Fat Memories

At my meeting with my IS adviser on Friday, we briefly talked about the how different fat women experience fat differently.  I pointed out that there is probably a big difference between women who grew up fat (like me), where fat was a constant presence in their life and shaped all of their experiences, and women who gained weight at some point (whether it be puberty or childbirth or whenever).  I’m wondering if anyone has any insight into these differences?

For example, I don’t even know what a skinny or “average-sized” me would look like.  Even at my smallest during diets, I was still fat.  I remember one weight loss program for teens that I did a couple times called Shapedown.  It came with a textbook and everything.  At the beginning of the first chapter of the book it had us close our eyes and picture ourselves as we were then and then picture ourselves skinnier (the way we wanted to look).  I couldn’t do it then and I wouldn’t be able to do it now.  I have no frame of reference to conceptualize a skinny me.   I think this makes fat acceptance make even more sense to me because I am fat and have always been fat.  There has been no other me in existence ever, so hating fat is hating me.  Just as how I am a woman and that is all I know.   I feel like not being a feminist would be disrespectful to myself (and to other women).  That’s just how I see it.

This is my experience and I’m wondering what the experience of fat is for other fat women who have not been fat their whole lives.

And in light of this conversation about growing up fat, I’ve decided to share a couple memories and I’m sure many of you out there have similar ones…These are some excerpts from my Autoethnography that I wrote for a school assignment last year.

Second Grade

“100 pounds!?!?!” We were making posters about ourselves during the first week of second grade.  Mrs. L had handed us each a large piece of paper dissected into different boxes that called for us describe ourselves through words or pictures.  The boxes were marked “Name,” “Age,” “Height,” “Weight,” “Favorite Color,” “Favorite Food,” “What I Want to Be When I Grow Up,” etc.  K, the girl who sat next to me was looking at my poster as I was making it and saw that I put 100 lbs in the “Weight” box.

“You can’t weigh that much.  Don’t lie.  Mrs. L!  Tell Ali not to lie on her poster!” she said in that annoying tattle-tale way that second graders are so good at.  Mrs. L came over to assess the situation.  She didn’t believe what I’d written on my poster either.  Second-graders aren’t supposed to weight 100 lbs.

“Don’t lie on your poster, Ali,” ordered Mrs. L, agreeing with K.

I didn’t know what to do.  I had lied on my poster, but I had lied by rounded down.  I really weighed 30 pounds more than what I’d written.  I had known I was large, but I had not realized just how much more I weighed than everyone else.  I didn’t realize that my weight would be so unbelievable.  Discouraged, I erased the 100 lbs from the box and left it blank because I did not know what else to put.  I later got in trouble for not completing the assignment.

That was the year I started my first weight loss program.  I joined Weight Watchers with my mom.  She had pitched it to me as a fun mother-daughter bonding experience, saying “We’ll do it together!”  We went to meetings out of town, so I didn’t have to be seen by my friend’s parents.  I quickly learned how to be ashamed of being overweight.  My weight was a problem I had that needed to be fixed.  My mom good-naturedly always framed it as “I just want you to be happy!”  I totally believe this was her genuine reasoning, but it taught me to automatically connect fat with unhappy and skinny with happy.

In an effort to make things easier for me at school, my mom told Mrs. L that I was on Weight Watchers.  She was “very impressed by my maturity.” She asked the class moms to bring in fruit for me at class parties, so I would have an alternative to those all-to0-tempting cupcakes.  When they passed out the cupcakes at the parties I would hear “wait, Ali doesn’t get one.”

“Why not?”

“She’s on Weight Watchers.”  This was my cue to shrink down in my chair, mortified.

“Wow!  Good for you honey!”  I just smiled and blushed.

“There’s some fruit she can have in that bag over there.”  My classmates gave me weird looks while they licked the icing off their cupcake and I awkwardly peeled my orange.

The first day of third grade, my new teacher, Mrs. K, handed out the exact same poster templates that we had filled out for Mrs. L.  I went home and complained about the weight box to my mom.  She was frustrated on my behalf and called up Mrs. K to express her feelings.  The next day, Mrs. K was sure to provide the disclaimer that we did not have to fill out anything on the poster that we felt uncomfortable about.  I was the only one in the class to leave a box blank.

