Personal Essays

An Excerpt from:

 Fat Body, Lost Soul:
A Journey of Personal Discovery

by Dixie L. King

I am fat.

This isn’t a case of thinking I am fat when I’m not, the scourge of many American women. I have been fat to one degree or another for most of my life. And I haven’t always been just a little bit fat; for over twenty years, I was morbidly obese. My top weight was 313 pounds.

Probably, only the use of the past tense—the “was”—in that last sentence is what allows you to keep reading.

People read the words, “I am fat,” and they push aside the story in the same way they push away their discomfort when they look at someone obese, or look in the mirror and see themselves as obese. They will do it with distaste, or disdain, or judgment. If they are very insecure, very immature, or with little sense of their own empowerment, or if they are in the full blaze of youthful beauty and haven’t yet realized it isn’t theirs to keep, they will do it with a giggle, a catcall, or a rude joke.

You don’t buy credibility, and you don’t sell books, by writing, “I am fat.”

You buy credibility and you sell books by writing the words, “I once was fat. I know the pain, the discouragement, the hopelessness of being trapped inside a fat body. I, too, have dieted, binged and purged, and stretched the limits of the women’s sizes at Macy’s. I’m here today to tell you there is hope.”

That is what you write if you want to be a credible voice in the wilderness of female desperation.

What you don’t write is: I am fat.

I have been fat to one degree or another for about fifty-six of the last fifty-nine years of my existence.

I now compound my wrongdoing by mentioning age. And what an age to mention! Fifty-nine is not a looking-forward-with-hope age, or a “thank God I’m doing something about it now” age, or a “the best years of my life are still ahead” age. In our society, fifty-nine is, kindly speaking, the age of the senior citizen. It is the age of the crone. It is the age in which the amount of Botox it takes to appear young and vibrant is enough to poison a pachyderm. It is the age when even if you do something about the fat, you don’t make yourself more marketable. It is the age when you finally come to grips with the realities of gravity and decay. Or you don’t, and render yourself even more pathetic. Add fat to the mix, and the concoction is lethal.

Just as being fat breaks the rules, so does talking about it—especially if you aren’t talking about it as a state of transition. Fat is only acceptable if you have left it or are in the middle of divorcing it, just as getting older is acceptable only if you find creative and believable ways to deny it.

I am fat and mostly always have been. I didn’t deal with this state, this fate, in the way many “women of size,” as they euphemistically call us, deal with it. I didn’t hide inside a marriage or a low-profile job. I didn’t keep my head down, my eyes lowered, as I passed people on the street or in the grocery store. I didn’t restrict myself to my home or refuse to fly on planes. I didn’t do those things because I’m innately defiant and a pretty good actress. So instead, I pursued my education, and became an anthropologist, an educator, a trainer, a researcher, a business owner and a public speaker. I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the subject of eating disorders. I do diversity training and make size a part of it. The rest of the time I passed myself off as “normal”, as though at my higher weights I didn’t notice my own struggle in theater seats. I treated with seeming kindness and compassion the idiocy of the passing car of teens who screamed insults in which the words “pig” and “elephant” tended to dominate. I laughed off the people who attended my workshops and sent me anonymous flyers about weight loss programs and bariatric surgery with tiny print at the bottom, “It changed my life. It can change yours.”

Although you might be forgiven for thinking so, I am no flag bearer for fat rights, no hero of the people of size; nor have I ever been. I do not find fat in any way a comfortable state of being. I incorporate fat into my work to get beyond the social barrier it imposes, to create a zone of comfort for myself in what would otherwise be an unbearable pillory of shame and isolation. I don’t celebrate fathood. Instead, I have brought fat, my enemy, to my table, keeping it close at hand, watching its every move so I can circumvent its destructive intent.

Trust me, it has been not a comfortable relationship.

So, understanding the rules as I do, why would I write about being fat?

Because of a dream I had of holding my own starving body. Because it is time to tear away the mask. Because I am writing for my life.


--Excerpt from a personal essay by Dixie L. King

 

 


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