I meant, probably around when it first came out, to talk about the This American Life episode about fat. I don’t know what else was going on at the time, the usual, I’m sure. Double job fuckery, having just returned a few weeks ago from burying my grandfather, from burying a certain Camelot that had existed both in reality and in my mind since childhood, and, I think, the sudden and hardcore romantic interest of someone online.
I felt wild about it then, but it felt like this, forgive the horrible and discomfiting pun, huge box to unpack. An undertaking to relate to these women who had opened their souls up to the whole world and within their souls is much that mine finds as kindred. I wasn’t up to it and slowly, other posts took its place.
We were talking today after we celebrated my father’s birthday. We talked about NPR and Serial and briefly about podcasts that the majority of which I hadn’t paid attention to. We talked about Peaky Blinders and I made my pitch they should watch that.
I wanted to say as part of this flow of conversation – had you heard this particular episode? This Tell Me I’m Fat episode which was something I felt charged about, felt ready to talk about. My mother, my mother taking cancer medicine, my mother whom I adore, had earlier mentioned that she needed to lose five pounds. That she wouldn’t feel okay until she lost five pounds.
Nobody looked at me. Nobody didn’t look at me. Nobody shook their index finger at me. It occurs to me that nobody had to. The message was so ready in my mind – I’d spent the day not eating anything, there wasn’t time, there wasn’t anything in the cupboards, and I wanted and it had made me the definition of hangry. Worried about money and all out of whack, we had to run errands before I got food and ended up with a big burrito at nearly 4pm. A choice made to just make all of the hyperactive pissant thoughts in my head stop in their tracks. Ravenous, I ate until I felt sick and gross. Then, as though on a conveyor belt, my father’s birthday supper arrived at five. Homemade spaghetti with garlic toast and wine. A meal that is enshrined in my head as soothing, homey, wifely…real kitchen witchery.
I tried to explain how the garlic toast was my version of a madeleine – tried to explain Proust. My mother nodded at my ramble and changed the subject. Suddenly, it transported me into wave after wave of memory. Joy, family cohesion, a time of weightless and worry-free childhood.
We watched the ballgame. I felt waves of effusive agape in equal measure to the frustration I’d felt before.
Then, we had cake. A big yellow Betty Crocker cake with cream cheese frosting and optional toasted coconut. My sister’s boyfriend who does not care for desserts made one of those quasi-innocuous comments that I every so often wonder how exactly quasi they are meant – about how every time lately that we’re over there there seems to be cake. Well, we said, swallowing another bite of the treacly frosting, there’s been a lot of birthdays lately. For my part, I felt a fair amount of shame, sitting there, no makeup, nearly relaxed, nearly out of reach of my internal monologue and whammo, oh, you girls and your eating again.
I wanted to have the conversation with everyone about being okay and being seen and being registered as I am in this moment and being connected when I felt so loving and caring towards everyone. That dissipated out of my hands.
But listening to it again now, I know I wouldn’t have liked the path the conversation would take. No matter at what point. I wanted to offer a tool for greater understanding of me. Me, a zaftig person, or an overweight person, or a cute little pudgy darling, or a fat. person. and how maybe I was trying to be okay with myself…mentally, right now. I was trying to say, think about me, hah, doing something so crazy, wow, as to just live.
When Lindy says, for the most part, she doesn’t see her fatness as likely to change. That for the most part, fat people’s fatness doesn’t change no matter how valiantly they war against it. That after holding space for that question to even exist…she’s struggled and struggled and eventually, somehow, found the place where she’s okay with that.
It blew me away. It felt like such an epic question to me.
When Elna Baker explains how the thin and fat versions of herself are in this conversation of worthiness and fear and pedaling as fast as you possibly can to keep these two versions of self separated despite how they long for one another…that’s something I want to share. The profound nature of Roxane Gay finding herself outside these constructed barriers of fat levels that can use societal tools to subvert societal messages. This idea of working as hard as you can to better yourself and if your body doesn’t hit a mark, you don’t make it. You don’t get the gold medal. You don’t get on the podium. You don’t get some guy to hang out with you and complain about the type of TV you watch behind your back.
Sitting there, though, I didn’t want this to be taboo. I want it to be a shit that could be shot. Even as I think about dieting and weight loss for my own physical comfort, my own air in my own lungs, my own clothes on my own body…I want to say, hey, whatever you think of me…it could be okay if I knew what it was. Even as I contemplate what it means in this singles group if a guy talks about liking heavier girls?
Do I feel…appreciative of that, relieved, amused, disappointed, encouraged? If you knew someone would look at you and want you, and they’re alright in your mind, do you go and chat them up? Yes, the universe leans in and hollers, YES. But for me, I feel profoundly less able to go towards someone who is moving towards me. I feel as though there’s that finger wagging I’ve been looking for.
And maybe that’s my problem.
I have needs in this world. And being so bold as to breathe them out loud, to say, hey, I want happiness and I want it the way I want it and the way I want it is evolving every day in my own mind and I’ll let you know when we’re getting closer so long as you do the same…that seems like progress.
And if me saying something out loud complicates someone else’s reality, well…good. It probably needed saying.