I have always noticed clear discrimination between skinny or athletic people and overweight/fat people. I am built like my mom was. Voluptuous, curvy, buxom, whatever you want to call it, I’m it!! I watched my mom my whole life struggle with her weight. She went to the gym; she tried every diet anyone could ever be on. She read countless books and fasted; she did it all. For short periods she would have unsustainable success. She would look thinner, but not ever skinny, for about six months, and then the weight would come back, and the battle would begin again. It was hard to watch her as she struggled with her emotions over feeling unloved because of her size.
Carole Sue was a beautiful woman, yet her self-esteem was shattered. She had the glamor of Elizabeth Taylor, with striking brown eyes that had a light blue ring around them and a smile that would light up a room and, oh my God, her laugh! That amazing jolly joyful laugh was infectious. She was strong and worked hard. She did have her demons, though, drowning her pain of abandonment with wine or Manhattans and focusing on her battle with the bulge. She always dressed stylishly even though plus-size clothes had not always been readily available until recently. Now fashion has begun to truely embrace the human body’s diversity and is slightly sympathetic to the fact that not all women’s dress sizes run between a 2 and 12. (Sometimes 14 in the less discriminating designer stores).
My mom told me that sometimes she thought she was unloveable because of her size. That’s sad! She said men always said to her that she had a beautiful face and nice legs. She thought they were saying that because they found the parts in between undesirable. When she died, I felt relief for her as she lay in the hospital bed. She looked peaceful, light, and free from her uncomfortable body. But, this story isn’t about my mom. I’m simply saying I get it, and I have experienced the same fat-a-phobia as she and other voluptuous women have.
As defined by Merriam Webster, it’s called: “fatism noun fat·ism | \ ˈfat-ˌi-zəm Definition of fatism: prejudice or discrimination against fat people.”
I used to be insecure about it and, at one period in my life, struggled with anorexia (a story for another time). Now I am secure and just keenly aware. Coping with a large body size takes up a lot of headspace. You feel it when you move, when you’re out in public, when you meet someone athletic or just plain skinny. You feel it even when your shopping for an outfit to “knock em dead” in. It weighs heavy on your mind. Yes, that was a pun. And darn it, I know it’s not punny.
I love the moment in Pitch Perfect when Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) Is asked about her name,
I get it. I can relate. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve said it too. I’ve felt it and heard it. I also point out my imperfections before anyone else can.
I’m stunned at how shallow some people are sometimes. One evening a mother, of our middle daughter’s friend, came to pick up her child, and I invited her in for a glass of wine. She was a small, attractive, tennis-playing woman who hung with the gossip moms of Naples. There is definitely a defined group, trust me. They know who they are, and I’m pretty sure I’m not a member of said group. Anyway, I tried to develop a relationship with her because our two girls were so close. She sat at my kitchen table while I cooked, with a glass of wine in hand, and began to spout out the local goss. She told me about a mom she knew who was going through a divorce. She said, “she is really nice, but she is overweight, kind of fat.” This was not the first time she’d made comments like this to me. I thought, what the fuck does that have to do with ANYTHING?! Was she insinuating that this was the reason her husband was dumping her? Then she said, “she’s a kind of large woman, but I’m friends with her.” My jaw dropped. I am 5’7” and 224 lbs. what about me? Why is she sitting in my kitchen? I’m a large woman!! I must be really nice?! I’m not a violent person, but I suddenly went red. In my mind, I went full Yosemite Sam from Loony Tunes on her ass. I wanted to punch her little tennis skirt-wearing body through the kitchen wall and certainly didn’t want to share my wine with her!! I could reverse it “she’s a tiny woman, kind of skinny,” but I wouldn’t be adding that she was a nice person. Yeah, switching it doesn’t quite have the same sting. I am afraid I could only say she was an ignorant, shallow woman. And that was the end of that friendship endeavor. WOW!! What the heck!! I fed her and kept smiling. I shooed her out the door the minute she took her last sip of wine and breathed a sigh of relief that she was gone.
Fat, fat, fat, fat. Man, the word echoes in my ears. The first time I ever felt conscious of this state of being was when I was at my sister Robin’s wedding. It was around 1977. She was 18, and we were out on her husband’s family farm having a field wedding. At the reception, I sat on my oldest brother’s lap, happily eating a big spoon full of icing off of the wedding cake. I was blissfully unaware of what was about to happen. My brother said, “you know you’re getting pretty fat.” I don’t remember what I said but I remember him slapping the spoonful of icing out of my hand. He looked so angry. I felt so stupid, ashamed for eating that horrible treat and being happy about it. I ran into the house crying and had no idea that this would be the first of many times I would feel this shame and sadness over my body or relationship with food.
We moved to Florida right after the wedding. My mom and I drove there from Ohio. It was a lonely time. I felt like my whole family was gone. Robin was married and gone; I’m not sure where Tami was; Bobby stayed in Ohio with my dad and, well, my Dad, yeah he was well and truly gone. It was clear I was not a priority for him. He had someone new to love, and it wasn’t us. Florida was hot, and I didn’t have any friends. I played a lot with my niece Shawn who is 5 yrs younger than me, but I always felt anxious being at her house with my older brother. Yes, the spoon of icing slapping brother, a real peach. He drank a lot. My mom had to work, and she was trying to find her way in this new environment.
