I am a woman, a mother, a teacher. I am a compassionate person, an intelligent person, a vibrant and funny person. But most importantly--to everyone else, at least--I am a fat person. This is the lens that colors everything else about me, that skews all other accomplishments and joy in my life, and that deepens the bitterness and sorrow in my life. My children don't love me less because I'm fat; my husband doesn't love me less because I'm fat; my students don't learn less from me because I'm fat. And yet--somehow--my attributes become drawbacks because I'm fat. People say, "it's too bad...she's got a pretty face," because a pretty face is wasted on this body. People say, "she's smart, but..." clearly expressing regret that intelligence was wasted on this body as well. In the end, nothing else matters: everything comes down to the extent to which my body meets--or, to be more precise, fails to meet--social expectations of beauty.
How can I help but internalize the way others see me? I walk around with hunched shoulders, afraid that good posture will only serve to emphasize my excess weight. I apologize constantly, even if I've done nothing wrong; even, in fact, if the wrong has been done to me. Sorry you bumped into me--I am fat, so I am clearly wrong. I was clearly in the way. I don't have a space to occupy for which I do not have to apologize. I shouldn't be here. Even when I am not apologizing, my tone is such that everyone thinks that I am--when I explain to my students why we are doing a difficult assignment, they tell me "it's okay," as if I have asked for their forgiveness. I am always the object of pity because I am always first an object of disgust.
Shame keeps me from leaving the house. From making new friends. From buying nice clothes. Shame makes me avoid mirrors at all costs. Shame keeps me from being wholly human. And yet there is no way to be myself without being myself in this culture, a culture which sees me as an example of excess, of a failure of self-control, a woman not to be--a woman who makes other women feel good about themselves.
There is, however, enough shame to go around. As a culture we have, not surprisingly, taken the easy way out. I am marked by my weight as out of control, as someone who cannot exercise restraint. My method of coping with stress--ironically, including the stress of self-hatred--is to eat. How do others deal with their stress? Drinking a little too much? Being a little too unkind to their children? Being underhanded and cruel to others who might consider them friends? Buying everything they can to prove how good they are? My weakness can be seen on my body, but it does not make me weaker than anyone else. It just gives everyone else an excuse not to work on their own weakness, to hide it from themselves because it is so easily hidden from everyone else. There is enough shame for them, too.