Seventh Grade

I was the girl sitting on the bleachers at the middle school dances.  I thought they were fun, but I was an awkward dancer because I felt like my large frame stuck out like a giant.  I always longed to be asked to slow dance with a boy.  I will never forget the time I got my wish.  I was in seventh grade and JP, a very popular eighth grade boy, approached me and asked me if I wanted to dance with him.  I froze, flustered and completely caught off guard.  I briefly wondered if this was my chance at a Cinderella story.  Then I saw a bunch of his friends staring and laughing from the corner of the room and JP turned to wink at them.  I quickly berated myself for thinking that any boy could ever want me and shook my head, escaping to the bathroom to fight back my tears in private.  I was a joke to them.

After recalling these memories, I’m starting to think about how we really need to find a way to teach size acceptance to children.  I feel like things are probably worse for them today, now with the intense fight against obesity and a lot of attention given to working to make children “healthier” there is probably even more fat hatred.

21 responses to this post.

  1. I wasn’t exactly a fat child. I was heavier than the other kids, and though I looked bigger than them I didn’t look ‘fat’. Up until the end of high school I was the upper end of the ‘healthy’ weight range on the BMI and it wasn’t until university that I started getting bigger. I’m now obese according to BMI and I wear an Australian size 16 to 18.

    It’s possible that we could have different experiences because I wasn’t ‘the fat kid’. But the thing is, I thought I was. I’ve always been a different shape to others – because of my Indonesian heritage, I’m quite pear-shaped with a butt like a table – and, in my eyes, this was the wrong shape. I went on my first diet at 10. I hated my body throughout adolescence. I wanted to look like all the Australian surfer girls I was surrounded by: thin, blonde, athletic and with big boobs.

    So even though I didn’t technically grow up fat, in a way I did. Our stories may be different, but fat still shaped how I saw myself and how I lived my life.


    • That’s a great point. Actually physically being fat and characterizing yourself as fat aren’t necessarily the same. Fat can still shape our lives just as a concept rather than a presence. Thanks for sharing! Your comment is very helpful!


  2. Posted by HairyLegs on October 26, 2009 at 1:11 am

    I was fat from birth. My mom has told me about how embarrassed she was when she overheard two men laughing and pointing at me in the nursery at the hospital when I was a newborn. (I was 12 lbs and very red with lots of hair). My mom said that one of the strangers pointed to me and said “I’m glad THAT one isn’t mine!”.
    My parents put me on my first doctor-supervised diet at 8. I stayed on that diet until I was 12, and did lose weight. I made it into the “normal” range sometime around age 11. There are pictures of me from that time that show me as thin. But I don’t ever, ever in my life remember feeling that I wasn’t fat.
    I remember seeing the first stretch marks on my thighs at age 12 or 13, when I started putting weight back on, and thinking “it’s over”. I don’t know what I thought was over, exactly – life? my chance at happiness? the possibility of ever being beautiful? – but I remember the sense of doom and shame in those stretch marks.
    For me- in my experience- fat is a shame and a stigma I have had since birth. Fat is an identity that my parents gave me from the beginning. Your question is really interesting because you ask if there is a difference between those for whom fat was a constant presence and those for whom it wasn’t always there. For me, I know there was a couple of years as an early teenager when I wasn’t fat. It probably made a difficult time a lot easier in terms of how other kids treated me. But the shame and stigma of being fat were with me the whole time.


    • Thanks for sharing your story. It’s really interesting what things like stretch marks can symbolize to us. And it’s really sad how little agency we have regarding our bodies when we are young…I was put on diets by doctors as well and this helped me to hate myself.


  3. Posted by hsofia on October 26, 2009 at 3:22 am

    I was not fat as a child; I didn’t develop any real negative feelings about my body until puberty, at which point I outgrew my mother (a small person). At that point I had a negative and distorted vision of myself because I felt as though I were huge compared to other women. My best friend as a child was petite, which really skewed my self-perception for some reason. Until I was 22 years of age I was 5’6″ and around 145 lbs and wore a size 6-8, but I thought I was huge because I wore a C cup, and had a round butt and thick thighs. The junior sizes had never fit me. Looking back it’s hard to believe I had this ridiculous image of myself as a Godzilla going around knocking over all the other people and frightening children with my massive self.

