Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Existing in the In-Between

I have at times been thinner, but I have never been thin.
I've been talking to my freshman students about the idea of identity and fitting in and all that, and what I haven't told them (yet) is that you never stop trying to figure out who you are and where you belong, even as an adult.

My whole life, I've grown up believing I was fat and ugly. I got teased pretty mercilessly (by family members even more than other kids, though that happened too). I used to hear all the time how, even as a baby, strangers would stop and stare at me in my stroller because I was just so... globular.

Yeah. People laughed about me being fat even at this age.
I was always a stocky, thick-limbed child, and as a teenager, I dreamed of being as thin as my friends and being able to shop at Contempo Casual and other mall stores. I always dressed slightly older than my age because I couldn't fit junior sizes. I got into fitness in my 20s, but not in a healthy way, and it wasn't until I joined roller derby that I started to see myself as more than my weight.

But even then, and even now that I've accepted my weight for what it is, I'm acutely aware of it. I'm aware of it every time I try to buy clothes online. I'm aware of it every time I try to do a bodyweight exercise and my body feels too heavy for my arms to support. I'm aware of it every time I turn on the tv, look at advertisements, or even shop for yarn to make a sweater for myself (because I have to buy more yarn than someone who is smaller than I am).

So, I'm fat, right? The numbers say so. Society says so.

And then two things happened within the last few months that have made me see things differently:

#1 - Someone on my FB said something to the effect of, "Your before is someone else's after." Which really made me careful about how I talked about my own body after that.

#2 - I was in a group that used the word "Fatties" in the title (in a reclaiming, empowering sort of way), and there was a huge, HUGE discussion about how there were women in this group who were totally not fat, and how their being in the group could be considered infringing on a safe space. And while no one was willing to take the step of drawing a line to indicate who was allowed to describe themselves as fat and who wasn't (like, is there a minimum size requirement?), but the point was that for the women in the group who were larger, it was an affront to see those of us who were smaller using their word to describe ourselves.

These two things made me rethink who I am and where I fit in.

Sure, I've had a lifelong battle with myself, and the casualties included my self-esteem. Sure, I've felt ashamed, excluded, and just plain ugly.

But my experiences are nothing compared to what other fat people have faced. I've never been accosted by strangers. I've never been straight-out told that I should die. It's inconvenient and frustrating shopping for clothes for myself, but it's not impossible.

So... am I... NOT... fat?

I think most people would be overjoyed to NOT be fat (which is a clear result of our society's collective fatphobia), but for me, it was... really confusing. Because now I have no idea what I am. Because I know without a doubt that mainstream society looks at me as someone who doesn't "fit in," but now the group I thought I belonged to also doesn't think I "fit in" either.

And let me be the first to say that I recognize that there are different levels of privilege at work here. I know that. Of course I do. And that that's a big part of what the "fatties" discussion was about.

But for the first time, probably ever, I was questioning which side of the line I fell on.

And this isn't a unique thing - people exist in the in-between constantly. My partner, for example, is biracial, and he's always had issues with how he sees himself vs. how other people see him.

So what does it all mean?

I can tell you what it doesn't mean. It doesn't mean that I don't have struggles, and it doesn't mean that my struggles are invalid. But also, it does mean that I need to take the time to check my privilege, and it does mean that I need to do the work of being a good ally.

Am I fat or not? I wish it didn't matter. And to be honest, most of the time, it doesn't - I don't walk around constantly thinking about it. But sometimes it does matter, and usually, those times occur when other people want to make it matter. And in our society, people care about fatness way more than they should, their own or other people's. As someone who exists in the in-between, I'm going to do the best I can to change that, for myself as well as for everyone else.

1 comment:

Before you comment, please note: respect and patience go a long way.