gastric bypass), but I dropped a little under 20 pounds. After all, I hated counting points.
To weigh less on the scales at our Saturday meetings, I'd wear sandals and a thin dress even in the dead of winter. My peers, however, continued to torment me about my size.
In fact, a group of guys teased that they were going to nominate my fat ass for homecoming queen. They were sure I wouldn't be able to find a large enough dress. (A guy named Mark stood up for me, and I've never been able to properly thank him.)
I was then accepted into a private, four-year, liberal arts college. Their motto was that smart people sweat, which turns out to actually be true. Exercise helps nerve cells grow and connect and releases neurotransmitters that stave off depression, anxiety, and a host of other mental disorders.
I decided it was time to drop the extra pounds that had been hounding me my whole life. I'd convinced myself that college students were bound to be more compassionate than high school students. Boy was I wrong.
I spent time working out in a small, mirror-lined (Oh--the horror!) gym that was located by the college's coffee house and a fast-food restaurant. I also went to water aerobics and took up lap swimming.
I went five days a week to one place or the other, usually at 8 or 9 AM, without fail. I'd use the rowing machine, jog on the treadmill, pretend I was skiing on the elliptical, or swimming away from a shark in the pool. (I'd always skip the stair-stepper though. I climbed enough stairs on campus. Plus, secretly, it was so difficult to use that I wished it catch fire.)
I lost over 50 pounds.
Then one day everything changed. I forgot my headphones and Discman. (Yes, I know I'm old school.) I usually played rock music to drown out the grunting and chatter. I hopped on the treadmill anyway.
Two girls were using the elliptical machines behind me when I heard one of them say, "Oh my god, her thighs look just like cottage cheese. They make me want to puke!" I knew they that were taking about me. I was the only other person in the gym.
I looked forward and tried not to cry. I quickly finished and left. I didn't want to go back to the gym ever, but for some reason, several months later, I did.
This time there was two guys on the treadmill. I got on an exercise bike behind them. I was studying for an upcoming psychology exam. Then one of the boys, not even trying to whisper, said, "I don't know why a girl that fat comes in here and works out. You know she's just going to go and eat like a pig afterward."
Again, I knew it was me. I got up and left -- right then and there. I'm sure they were satisfied because I ate every candy bar and bag of chips I could coax out of the vending machine. I hated myself. I stopped going to the gym, and over the next two years, I gained 100 pounds.
Unfortunately, these people believe that I don't hate being fat enough. They believe I'll drop the pounds if I'm shamed and beat upon socially (I'm 100% positive that this is a crock of crap.).
My whole life I've been called lazy, stupid, weak-willed, insecure, awkward, self-indulgent, unattractive, and shapeless. These body-bullies probably believe a commercial, where someone chomps down on a Big Mac and suddenly has a heart attack, will scare me skinny. (In reality, I'll just wish I could sink my teeth into that Big Mac.)
I don't want their stamp of approval. I don't want their two cents. I just want to walk into the gym that I paid for with my head held high. I want to put my hair in a bun and wear Spandex pants and tops without sideways glances. I want to work out in a world where I don't need music to block out fear.
I’m not looking to be a living stick-figure. I want to be healthy, a curvy and energetic plus-size gal. However, I don't think people will stop fat-shaming, at least not anytime soon. For now, I'll stick to belly-dancing, old Biggest Loser boot camps videos and house-cleaning.