A Fat Girl's Self-Awareness

Heather McCartney

© Copyright 2003 by Heather McCartney


Photo of a puffer fish (c) 2003 by Richard Loller.

There is a fat girl in every school. If there is not a fat girl at your school, you must live in Ethiopia and be a group of highly undernourished students, because the news has made it quite clear how rampant obesity is these days. The fat girl is another one of those stereotypical staples to be seen everywhere. She’s right up there with Miss Popularity, the guy who wore all black, and the kid who ate paste. A necessity in the American public school system.

I was that fat girl.

I began packin’ on the pounds around middle school. This is what my parents politely referred to as baby fat. “It’ll go away after puberty,” I was assured after they made me stop wearing my Aladdin bikini. It is during these years, when a surprising creativity spurted up among my eleven year old classmates. Apparently, boys pop out with the ingrained knowledge necessary to make any child’s name into something insulting. This usually works best with chubby children. For instance, the numerous adjectives describing obesity gave these boys the fuel to blacken any name. Portly. Chunky. Heavy. Plump. Overweight. Broad. Stout. Round. Fleshy. The list goes on. Little boys who didn’t even know the grammatical functions they were using, made alliterations and rhymes for fat kid nicknames. Shamu Sheila. Tubby Tommy. Fatty Kathy. I was cleverly nicknamed Heifer. Join this with my last name (which they simply substituted one letter for another) and I became Heifer McFartney.

What a joyous time adolescence was.

When faced with hurtful insults like these, you are given two choices—despite what your parents claim. You can either let them continue to hurt you (because ignoring them will not make it stop), or you can hurt them before they can hurt you (cue evil genius laugh). In order to chose the latter, you must possess a few inherent skills to succeed rather than appearing stupid. 1. You have to be cleverer than your attackers. Being one step ahead of these kids is absolutely necessary. Nothing shuts a kid up like a sharp and painful retort. 2. You must be able to hurt their feelings, and be okay with it.

It’s a sad fact, but kids insult other kids to make themselves feel good. And if someone knows that the fat kid will insult back, they’re not going to risk their self-esteem for a single jab—thus drastically lowering the insults the clever fat kid receives. Heifer McFartney was no more.

With this new found skill I acquired to defend myself against insults, I also began to realize that I could make people laugh. If I put down the new kid’s bright orange hair, I made the class laugh, and this felt good. I soon fell into the trap of my initial instigators.

Now that I look back at my adolescence, I was a twelve year old bitch. I made people’s lives miserable. Little did I know, every time I made fun of the pimple-faced girl; she cried. I went through middle-school thinking I had friends. I didn’t. My best friend hated me. Kids were afraid of what I’d say about them. I wasn’t even aware of it, until my best friend admitted she hated me.

But why would anyone hate me? I was funny.

“Because you made fun of me all the time,” she accused, shocking me speechless—an affliction I rarely suffer from.

“Krista, you wore a shirt made out of carpet. We both know you cut it straight from the floor,” I told her with a laugh, expecting one in return.

“You see, right there. Don’t you see things like that hurt people?”

No. No, I didn’t. It hadn’t ever occurred to me that I hurt people. The fat girl—of all people—didn’t know how badly it hurt when she made fun of others.

I had this gift. The gift of sarcasm, wit, and cynicism all wrapped up in my head. And I didn’t know how to put it to good use.

With this dilemma on my hands, a new defense mechanism was born. Rather than insult other people, I began insulting myself. I knew that “f” word was in the air. Fat. People were thinking it. I was thinking it. So whenever the opportunity arose, I made sure that I made that insulting remark before someone else did.

I remember particularly one day when the reign of “Is that a Fat Joke” humor began. For some irrelevant reason, my favorite English teacher had us raising our hands. She was my favorite teacher because she and I shared the sharp wit, sarcasm, and cynicism I mentioned before. She was quick with words, and I hoped that some day I could insult teenagers with the skill and precision she does day to day. “Where’s Olivia?” she asked, as she searched the room for the girl behind me. After Olivia announced her location at the desk in the rear of me, the aforementioned teacher stated that she did not see her behind me. I smiled and asked, “Is that a fat joke?”

I had never seen her at a loss for words, but the verbally proficient teacher that I had admired for her ability to ridicule and embarrass, actually stuttered. As most of the class laughed, she assured me that wasn’t the case—in words that I can’t even remember.

“Is that a fat joke?” Usually those five words would leave many people speechless. It’s true that most people don’t want to acknowledge the obvious. They look at you, and in their heads, they know you’re fat. But when it comes down to crunch time, there is nothing you can do to get them to admit that. Even as a reader, you have to admit that if your local fat girl asked you a direct question: “Am I fat?” It is human nature to spare their feelings, and say no. How ridiculous a notion is this? Obviously fat people are aware of their portly figures. If they can’t realize their own obesity, then they have issues that sugarcoating your response isn’t going to help.

Being fat isn’t a crime. A health risk, yes, but not a crime. From one fat girl to the world, I’ve decided that I like who I am. I’m confident that I’m a wonderful person with a good heart and a brilliant mind and a fat body. There are worse things than being fat. Like being blind, for example.

Heather McCartney is a freshman writing major at Susquehanna University, a small liberal arts school in Pennsylvania. Her interests usually lean more toward fiction. But in this case, the issue felt close to her heart, and she broadened her horizons into the non-fiction world.

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