    As I put on weight over the years (office job, then bought a car, then met my soul mate who took me out to eat 3-4 nights a week, then pregnancy), I always thought back to my frame of reference – my mom. Or my childhood heroines (Anne of Green Gable, Jo March, Laura Ingalls), none of whom were fat – none of them with round butts. I had this inner vision of who I was, and it didn’t jive with my outer appearance. The sad thing is that I didn’t look like these girls for MANY reasons that were more obvious than my weight, but the weight was the thing I could control, right?

    And ultimately that’s what losing weight was about for me – regaining control (that I’d never really had because my first bra at 10 years old was a B cup). And trying to achieve a willowy figure that could only be achieved by someone lopping off my curves.

    I’m pretty new to FA, but it makes sense to me. I went clothes shopping today and spent a minute or two rueing my baby belly, but otherwise I just found a few outfits that looked good on me and purchased them. It wasn’t shopping therapy and it wasn’t hunting season on my self esteem. It was just. clothes. My focus these days is on eating a balanced diet so that I can keep my immune system strong, eating things that are kind to my sensitive stomach, trying out new foods, and keeping physically durable and capable of doing the things I want to do (like carry my daughter around on my back for 2 hour hikes). That’s all I need. But it’s taken 20+ years to get to this point.


    • Yeah I think a lot of how we feel about ourselves comes from comparing ourselves to other people. And we always blame it on our weight because, like you said, it’s the one thing we can control (supposedly).

      I also really like your characterization of shopping without FA as “hunting season on my self esteem”. So true!!

      Thanks for telling your story!


  4. I wasn’t fat until I was about 9. I was teased about being fat from the time I was 5. The only time after 9 years of age that I have been ‘average’ weight was when I was 15/16 years old and I used appetite suppressants and hours of daily exercise and starving myself stupid to lose just under 20 kg in less than 12 weeks. I went from 78kg to 60kg. Six months later I was back up to 65kg. By the time I was 19 I was just under 75kg. And it has only increased from there. The first time I remember my weight being mentioned was when I was 5 years old and in kinder. From that time my weight was a constant topic for discussion by other people. Interestingly my parents never really said a lot about it to me. I don’t know what they thought and they did try to encourage me to be more active physically but they didnt put me on diets or anything that was intended to help me lose weight. I am grateful for that. I had a lot of gastrointestinal issues as a child and had to be on a special high fibre diet for that but weight loss wasnt the aim. It was only when I got to 15 and a boy I liked made a hurtful remark that I put myself on the diet and it went from there. Even when I was my ‘average’ weight, I still wore a size 14 jeans. I was always going to have bigger hips and thighs. I was always going to have big boobs (thanks mum!). While I felt that I was huge when I was a size 16 and at a size 18, I didnt feel particularly ostracised by other people (even though back then it was practically impossible to find clothes even in those sizes). Now that I am a size 22 and have been up to a 26-28, I do get that sense of being ostracised. I dont know if that is because of all the obesity epidemic hoopla or just my own increased sense of other people’s attitudes or what. It doesn’t really bother me any more than it did when I was smaller, I am just more aware of it. If that makes any sense.


    • It’s great that your parents didn’t really try to put you on diets or push you to lose weight. As much as I love and adore my parents, if I have a fat daughter I will do so much differently.

      And I think I’m a bit more aware of ostracism too, but I think a lot of that has just come from me recognizing my positionality in the world and now if I feel ostracized for being fat, I am more likely to not blame myself than I was when I was younger.

      Thanks for sharing your story!


