I don’t want to forget what it was like being fat. If we could really zap people’s memories like they do in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, it would be tempting to get rid of the time on the plane when I got my mom to request a seat belt extender because I was too embarrassed to ask the stewardess myself. However, my fat girl issues have made me who I am, so even though many of those memories are painful and shameful and sad, they’re mine. I’m going to keep them, just like that ass-ugly ceramic pot I made in 5th grade. (Actually, I just remembered that I threw that out when I moved. But if I had kept it that would be a great analogy.)
It’s undeniable though that all the fat girl stuff has become less and less a part of my daily reality. I don’t have to worry about fitting behind the steering wheel of my car anymore. I don’t have to shop in the plus-size section. I fit in movie theatre seats just fine. And it’s awesome. It rocks just as much as I thought it would. It’s also making it harder and harder for me to relate to a fat person’s reality, just like it’s harder for me to relate to the life of a fifth grader because I graduated from elementary school in the early 90’s. We didn’t even have the Internet back then. How could I have lived without the Internet? When I read posts on the fat positive web sites complaining about discrimination and dirty looks, I still agree with their fat positive stances, but I find it harder and harder to get personally riled up about it. I still support fat rights, but my anger appears to be waning.
But I still have my memories, and I find myself comparing my current life to my old life every day. Whenever I cross my legs, I remember not being able to do that when my thighs were the size of Crisco cans. Every day when I walk up to my fourth floor office, I am awed by the fact that I don’t have to stop on the landings to catch my breath. When I was riding the bus in Chicago, I sat across from a morbidly obese woman in a cotton summer dress who took up one and a half seats. Every time someone swiped their bus pass and stepped down the aisle I was relieved that it wasn’t me they obviously avoided sitting next to.
So I definitely remember. It’s there. Every. Single. Day.
When I was driving with my mother to Louisville for my brother’s wedding, we started talking about photos. I mentioned that I was trying to find a really good “before” picture that showed my full body, but wasn’t one of the “blah” looking ones I use in my rotating progress photos. Problem was there really aren’t that many photos of my full body from those days.
“I think we avoided taking pictures of your entire body, didn’t we?” she asked.
As she said that I suddenly felt an irresistible urge to examine the intricate pattern of bug splatter on the windshield or the corn fields flying by at 70 miles per hour. I felt uncomfortable in the front seat of that car, but it was no longer because my seatbelt didn’t fit. I don’t know exactly what I felt. It was a cocktail of shame and sadness, shaken in my sub-conscious but its complete contents unknown, just like that strange vodka and cranberry concoction the bartender served me at the reception. But feeling like that made me realize what’s been missing from my fat girl issues these days.
I don’t have to feel them anymore.
I remember that I felt ashamed that I was so fat that I couldn’t by pants at Lane Bryant. I remember that I avoided seeing friends from high school because I was scared of what they’d think of my weight gain. I remember feeling depressed that I’d let my problem get so far out of control. But remembering a feeling isn’t quite the same as feeling it. Otherwise, you could have amazing sex just one time and be able to play back the orgasms in your mind during boring meetings. If you felt depressed that you didn’t get an iPod for your birthday, you could just re-feel the joy of getting a bike for Christmas as a child and you’d feel fine. It’s too bad life doesn’t work like that.
I’m not completely immune to those old feelings though. I certainly felt uncomfortable when my mom brought up the fact that I used to hide from cameras. As I’ve been writing my book I’ve had to write up my fat girl horror stories. I’ve had to relive and analyze some miserable shit and it’s been completely draining. I could only work on those early chapters for an hour or two before I shut down Microsoft Word to do something happier, like kicking puppies. I can still empathize with my old self and feel a fraction of what she felt, but reliving shopping trips from hell in 12pt font isn’t as powerful as experiencing it live and in color, here and now.
So I can look at that fat lady on the bus and I can remember what it was like to avoid eye contact with people coming up the bus steps. I can remember praying that the bus wouldn’t fill up and someone wouldn’t be left standing in the aisle clinging to a metal bar because I was too fat to sit next to. But I don’t have to feel that anymore. I’ve gotten off that bus and I hope my pass has expired forever.
I never want to become a smug thin person. I don’t want to become judgmental of fat people or to patronize them. It’s always possible I could become a fat person again myself. It’s important to remember how hard it can be to be fat and how hard it can be to lose weight. It’s important to understand what other people are going through. If we all understood each other better maybe there wouldn’t be any collapsing skyscrapers or exploding subway trains.
So I will always remember what it felt like to ride that bus, but I don’t have to feel the hard plastic seats beneath me anymore. I got off at my stop, but I’ll remember the trip and I’ve still got my ticket stub. Maybe that’s the best I can do.