I mean, I'm sure that there are people who don't like me. It wouldn't be possible to exist in the world and not have people with whom you clash. I just mean that I am not particularly aware of it, and I've never had anyone actively bully or hate on me. Which, in retrospect, is odd for a fat girl. Especially a fat girl in grade school and high school. My dad even questioned me once on it: "don't the kids tease you at school?" It was something he just assumed happened.
The closest I can recall is in Grade 5, when most of the girls had recently gone through puberty, or were in the process of changing. Everyone was jockeying for social position and as a class we were figuring out the hierarchy. There were three of us who were in that "fat girl" category, and for some reason I avoided getting a nickname that stuck, like Whale and Thunder Thighs did, and while I knew I was fat and would be picked last for sports teams, I was never excluded from party invites or sleepovers and I played with the other kids at recess. I had friends. Even in high school, I was not part of the cool crowd, but I had my group of friends. Again, no active bullying or shunning or name calling. Near the end of high school, a new girl transferred, and she tried out different groups to see where she fit. One day, she pulled me aside to whisper confidentially, "I hate to be the one to tell you this, but I thought as your friend, you should know. This guy calls you Blubber Barb." Now, this guy to whom she was referring was someone with whom I barely interacted. I think we maybe had one class together, one year. That was it. Not a friend. Not a consequence. Not something I had to hear (he never said it to my face). The incident told me much more about her than it did about me or that guy: this was not someone who was really interested in being my friend, this was someone who used hurt as social currency. When it came to friendship, I was richer than she realized, so her tactic didn't work.
And maybe that's it in a nutshell. I had friends. I had good friends, ones who saw past the fat, who weren't perfect themselves, who were smart and fun and kind. They were real. I learned how to make friends (thanks, summer camp!), to be nice, to get along, to find common ground. And kids who have friends don't get bullied. That's actually an important fact for parents and teachers to know. Everyone may get teased and picked on, but it is the kids who are isolated and have no support system who tend to get bullied in the truest sense of the term, and for whom the bullying carries a greater negative impact.
So, it begs the question, how did I end up with such a self-hating body image that it continues to affect me to this day? I don't have that easy answer to point to, that enemy number one who hurt me so bad it broke me. There was nobody who hurt me intentionally, maliciously, repeatedly. There are people by whom I got hurt, and some of those cuts run deeper because it was unintentional, because it was by people who cared about me or who I respected.
But I never had haters.
Life is not that black and white. Obesity and fat shame is not as simple as "I'm going to say something mean to you" because most of the time, it's easy to brush those attacks off. You understand that it says more about the person than it does about you. If a stranger calls me fat as an insult, I deduce that they lack creativity and imagination because - DUH - way to point out the obvious and go for the low blow. It's easy to defend yourself from the attacks you see coming.
It's the ones that you don't even realize are attacks that are the insidious ones. Fat shame is so intrinsic to social norms, we argue whether it actually exists. (It does). I internalized a lot of messages. I looked around and deduced things about myself that were not explicitly said. I saw who the pop idols were and what they looked like and figured out what was acceptable and what wasn't. I read teen magazines that told me what I should change about myself, and how to do it. I watched my mother and father and how they engaged with food and how they felt about their bodies, and I overheard comments from their friends and peers about what they were doing to change their bodies.
I may not have been teased, but I heard what my friends said about other people, and my brain concluded "if you feel that way about them, and I look like that, then you must feel the same way about me." I had a lot of male friends, boys who wanted advice or an 'in' with the girls I hung out with, so I heard a lot about what they were looking for and I learned that I wasn't it.
Messages are everywhere. We send them. We consume them. We pass them along.
It's important to acknowledge those subtle influences. Media studies teaches about advertising tactics, and even when you're aware of them, they still work! I think we focus too much on haters, on the people who make themselves the enemy because they're outwardly mean. For me, not having gone through that, it's the messages that seep into the collective social subconscious which are the far bigger threat. Fat shaming, stigmatization, unrealistic body expectations, and all of the systemic privileges that inherently go with fitting the narrow definition of being attractive.
I kind of wish I'd had some haters.
It would give me an enemy to mentally attack when I need that focus in workouts.
Someone to concentrate on, to have that "I'll show THEM" moment.
All I have is me.
Oh, my god. I'm my own hater.
Which means I'm fighting myself.
But, I'm also fighting FOR myself. There is no "them." I'm showing ME.
What's the take-away from this ramble?
- the messages we pick up as children stick with us because they are so deeply entrenched
- be careful about what you say and what you mean
- talk about and acknowledge bias by questioning everything
- life's a lot better when you have friends, so be nice to everyone you meet because "hurt" is an unstable social currency that will leave you broke in the long run
- and that includes being as nice to yourself as it does to others: don't be your own worst hater