  5. Looking at pictures now, I wasn’t a particularly fat kid, but being from a family of very short people who tended towards chubbiness (and with large appetites) — there was this worry from the beginning that I would be fat, so I did feel fat for about as long as I can remember. Now that I’m a mom, when I look at pictures of myself as a toddler (there’s one in particular of me nude in the backyard, I look blissfully happy) that really look like a healthy chubby infant, not overweight but just the size her body is meant to be.
    I was put on a diet at age 10, when it was clear my height wasn’t going to go up enough to compensate for my weight. In combination with the diet and a case of the flu, my weight got down to the range it was supposed to be for a while, and for the next couple of years I was considered normal weight (but looking at pictures, I still look quite a bit heavier than my peers) — and it felt like a lot of pressure. I gained weight (in womanly places, mostly) as puberty hit and then when I stopped getting taller, I continued gaining until I was in that “ostracized” territory when I was 16 and older. I’m five feet and about a half an inch tall, at 150 pounds, I looked “average” but by the time I was graduating high school, my weight was around 185 pounds and I felt very large, and unacceptable.
    As an adult, my weight has been as high as 250 pounds, and as low as 185 pounds, and right now, I’m around 205 pounds.
    I have always felt fat.
    I do think it makes a difference, in interesting ways, like you described. I don’t feel that my fat isn’t part of me — or that it’s something to be gotten rid of. At least not now. I feel like fatness is part of my identity. If something happened that caused me to lose weight (intentionally or unintentionally) to the point where other people wouldn’t think of me as fat, I don’t know that I would ever feel I wasn’t fat or that fatness wasn’t part of who I am.

    What you said about helping fat kids today really resonated with me. You mentioned Shapedown, I am curious if you feel like that had a harmful effect on you overall or if it was a mix of beneficial and not beneficial. I think that if there were an “intervention” focused not on weight loss but on self-esteem, being active and self-care using an empowerment model (including young people in the formation and implementation of the intervention and how it is evaluated), that would be an interesting thing to look at. I’ve felt that as someone who works in health promotion, studying what helps people who are fat to be their healthiest, and including them in the process, would be very beneficial. Community-based participatory research with a group of fat activists could be quite powerful. I’m not currently connected with any academic institution, but if I were to pursue a PhD, I think that’s what I would be looking at.

    I think that the question of whether it’s worse for fat kids today really depends on the kids and where they are. Because fatness is somewhat more common (at least in some communities), it might not be worse for some kids. I think class is a factor, as well as ethnicity. The fact that for teen girls, fashionable clothing is available in a wider range of sizes (but probably not above a size 28) — that’s helpful. That there are larger women portrayed in positive ways, as sexual beings, in movies and on TV, that’s helpful. But you are right that the panic about the obesity epidemic is going to cause its share of problems.
    The town I live in is an interesting place. I don’t know if the “culture of caring and diversity” that this community proports extends to fatness in kids or not. I hope so, but I don’t know so.
    Very thought-provoking post.


    • Thanks for such a thoughtful response to my post! To answer your question…Shapedown was by far the best diet I was put on as a child. It put dieting in a support group atmosphere and until then I had not really met or spent time with other fat middle-schoolers other than one girl in my class at school who was a bit of a bully. For that I will give Shapedown some credit. And it was run by a registered dietitian who was super nice and supportive. But it was still the weigh-in every week, set weight goals, picture yourself skinny model…And I wasn’t very successful at losing weight with it either…It was just another failure to check off on my long list of diets (and I was even the enthusiastic veteran in my Shapedown program…I did it for almost 3 years). So I think it was detrimental in that respect. I think a self-esteem and HAES-based program for kids would be a wonderful substitute.


  6. Your experiences as a fat child are very similar to mine. Children can be so mean. But it doesn’t matter what size you are, if you are different, you’ll be teased about it. A very good friend of mine was always slender, but much taller than her classmates, so that’s what she got teased about. A friend of mine in 2nd or 3rd grade got teased because of her beautiful red hair. My sister got teased for being deaf. I don’t think it’s “size” acceptance that children need to learn, per se, but rather that diversity is good and teasing is not acceptable.


    • I agree with you there! (I can empathize with your tall friend- I was always the tallest in my class). But I also wish that size acceptance would be one specific diversity topic they are introduced to, because I think it would be beneficial for both those who tease and those who get teased. I never hated myself for being tall because I knew I couldn’t help it. I hated myself for being fat because I was taught that I was supposed to be able to help that. Learning size acceptance might’ve not just helped me get teased less…but it would’ve also helped me to not hate myself.


  7. Posted by J.l3wis on October 26, 2009 at 9:26 am

    I was born and grew up fat/obese I was never put to shame by my Mom about it but I got my share of taunts, bullying and discrimination. I currently find myself at the lowest weight I’ve ever been after 2 children and am still fat.

