From Chapter Seven of my upcoming novel Fat Girl:
My week is a roller coaster. Just after I reveled in seeing my first column in print in the illustrious New York Times, I received this lovely, expertly-crafted message on the dating site: “U don’t show pics here cuz u a cow. Moooooooo.”
My cheeks were instantly engulfed in flames, glowing with red hot embarrassment. The involuntary reaction swiftly transported me back to an equally humbling event from my childhood. I was twelve years old and in the seventh grade. It was the first year that I actually became interested in the opposite sex beyond playing kiss tag on the playground at recess. It was during the week, a school night, and we were on our way to some school function, maybe a band concert? In our haste, we stopped by a local fast food establishment for dinner where I sat at a table with my parents and my sister. Across the restaurant were three teenage boys, probably a little older than me, I’m guessing eighth or ninth graders. I didn’t recognize them, which meant that they were either already in high school or they went to a different junior high than I did. In any case, through the whole meal, I caught them staring at me and smiling, joking around to each other, and then looking back at me. I sincerely thought they were flirting with me. One of them was pretty cute, so I was flattered and, yes, even a slight bit twitterpated as I wasn’t used to attracting the attention of boys.
My mother got up to take my sister to the restroom while my father scooped up all the trash onto two plastic trays and began to head off toward the receptacle when the boys approached me. They dropped a napkin face down on the table before me as they exited the restaurant. I flipped it over expecting a love note of sorts. What I saw was: “Quit staring, fattie.”
Blood pumped to my cheeks like magma preparing to explode from a volcano. I crumpled the napkin into my hand and forced myself to act normally as my family returned to the table. I remember feeling like my legs each weighed a thousand pounds as I plodded toward the door, the weight of their ridicule pressing into my lungs. At twelve years old, I was on the chunky side, but not grossly overweight. I was around 5 feet 4 inches, tall for my age, and I weighed about 150 pounds. I wore a size 12 in women’s clothes, having left girl’s sizes behind in fifth grade. That particular night, for the concert, I had squeezed into my mother’s size 10 blazer. I was feeling pretty mature and feminine as I believed the jacket nicely accentuated my developing curves. But that little spark of self-confidence had been instantaneously obliterated by three hateful words scrawled on a fast food restaurant napkin.
It wasn’t the first time that I had been publicly shamed about my weight. And I knew even then that it wouldn’t be the last. What to this day I could never understand was why or how people could be so cruel. Many kids who are bullied run to their mothers, earnestly needing the comfort and consolation that only a mother can provide when one’s intrinsic value has been attacked. But I never told my mother about any of these incidents. Sometimes the comments she made about my growing body were as hurtful as any bully’s.