There was a post the other day on Shapely Prose, a kickass fat acceptance blog, that included a heart-breaking letter from a 13-year-old girl who was considering suicide because of pressure from her classmates and her family. As of this writing there are over 150 responses, the majority of which seek to reassure the girl of how it all gets better because thirteen sucks so heartily for everyone.
The letter caused a lot of upset, sending almost all readers back into the depths of their own pasts to recall being thirteen.
For anyone who has been fat, heavy, plump, etc., their whole life, thirteen was likely a pretty shitty year. I know it was for me. I wasn’t actually the heaviest kid in my class, but as the other heavy kids were athletic in some way, and appeared on the surface to have a higher sense of self-esteem, I was the lucky pariah of the class who got picked on. Constantly.
Add to the fat a pair of ugly glasses (because I was apparently too young to wear contact lenses), and the futile attempts to perm my poker-straight hair, and it’s easy to figure out why I hate having my photo taken – to this day. And why the kids teased me.
I was under pressure from family members and a PE teacher (who was friends with my father and who reported back on my lack of progress in gym class) to lose weight, so there was no familial support system I could turn to when the other kids harassed me. Teachers were no help either.
I don’t know if thirteen was the point where something broke in my brain and made me want to deviate from the status quo, or if there was always a grain of “weird” deep down inside me, but the overwhelming desire to fit in kind of backfired.
I spent that summer babysitting my little brother. And it was boring. I spent the summers completely cut off from the kids at school, which was, in many ways, a blessing. To alleviate this boredom, my brother and I would get on a bus and go into downtown Halifax to explore museums, libraries and parks. Little brother also got dragged into vintage clothing shops, indie record shops, and although I never had the guts to go in there at that point, we would stand across the street and watch the mohawked punks going in and out of Backstreet Amusements, which was to become such an important part of the rest of my youth, and to a lesser extent, little brother’s as well.
My friend Sharon, who I came to know through Backstreets, related her own issues of teenage angst to me once, and I’ve carried it with me for 20 years. “If they want to call me ugly, I’ll show them ugly,” she once said, describing her own torture and insecurity at not fitting in with the cool kids, and explaining her fascination with the styles of the punk/alternative scene of the early 80s.
Looking weird and embracing the underground music scene of the time allowed the lot of misfits who found their way to Backstreets to flip the bird at the status quo, and the way we were all “supposed” to look and be. Yeah, the place had drama – it was full of people who were emotionally wounded – but it was also accepting. I never once witnessed anyone be dissed for how they looked. Fat, skinny, brown, white (like translucent, yo), we were all freaks, and had a camaraderie because of it. I wonder now how many of us that place saved.
Obviously, “go be punk” is not reasonable advice to give a confused 13-year-old kid, who, by their own admission, just wants to fit in. She’s got to NOT want to fit in to make her remaining teenage years enjoyable. Once she realizes that the status quo followers are not worth the effort, that they’ll grow up to be plain and boring and conservative and fucking tedious, only then can she embrace the potential she has inside her. Hopefully she’ll come to realize that being fat – and unique – is more interesting than being normal.
Loving the body you’re given isn’t easy. Society constantly tells fat people (especially fat women) that they should be thin to be considered pretty… or popular. But I truly don’t want to be thin. I know that probably shocks people. Scares them maybe. But being fat is part of what makes me unique. It gives me a sense of presence. It makes me strong. It makes people pay attention to me. And while it might start out as bad attention, the person foolish enough to fuck with me and harass me because of the way I look soon learns the meaning of ferocious.
And being fat doesn’t mean being ugly. At an event the other night, another woman came up to me and complimented me on how great I looked in my retro polka dot dress and sparkly glasses. (Incidentally, fuck, I wish women would compliment each other more. Not just friends, but strangers. We all like knowing that we look good. Getting a friendly polite compliment from a stranger can be a great thrill!) My friend Sharon went on to become a famous burlesque dancer, and is making fantastic progress in showing the world that fat chicks can be smokin’ hot. Other fat women have become role models; singer Beth Ditto, actress Joy Nash, to name but two (although there needs to be many, many more).
Being fat also doesn’t mean not being successful or living a fabulous, interesting life. If I hadn’t been pushed away by the normal, popular kids because I was “a fat loser”, I’d have never lived the awesome life I’ve had so far. I’d probably have stayed in Halifax, working at a boring office job, living in a house in the suburbs. Instead, I got to run a record label, cook for rock stars, run my own design company and now write about food as a career. I’ve got a fantastic husband who loves and respects me and supports me in all of the creative pursuits I seek out.
I don’t know that little 13-year-old girl. I’ll never meet her. Probably none of us will know if she takes any of the myriad advice she’s received to heart. I hope she finds some strength inside of herself that gives her the courage to say “fuck all y’all” to the people who are bringing her down and making her hate herself. I hope she finds an outlet for some other interests where she can fit in and people can see that she’s a good interesting person regardless of her size. I hope she kicks it out and goes on to do some fabulous thing with her life that makes the assholes who tease her seethe with envy.
Thirteen is indeed, a shitty, shitty year for most people. Moreso if you don’t fit it. It was horrible, painful, lonely, scary and fucked up. But it made me the person I am today, so I have to look back at thirteen now and declare that I wouldn’t change a thing about it. That which doesn’t kill me can only make me stronger. Fuck you, thirteen, and fuck all you shithead asswipes who made my life hell. Who’s having the last laugh now, fuckers?