    What I wanted to point out about teaching children about size acceptance was something that had happened at the park the other day. There is this awfully sweet, cute and funny little girl who is there for after school care where her Mom works. This little girl, J always comes and talks to me about p. much everything then one day she had said to me “I exercise and when I get skinny, I’m gonna STAY skinny!!”

    She is 5 years old and very thin as is, I asked her where she heard this and she said her Mom says it. Her Mom is super thin! It was weird, after growing up and learning to say “FU” to the fat haters through my Mom, get at a somewhat “acceptable” weight, see how I’m treated differently or less harassed and picked on b/c of it a the old age of 31, I have to do it all over again with my kids and her friends.

    My Daughter isn’t necessarily fat, she is, however VERY tall, the tallest in her Kindergarten class so I’m sure she’ll get picked on for that or the fact that she’s Type 1 and I have to come give her her medicine at lunch everyday.

    I REALLY loved his post ans agree with it!


    • Thank you! That story about little J is so sad and frustrating. I wish you and your daughter all the best at fighting the good fight! (I’ve always been a very tall one too, so I know about that struggle).


  8. Posted by Trabb's Boy on October 26, 2009 at 10:02 am

    I had a computer glitch that I think erased my post, but I’m not sure. Sorry if I say the same thing twice.

    I was very, very skinny for my entire youth, so much that I worried there was something wrong with me. Then after college I just started gaining about five pounds a year. I did some of the dieting/lifestyle change thing, but I come from a consumer protection background, and I already knew that diets had an abysmal success rate. Then there were a few boosts to the weight — atypical depression, stopping smoking, having kids — then back to the five pounds a year thing which continues a quarter century after it began.

    So I don’t have the kind of pain associated with being young and fat, which sounds horrible, since kids can be incredibly cruel without realizing what they’re doing. And I didn’t have the insecurity around dating, since I was still thin when I met my husband at 27. What I do have is a real difficulty with is accepting my own fat. It seems so obvious to me that someone who has been fat all their lives is fat for genetic reasons. It just seems to dumb to think otherwise. What, everything about people — height, face shape, boob size — is primarily genetic except their overall weight? Please!

    But for someone like me, there will always be this sense of having somehow fucked up a good thing. That’s probably silly. Genetics may still be a factor, but just different genes, like energy levels or tendency toward addiction, that may only become relevant after many years. And even if there’s nothing genetic about my weight, I was still only doing what seemed like the right thing at any given moment in life. And regardless, I am what I am now, and diets don’t work and I should not be wasting my time hating on my fat. But. Different kinds of tough, I guess.


    • Thank you for your thoughtful response!! I hadn’t thought of the “sense of having somehow fucked up a good thing” idea for those who haven’t been fat their whole lives. As preposterous as FA helps us to see that that is, I can see how someone might feel that way in this world. Thanks for bringing that up.


  9. I wasn’t a fat kid until I was about 6, when I grew pudgy from being very slim. That’s when people started calling me fat, and then when puberty hit around 8-9, and I gained 50lbs in a year, and my pediatrician put me on my first diet (which, of course, my mother has no memory of) – not because I was fat but because I had gained too much for his liking – and then when I was 14 the PCOS kicked in and I started gaining weight and truly became fat.

    Funny, I recently saw some pictures of myself when I was 11, I was 5’4″ and weight 130lbs, and adults had been making jokes about my weight for a couple of years, from the school nurses asking when I was going to lose weight, to my dentist “joking” about how I wasn’t going to fit into the chair any more if I didn’t lose weight, to the screaming fights my mother and I had that she now says never happened (although I was a “horrible” teenager), anyway, I looked at those pictures and dammit, I still feel depressed. What might I look like if I hadn’t fucked up my metabolism back then? Sure, I’d have gained weight anyway from the PCOS, but maybe mentally I would have been/would be in a much better space…?


  10. So, no, I grew up thinking I was fat when I wasn’t, and then when I did become fat, and now that I am DeathFat (however, no cape),I’m like you, I can’t even conceive of what it would be like to be thin. People always talk about how great it would be to fit into the clothes they used to, and I’m always “gee, it would be great to fit into the clothes I have now”. There is no memory of thinness to go back to, haha, so the prospect of losing weight is one I both want and fear.

