Vignettes to a Fat Girl

Shannon Rygg


As a child at the beginning of the new millennium, you watched television and witnessed that the stereotype for all fat people was eating and belching and the other characters screwing up their noses at them, which was understood by you that being fat and eating a lot was wrong and bad. And then you went to school, at lunch the boys would stuff themselves with food and down a soda and burp in the other boys’ faces all to make the girls squeal, “Grooooossss!!” So, when your child-brain put two and two together, it came to the understanding that fat people burping would be considered gross, especially to other girls like you. As a fat girl, you had to ensure that you never let that happen. So you decided you would never do it. You somehow taught yourself to disguise a natural bodily reaction with yawns and hiccups so that people wouldn’t screw their noses up at you. The habit has stuck with you to this day.


You were told once as a little girl who liked wearing dresses and skirts that, when wearing one, you had to sit like a lady with your legs crossed at the knees or at least the ankles. But you had big thighs that never got any smaller and it wasn’t comfortable for your knees or your ankles to sit that way for a prolonged amount of time, so the only way to solve the problem was to only wear pants. When you wear pants, you reasoned, you didn’t have to sit like a lady. But the school uniform pants looked horrific and hugged in all the wrong places. And then, the miracle of miracles, you discover skorts; a life changer. They fit you comfortably and you actually felt a little pretty. So you wore khaki skorts and knee-high socks to school every day for six years, even in the snow, because you finally felt like a lady and could sit like a person, knowing that everything was covered. And now as a fat woman you wonder why no one makes cute skorts for your day-to-day so you can sit comfortably and still be “a lady.” 


According to your grandmother, you could carry a tune before you could form a sentence, and thus singing has always been in your life. So you grew up singing and singing and singing, and everyone said you had such a wonderful voice, so you sang at church and at school and professionally and just for fun. But as you aged, you learned, and early on you realized that as much as you loved singing, it could never be your career, not the way you would want it to be. Dreams of stardom on the stage were not for you. You had the privilege, encouragement, and resources to make your voice just as good as most professionals, but you feared. No one would ever take you seriously with all that bodyweight. Or, that was what you had always been led to believe. That you would never be looked at as a fantastic singer, you would be the overweight singer who overcame “adversity” and did well despite her weight. Despite. So, you still sang, and you still loved it, but you were young, too young when you told yourself it was not a fat girl’s thing. Now, you realize it could have been.


You were introduced to the world of dance and were performing in recitals by the age of four, so you were very young when it all began. You were never going to be a ballerina, everyone including yourself knew that, but it was fun. You made friends. You got to wear pretty outfits and have fancy shoes and you were a young girl so that was all you needed in life. And as years passed, you continued to dance, not as enthusiastically once other things became interesting too and other friends became more important, but you still took classes and enjoyed the act of it. However, you didn’t stay a little girl for as long as all the other little girls did, and you learned as you watched the older students leap and grande-jete across the floor that they landed feather light on their feet. And you did not. But just like dance, that could be taught. So you learned that, and became as silent as the rest of the dancers. And when you got home you realized you could be silent there too. You picked your feet up and figured out that you could walk past the china cabinet without rattling any of the glassware. You just had to always walk with a ballerina’s feet. And the heavier you got, the more important that became. You would watch little girls who grew into young women pass by a rickety shelf and it would shake with the vibrations from the beats of their feet against the floor, and then you would do it yourself and delight in the stillness that followed. Because at least you were skinny with your feet. 


In the most formative years of your life, middle school, you only had a few friends. Your class consisted of six girls that between fifth and eighth grade dwindled down to three, so you had two-to-five friends. That was fine, you had friends outside of school, some in other grades, and you might have even been friends with a boy or two, if the idea of it didn’t incite unhushed whispers of, “But you like him, right?!” As your friends changed schools, you found yourself in a group of four, and though they say three is a crowd, four was when you really stuck out like a sore, fat thumb. But your friends all smiled at you, and they all texted you, and you all laughed, and they all went to you because they all liked you even if they didn’t like each other and that felt good and churned your stomach, but you didn’t know why. Until your friend group became three and you turned thirteen and you were told that you were the only person the lost fourth friend was nice to because she didn’t see you as a threat. You posed no threat because you didn’t look the same as your other friends: tall, skinny, brunette, “beautiful.” And that hurt, but it was a dull ache, because she really wasn’t a good friend and you already knew, by that point, that you were fat and undesired, as desired as a pre-teen wants to be. The only reason you were friends with your friends was because your class size was fifteen children and, well, girls have to stick together, right? 


You fell “in love” many times in your life. From daycare to high school, you had maybe six crushes, almost one for every other year. You thought it was cool how you liked a guy for going on three straight years because you were dedicated and maybe someday he would see that. You never told any of them, obviously. You knew nothing would come of it. Even as your friends got “boyfriends” and crushes and happily ever afters that ended after a week, that was not for you. A boy supposedly had a crush you, once, though you found it hard to believe. And at one school dance, he asked you to dance with him, and you froze and broke out into a sweat, and you didn’t like him, but you said yes, and for thirty measures of a Rascal Flatts song you danced while being chortled at by his friends and your bullies, some one in the same, and the dance ended before the second verse had even begun. But a year later, you were told by one of the onlookers that the crusher had been dared to ask you to dance. And by then it didn’t matter if he liked you or not because the moment dared escaped his lips with a huff of a laugh your skin turned to ice. Truth or dare? Truth. Who do you hate more: the dared or the darer? Neither, you just hated yourself. 


