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Facing the Fat

By Katie Sloan
In Center Block
Oct 30th, 2017

I woke up yesterday morning to a text from my girlfriend. “Um…so, my boyfriend told me I’ve gained weight, he seems concerned and I don’t know what to do with that.” My eyes were still adjusting to the bright light of my phone, and I reread the text three times to be sure I understood. I immediately felt guilt for falling asleep early the night before and leaving this now 7 hour old text unanswered. I turned to Husband, showed him the message, to which he responded, “Tell her to ask him what the real problem is.” Having struggled with my weight for my entire life, my heart went out to her. But it was more anger. This girlfriend, this firecracker, this free spirit who is still logical, this educated, sexy, toned yogi who makes exercise and movement her life, she shouldn’t be dealing with this. This was my battle, not hers.

A word on this girl, she rocks my friendship world. She’s one of those girls you wish you’d known in childhood, like you may have been cooler if you had. She has a zest for life and travel and knowledge and love. She is grateful, and kind, and giving of her time and energy, and on top of it all, she’s so sexy. She’s island sexy. She’s natural hair blowing in the wind because it can sexy. She has a body the envy of men and women alike sexy. She has an ease and grace to her movement, and a sex appeal that radiates even before she speaks with her quintessential Caribbean accent, adding a whole other layer of sophistication. I’ve seen her hold her own with pub philosopher wannabes and still mesh with those who embrace ignorance, never giving off an air of superiority. She’s humble. She’s admirable. She lights up the room. And she’s not the girl whose light you resent; you just want to bask in the warmth of her light. She’s that girl.

So reading this text, from this girl, disturbed me. I felt anger and sadness for her. Her weight should remain the least of her worries. And I was angry with her boyfriend. He’s one of the sweetest guys I know, and I felt like he let me down. I didn’t expect this from him; I was disappointed. This consumed my mind all day. I began to question the why of it all. Something I’ve come to realize and pride myself on is my ability to look through anger to consider the other viewpoint. And knowing her boyfriend, not one I know to be malicious in any way, why did he say that or think it was okay? Perhaps he thought he was helping her; perhaps he thought she would appreciate the warning; perhaps it’s his own body issues and he’s deflecting. Who knows? The point is, it’s not okay. And the repercussions can be permanent.

Being the “heavy one,” I called a fellow girlfriend of my size to see if a man had ever told her she was fat or needed to lose weight. She said no. At my heaviest, no one told me either. Ironically, it was at my smallest that I began to get comments about my weight. I dated a South African once, and it was a learning experience. About a month into our relationship, I decided to expose my legs for the first time. Now, I’m not a religious fanatic or scared to show skin, but it was winter, and he had only seen me in tights up until that point. I remember making the conscious decision to leave my legs bare; we were just going to hang around the house. As he approached me in the carport, having gone outside to greet him, he hugged me, stepped back, and playfully squeezed my inner thigh with his entire palm saying, “Baby, have you been putting on weight?” Even the South African accent couldn’t save that one. It stung. I froze, and then walked away. When I returned some thirty minutes later, he was apologetic. He got from my reaction that I was not the girl that wanted to hear it. Even though I knew it, hearing it was harder. It made it real. I couldn’t hide it in my tights anymore.

I gave him the benefit of the doubt, chalking the incident up to a cultural difference. But it was only a few months later when I realized it wasn’t a cultural thing. It was mean guy thing. We were lying on the couch, just watching TV when he casually said softly, and without shame, “Your stomach is not flat, and it turns me off.” I didn’t make a scene; I didn’t even show emotion. I just nodded. That was the switch, the flip; I broke up with him three days later. But I remember how it made me feel. I felt sexy before; I felt alive before; and those little phrases, particularly from someone I cared about and someone who saw me intimately, they almost robbed me of that. He tried to steal my self-confidence, and I hated him for it.

This is my fear for my friend. Will it steal her joy? Will it rob her of the freedom she usually feels in his presence? Will she able to eat around him without thinking he is counting calories? When he touches her will it now make her self-conscious or shy away? Will she be able to feel alive and free without scrutinizing her own body? She said now she sees him as a mirror; and this can only complicate a romantic, physical relationship.  I hope she can overcome this. She’s strong with a good sense of self. Of all my friends, she can probably handle it best, but I’m mad she has to.

Guys, it’s never okay. It shouldn’t come from you. Our romantic partner shouldn’t be our accountability partner. It messes up the system; and the rest of the relationship will inevitably suffer. Now, the South African wasn’t the guy for me, but we had a few good times together, though I rarely think of those, because they’re tainted. The negative I remember, and not so much for what he said, but how it made me feel. My partner should be my champion, not my body coach. He should kiss my imperfections, not make me ashamed. He’s supposed to love me, shelter me, be my safe haven, and anything less than that, or anything said to taint that, is superficial, and shame on the men who come in between me and my feelings about my body. Our dynamic is challenged enough. Keep the fat facts to yourself.