Many of us have distorted images of ourselves. Even if we look at the mirror, full-on or in passing, we still don’t necessarily connect with our own bodies, or create a sense of bodily awareness, a knowledge of who we are that’s rooted in actuality. For years, as my body has shifted, I’ve struggled with my understanding of how others perceive it and how I myself perceive it; like many people socialised as female, I thought of myself as ‘fat’ when I really wasn’t, and I clung to notions of ‘less fat’ as I got larger — and was continually surprised when I saw pictures of myself.
I still remember when I received my first piece of fanart (yes, people send me fanart, and yes, it is adorable). It depicted a fat face, broad, with my large, heavy-rimmed glasses, cropped hair, familiar glare.
It didn’t look like me at all, I thought, staring at it. Was this how other people saw me? As a fat caricature, face drowning in the folds of a double chin? I looked at it, and looked back in the mirror, and saw the uncanny resemblance. I saw that face every morning, but I didn’t. I saw that face in photographs, but I didn’t — not really — and I realised that for pictures, I tried to hold my neck up and turn it so my face seemed thinner, more elongated. That was just my face, good or bad, but I’d turned it into something bad, something horrifying.
I struggle with my body a great deal — this year has been particularly hard, but there’s one thing I know about it: It’s incontrovertibly fat. Friends have long-since stopped reassuring me — ‘you’re not really fat’ — not just because I’ve asked them to stop doing it but because they know the lie would die on their tongues, sound echoing and false. I’m fat, and I know it, and they know it, and no one needs to pretend otherwise. You can see it in the way my clothes drape, in what I wear, in the way my body moves, in how I take up space. I’m fat; I’m not as fat as some people, I am fatter than others, sometimes I can buy clothes off the rack but increasingly commonly I cannot, I have a singular fat experience that is my own and not like that of other people, I can tell only one fat story, which is mine and my body’s. No one else’s.
But the thing about getting fatter, I have noticed, is that more and more people seem to feel an urgent need to tell me I am fat.
Perhaps they think they are doing me a great service, that this news will come as a surprise. My doctor tells me I am fat — ‘no, really?’ I want to say, as she slides her hand along the BMI chart and it lands on ‘morbidly obese.’ Passersby in the street tell me I’m fat. Children tell me I’m fat. Waiters at restaurants make comments about my weight (and I never go back). Perhaps they think that telling me I’m fat will make me suddenly understand everything, will serve as a sort of enlightenment — ah, of course, I’m fat, so that’s the problem. I comprehend everything now, I have seen the light(bulb), and I shall do something to rectify this posthaste. After all, no one wants to be stuck in a state of fatness, to be trapped within the folds of blubber that encase me.
Sometimes I think it’s more about passing judgement than offering informative commentary. I’m fat, and by extension, shouldn’t exist, or at least shouldn’t exist around the person informing me of a very obvious fact. I’m fat, and that makes me icky and unpleasant, something to be avoided. Fat might be catching, you know. I could be the bogeyman. I might come for you in the night and suffocate you in my fatness. Just imagining the full glory of my body revulses, makes the commentator want to reel away in disgust, because here is a living breathing fat person, right there, I mean, right there, I mean, how can this be allowed.
Sometimes it almost seems to be done out of shyness, and genuine concern — the host who delicately uses euphemisms and raises a hand in an attempt at a polite gesture to shoo me away from a delicate chair, say. Thanks, I’m aware I’m fat and that I might break your precious chair. In fact, one of my nightmares is doing just that, is sitting down on some fragile piece of crap furniture that wasn’t designed for actual human beings and having it shatter beneath me. Aside from the humiliation, the stares of censure, the barely-checked outrage of the host, I could seriously injure myself, which is the largest (haha) reason of all that I eye furniture with extreme trepidation, wondering if it will hold me.
Look. I’m fat. This is not news to me. My perception of my fat and your perception of it may vary, but we can both agree on one thing: I am indisputably, quite obviously, by pretty much all available metrics, fat. We don’t need to pussyfoot around or ignore the whale (haha!) in the room. I’m fat. You can either deal with it or not, but that’s your problem, not mine — and you certainly don’t need to inform me, Captain Obvious, of a fact that is readily apparently to me and has been for quite some time. You’re not the first, or the last, to mention it, so don’t think you’re doing something novel by bringing it up.
It’s like stating that it’s raining when water is falling from the sky. Yeah, thanks. Cool story, bro.