You’ve heard a lot of complaints over the years from the people in the generations before you about how your age group is so entitled and lazy and demands everything and gives nothing and it drives you crazy. Unless they know you personally, which is very few, no person over the age of sixty is tolerable to you, because they take one look at you, and they’re not very good at hiding their thoughts. They see the pudgy tummy, flabby arms, and the relaxed sitting position and assume that you are a fat (that is correct) and lazy (that is incorrect) millennial-cusp-gen-z that is the picture-perfect definition of the generation. They are right about one thing, though. You clung to those participation trophies and loved them too much. You never asked for them, but when you got one, it found a place of honor atop the bedroom dresser along with its cohorts so you could look at them and see all of your accomplishments. It was a timeline of your life, reminding you of memories of the past, and encouraging you to do better, be better. Participation trophies were rewarded to all, even fat girls who always won the prolonged stare or double take but rarely first place.


You were an acquaintance with the majority of your high school graduating class. You weren’t friends, and you weren’t totally detached, you were just one of those people that everyone could get along with. You were neutral, middle ground. You were nice, but not too nice. You could suck up to teachers and also talk about how much they pissed you off. You were smart, but not with everything. So when you sat next to someone, they would greet you, but once class was over, they went back to their friends. And that was fine. You had friends too, some better than others, some more distant than others, and some that you only talked to online. And that was fine. You were happy. But now you look back on your high school experience, and the smiles you remember are from your alphabet order next-door locker neighbor whom you shared three classes with over the course of four years and talked to you like a person, like any other person. Or the guy in your Spanish class who was better than you at the language, though that wasn’t saying much, who also talked to you like a normal human being. They talked about their weekends, and their relationships, and their sexual exploits, and included you in the conversation as if, obviously, you could’ve been having those same experiences too. When you paused before answering, “No, of course, I don’t have a date to the Christmas dance! Who would ever ask me?” they furrowed their eyebrows and said nothing, and now that you think about it, maybe there was a reason they talked to you like you were normal, because you were. 


You were active all throughout your childhood. You did dance, you played soccer, you attended tennis lessons, and on nice days you were corralled outside and, though you aren’t an outdoorsy person, you would run around with your sisters until the sun dipped low in the sky. But even though you were just as active as your other friends, they never gained the same weight you did. Even though you took the same gym class, your shirt hugged tighter than everyone else’s. Your parents told you it was genetic. Later in life, a doctor tells you it’s polycystic ovarian syndrome. Earlier in life, your youngest sister called you fat and it plagued you for a decade because it was the first time you’d ever been called that to your face. Your friends never said anything, but their silence spoke paragraphs. So what really was it, you wonder? Were you just not exercising enough? Is it really all in your blood or was it in the sugar in the sweets you ate? You all ate the same. You thought you ate the same. Was it the imbalance of your testosterone and estrogen levels? Was it the anxiety? Was it the horrible choices of food you were offered for lunch for thirteen years? You asked yourself these questions every day, and yet no concrete answer was brought to you. But it’s not your fault. That’s what you were told by your doctors, your parents, your internet of friends. But no one ever needed to tell you that. You only ever asked for answers to the question. Tell that to the people who stare and stare and the therapists who assure you, “They’re not looking at you, they’ve already forgotten you exist.”


You’d never been that fat. You knew what that meant, the kind of fat where you can’t do physical exercise at all, or can’t see your toes. That was all you had to grasp; the toxic fatphobic mentality born into a fat girl’s brain that you could always be fatter and, thus, worse. You were the kind of fat that was just heavy enough to be labeled as obese according to the BMI, or as you like to call it, the BS Index. But not one with a big enough butt to allow confidence in yourself. Or so the stereotypes displayed. Big stomach, flat ass, as your doctor stated verbatim. There was only one time in high school that you barely passed 200lbs, but that was a momentary fluke, you told yourself. You could always look in the mirror and say, “My face looks good, little chubby, but pleasant to the eye,” and walk out the front door. But you’d never say it. You would think it, shamefully, silently. You would stare at yourself in the mirror and muse that as long as your boobs were bigger than your belly, you passed. If you ever crossed that line, though, you might look pregnant, and you definitely didn’t want that, not as a freshman in a catholic high school, despite the fact that all of your classmates were the same people you’d known since birth and already knew you were fat. You recall the time a dental assistant assumed you were the mother of your two siblings, one two and the other five years younger than yourself, a twelve-year-old girl. And then you remember your grandmother consoling you that all the fat in your tummy was just for when your growth spurt would come and all the weight would just redistribute, but that growth spurt never came. All these thoughts plagued you, constantly tightening the noose around your brain while hoping it would make your waist size shrink. Toxic.

i. You know very differently now. You love your fat self today, and hopefully you will tomorrow too.