    Which is why the Fantasy of Being Thin is even more of a fantasy for me, and why HAES and even FA is so damned difficult.


    • I’m with you there. HAES and FA are really difficult. Especially after we have been taught to blame ourselves for gaining weight. Thanks for sharing your story!


  11. Posted by JElkins on October 27, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    I didn’t start getting fat until my late 20s/early 30s. When I was young I was very slim and athletic and was frequently praised for having a really nice body. There’s been some talk in the fatosphere about privilege lately, and since I’ve been both fat and thin, I can say with complete certainty that I was treated much, much better when I was thin. There was a sense of power that came with it, one that I was terrified of losing by getting fat. Being thin meant that people were more respectful, more interested in me and more friendly. Getting fat, for me anyway, has meant becoming invisible. I’m not treated with nearly as much respect and I’m generally dismissed as being of little consequence. I think one of the things that hurts the most though, is when I try to talk to men – just being friendly and making conversation – and they look away and shift around uncomfortably and try to end the conversation as quickly as possible because they’re either afraid that I’m coming on to them or that someone will see them talking to the fat girl.

    The other thing that I have to put up with as a fat woman that I never had to put up with as a thin woman are all these assumptions people make about me and my level of health or fitness. People assume I don’t exercise. That I don’t know the basic concepts of nutrition. That I’m completely uninterested in fitness or health. And the worst part is how condescending people can be about it, explaining fitness and health related stuff to me that everyone knows like it’s something really new and revolutionary for the fat lady to hear. There’s also the assumption that I’ve always been fat and don’t know any other life. I tell people that I use to play tennis, soccer and run track and they’re shocked, or that I used to run 30 miles a week and I get this stunned expression from them. It’s so insulting. Then there’s all the assumptions people make about my character, like that I’m lazy and not very smart, even though I’m just as intelligent and hardworking as I was when I was thin.

    I joke that I didn’t go through an awkward phase as a teenager and that I now have to go through a long, protracted one as an adult, but it’s true. When I was a thin, athletic teenager I was proud of my body and almost never felt self-conscious or insecure. I was very confident. I didn’t worry that people would like down on me or reject me outright. I just expected to be treated well and nearly always was. I never worried about how I looked in a bathing suit, or feared people’s reactions to the sight of me in a bathing suit so much that I stayed away from social situations at which I’d have to wear one. I guess that’s one of the biggest differences in general between thin me and fat me. When I was thin I didn’t want to hide from anything or anyone. I wanted to be out there right in the center of things. Fat me feels too ashamed and like I don’t really belong at places reserved for thin people. I didn’t worry about how tight my jeans were, or if something was too low cut or if I’d look like a sausage in that dress or like I was trying to hard to be a sexy fat girl. I am so self-conscious now. I’m always worried about what people think or are going to say or if they’re just going to ignore me altogether. Not that this is an issue for me now because I’m happily married, but when I was thin I never worried about whether a guy I liked would want me or not. I just took it for granted that he would and I was usually right.

    As luck would have it, my metabolism started to slow down just as my emotional overeating started to ramp up and my weight started to climb. I’d try to diet, only to have it fail and then I’d do more overeating because I’d felt so deprived while dieting. When I first crossed the threshold into slightly pudgy, I hated myself and hated the fat with the fire of a thousand suns. One of my biggest fears was getting fat, and I was getting there. I felt ashamed and blamed myself and felt like a huge failure, all of which would trigger me to do more emotional overeating and get heavier. It was a vicious cycle. I’ve practice enough FA now that I no longer hate myself or feel particularly unattractive at my weight (about 200 lbs at 5’6″). I’m reasonably comfortable in my skin now and content to be me. And although I’m no longer obsessing about my weight, weight loss and food, I’d be lying if I said that part of me will always want to be thin again, no matter how unrealistic that goal is.


    • Thanks for telling your story!! I think it says a lot about the assumptions people make about fat. It’s really interesting that you are able to compare how your fat self is treated with how your thin self was treated (as much as it may suck to think about).

      I can resonate with a lot of what you are saying about men a feeling like you don’t belong in places reserved for thin people.

      And if I’m being honest with myself, I’d have to agree with your last sentence too. As much as I may pretend not to.

      Thanks again!


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