I was a fat kid. I ranked third in my high school graduating class, was president of the honor society, editor of the school newspaper, first-chair in the band, and a DAR good citizen, but I was still fat. And some folks just never let me forget it.
It doesn’t take much to stir up my fat-kid memories: A young girl at the mall with her hair pulled back in a high pony tail, accompanied by a friend or sibling thin enough to hide inside her shadow. A boy sitting on the sideline at the basketball game because he just couldn’t run fast enough to be on the team. The chubby little kid at McDonald’s with a Happy Meal box swinging from his hand. The teen who sits alone in the high school cafeteria and who avoids eye contact by staying focused no higher than the edge of her lunch tray. When my fat-kid memories surface, I am no longer a forty-eight year-old adult; I am back in high school, unsuccessfully hiding behind the narrow door of a green locker. I am back in fat-kid hell.
I remember a girl in my graduating class who was more than a little overweight. Although we were in the same high school for four years, we never had a class together for one reason or another, and I never really got to know her. What I can’t forget, however, is that the poor girl couldn’t walk down the hall without being called lard-ass. Every school day must have been absolutely dreadful for her. When I think about the degree of pain and the relentless state of humiliation she must have endured, I feel ashamed for allowing ten extra pounds to make me feel victimized. I am also ashamed to admit that I cannot recall her real name although I do remember the name and face of every person who occasionally teased me with a silly name or comment. It is even harder to confess that when I stood close to her, I felt less overweight and lucky that I was just a fat kid, and not a lard-ass.
Chubby kids get teased and called names like fatso and fatty by their schoolmates, but overweight teens are tortured with cruel jokes, social rejection, and are the most visible target for others who can only feel good about themselves by ambushing someone else. And that’s not all: At home, where overweight children and teens should feel safe from ridicule, love shouldn’t ever be measured by pounds or dress size. One can recover from teasing; but I’m not so sure anyone can fully recover from the deep wounds of those we should have been able to trust. I was loved as a teen, but I felt more loved the less I weighed.
I am not fat today, although I weigh exactly the same as I did the day I graduated from high school. The only time I’ve weighed more was when I was pregnant and nursing. As time has given me the confidence that I really wasn’t that overweight by medical standards, I have come to make peace with my flesh. Although I do diet from time to time, making peace with the fat-kid memories is a different matter altogether because there are some things you just can’t lose no matter how hard you try.