Our TV became my friend. It was cool inside on the couch, and my new friend talked to me, made me smile, and took me away from the new life we had. I was a couch potato, eating frozen pizza, hotdogs with cheese melted on them, candy that I rode my bike to 7-11 to get, and any snack food that was lying around. I was like any other kid who liked to snack and watch TV. It didn’t have a good effect on me, though. I was at that age between 10 and 12, where you gain a bit before you reach puberty, and I was; as a result, a chubby girl, just as my brother had said. My mom struggled to find me clothes that fit at Sears, Kmart, and sometimes Goodwill. I wished I could squeeze into the thin girl sizes. But they never quite fit my shape. When I got to Gulfview Middle School, I wanted so badly to wear Levi corduroys, Calvin Klein, Gloria Vanderbilt, or Jordache jeans as all the popular girls did, but they weren’t in our budget, and they didn’t fit me. Every young girl wanted to look like Brooke Shields in her jeans on the pages of Teen Magazine or extensive billboard campaigns, just teasing us with the flirtatious line: “Do you know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.”
A critical moment that scarred me was when a couple of football-playing boys in middle school called me p-p-p-porky repeatedly. I was ashamed again. I felt ugly and less than the skinny girls. Anyone would. Enough was going on at home that made me feel bad without having to deal with this too. I had found my singing voice by this time, and the band and choir teachers made me their pet project. They allowed me to use the practice rooms during lunch, and there I would sit quietly, alone at the piano keyboard, and eat my liver worst with mustard (not the most popular kids lunch) or PB&J sandwich. I was scared of the world inside the lunchroom and even more afraid of the courtyard where everyone gossiped or played when they were done eating.
At one point, I had made a friend, a good friend. She, too, was a chubby, loving girl. She talked me into eating with her and her friends in the lunchroom, and I did. It was so exciting having this newfound confidence and the feeling of belonging to her friend group. She had one friend, in particular, Renee, who was a small girl, shy and soft-spoken. These two girls made me feel like I belonged for the first time. And then one day, my pudgy fellow friend didn’t come to school. Renee showed up, distressed, quiet, and without her sidekick. She was hurting inside because Jurine had tragically died. She had been sitting on the easement grass near her house playing, and a drunk man ran her over. It was a hit and run. They say he didn’t stop because he thought he had hit trash cans. Our friend was dead, and our hearts were so heavy. I couldn’t cope with the loss and talked less and less to Renee. I went back to the practice rooms. Music teachers and music remained my friends. I ate my food there in peace and didn’t feel ashamed because there was no one to mock or judge me. I didn’t mention this to anyone at home.
I have told my girls about this sad and shame-filled time in my life. I told them a story about some football players sticking me on top of the school lockers, just outside the gym. The buses were lining up on the backfield loop, and everyone was leaving. I didn’t have a bus to catch because I could walk home. We lived on 7th street near the school in apartments that NCH owned. If you were an employee there, you could live in the apartments with a discounted monthly rent. My mom was a bookkeeper at NCH, so we qualified. Anyway, I remember making light of being put on top of the lockers to minimize the shame, but I honestly was afraid to climb down. It seemed so high off the ground. I lay up there helpless as kids walked by laughing on their way off Campus. The halls emptied. It got quiet and time ticked by. We didn’t have cell phones back then, so I couldn’t send a text to my mom or sisters saying, “Hey! I’m at the school stuck on top of a locker; save me!!! No, I just laid there and looked at the ceiling in defeat. P-p-p-porky played over and over in my ears. And then I heard a voice. Coach Stevenson was locking up the gym. He lived in our apartment building. I thought, miracle of all miracles!!! He said, “Hey, who is that on top of that locker? Climb down from there”! I said, “it’s me, coach, Jeri Moore, I’m stuck”! He couldn’t believe his eyes and seemed pretty compassionate as I told him my story while he helped me down. I rode with him to our apartment building. I knew his girls; they were my age. He seemed to be a good dad, and he had just recently divorced. He had struggles too. I knew this because I heard those good old gossipy Naples moms talking. My mom would be getting off work soon, and I just wanted to get home.
I wouldn’t say I liked school. And for the years after my dad had left, home felt like shaky ground. Nothing was secure, people’s emotions and actions felt unpredictable, and there were times I didn’t feel safe there either. But the TV would always have the same shows at the same time each day and night, and even if no one came home, I could count on my favorite TV friends to be there, along with the frozen pizza or hot dogs from the fridge. They were always there to give me a feeling of comfort and warmth. I would settle in and skip my homework. In fact, for many years, I didn’t even bring my school books home. I felt it didn’t matter if I got bad or good grades. My sister Tami was the only person who asked about my report card anyway. She’s the only one who would scold me about my grades and make me question my ability to learn or have common sense. Besides that, it was pretty safe to say I could settle In front of the TV, and there would be no threat of being pulled out of my safe, comfortable world of imagination (unless I had a voice lesson or performance). Everyone had their own lives to concentrate on.
In the fall of 2017-2018, our youngest girl, Zoë started 6th grade at Gulfview. She was so excited to be attending her mom’s school. On the night of the open house, she had so many cool things to show me, but there was one crucial thing that she wanted to share. Remembering my story about being put on top of the lockers there, she pulled me to the hallway where her locker was and said, “Mum, look, they made the tops of the lockers slanted so no one can put anything on top of them.” I said, “that is wonderful, Zoë.,” She replied, “don’t you remember what happened to you”? Of course, I remember it. Tiny scars fade, but they rarely, completely disappear and are forgotten. Then she said, “yes, well I guess they can’t do that anymore.” In her mind, it was a small victory. I am sure there were several reasons for putting a slant on top of the lockers. To us this an excellent feature to add. I remember those days and those kids and and have forgiven them. I even look back and chuckle to myself about how stupid it all was, yet i still feel a slight hint of sadness for that awkward middle school girl.
Written by Jeri Moore Brunton