I was always considered pretty, “for a chubby girl”. I didn’t really know what that meant. I knew I was happy and smart and popular. I excelled in school. I always had friends. Then when I was 6, everything changed.
I remember this day as clear as a bell. I was at recess and near the merry-go round. As I approached a group of kids, one turned around to see why the laughter stopped and then he said, “There she is. Heeeey, Fat Mama Pig!” And the other kids burst into laughter. And, it was then that I realized some things. 1. They were laughing at me. 2. They were laughing at me because he called me Fat Mama Pig. 3. Being fat was not ok. 4. I was devastated.
The realization that fat wasn’t ok made me develop my comic chops. If I was going to be fat, I had to have an angle. Up until 10, my angle was that I was funny. My teachers loved me. My friends thought I was a riot. My parents couldn’t be more proud of me. And, I almost forgot that I was fat. Until someone would remind me.
By the time I was about 12, I’d emerged as quite the social butterfly. I was eloquent and articulate. My teachers chose me to do public speaking. At church, I was always the spokesperson for my age group. I realized that funny and great public speaking skills were phenomenal. Looking back, I wonder if these things would have naturally emerged or was it just a defense mechanism. When I read Alice Walkers, biography, that’s when I started asking myself this. In her biography, her injury caused her to retreat. My humiliation caused me to seek out other areas of validation when pretty had a qualifier.
In high school, I was the still the girl with the ‘pretty face’. I had tons of male friends and a façade of very high self-esteem and self-awareness. Yes, I was big. However, I wasn’t going to let that dictate my life. That’s what I told people. Truth of the matter is, it dictated almost every waking moment of my life. My thoughts toward myself would have been considered abusive if they came from someone else. I beat myself up. I dreamed of a life where fat wasn’t a part of my description. Even though my fatness bothered me, I never once chose to diet. Exercise was as near to an expletive as you could get. Now that funny and well-spoken had taken me places that fat did not, a new validator emerged; clothes and quirkiness
At about 16, I decided that if I was going to be fat, I was going to be fabulous doing it. Every dollar I earned went one of three places: clothes for my body, shoes for my feet, expensive handbags for my arm. Finally, this is it! I’m admired for me. I’ve shed the qualifiers, I thought. Until, a handsome boy I’d had my eye on said the dreaded words. “Wow, you dress really nice for a big girl!”. Are you kidding me? Still, we’re on this. There was just no getting away from it. Everything I did, the validation/compliment was always, “for a big girl”. I suppose at this point, I could have just retreated into the background. Instead, as a sassy young woman in Chocolate City, I came to grips (somewhat) that ‘dammit, I’m fat and that’s that’. I never had a shortage of potential suitors and boyfriends. My fake self-confidence said something that was contrary to what the media tells us. So many guys tell me that they’re drawn to that.
At 17, I started dating a childhood friend. He loved my body. He told me often how beautiful I was. This was different though. Not once did he ever say, ‘for a big girl’. I was just beautiful. I loved him for that. I stopped having to be the prettiest big girl, the best-dressed big girl, the smartest big girl, the most outgoing big girl or the most articulate big girl’. I was just beautiful. And, he made me feel like it wasn’t just my outer appearance that made me pretty.
I decided to run for Homecoming Court that year. My best friend told me she thought I was Court material, but I wouldn’t win because I was big. Against her advice, I ran anyway. And, I won. She was shocked. I told her and everyone else that I wasn’t. On the inside, I couldn’t believe it. I was in the Homecoming Court, but did not ultimately become the Queen. I told myself it was because I was fat. As a matter of fact, almost everything negative in my life, up to that point was blamed on the fact that I was fat. That had to be the only rational reason. Right?
It is the fall of 1992. I am now a student at Tuskegee University in Alabama, in the south where thick girls are celebrated. I am still dating my high school boyfriend. I meet a guy. He nicknames me “Stacks”, as in stacked like a brick house. He compliments on my body all the time. He is never ashamed to be seen in public with me. I tell him that I am not looking for anything major. I have a boyfriend up north. I am only looking for friendship. One night after hanging out with me for about a month, he starts getting aggressive with me. He is trying to pressure me into kissing and sex. At first, he’s complimenting me left and right. Then he’s reminding me of all the things that he has done for me. I really do like him, however I am not promiscuous and am not interested in a physical relationship. I have never been with another guy other than my high school boyfriend. He is growing angrier and angrier and then he says, “You fat bitch. You think that I was doing all this stuff for nothing. You know what it is. You didn’t really think I just wanted to be friends with your fat ass, did you?” Instantly, I am 6 and I’m back on that playground and I am devastated. For the next 2 years that I’m at Tuskegee, I do not socialize much, even though I met several great guys. I am never again opening my heart to a man even for friendship for him to turn around and call me Fat Mama Pig.
1994, I move back to the DC area. My high school boyfriend and I have still been dating. We are ready to make things more permanent and more official. I genuinely love him. But, I don’t trust that he’s not going to use my fatness against me. I make him prove his love to me over and over and over and over again. The difference is now; I am not just curvy or voluptuous. I am rapidly gaining weight. And I am waiting on him to be done with me. I am doing all these things while still walking around appearing like I have it all together. I am the go-to chic for all types of advice. People see that I’ve got it going on and they want a piece of it.
2006, I am now married. I have been married for 10 years to an amazing man. He never mentions my weight. He tells me I am beautiful. He touches me. He loves me. And, I HATE me. He never once calls me fat. It is almost as if, he does not notice it. That can’t be possible. I love him for this. But, I also resent him for this. How can a man raised in America with images of beauty thrown in his face every day honestly think I am beautiful? I don’t even think I am beautiful. He reminds me of when he first met me, at 14. And then, when he started dating me at 17. Over the course of our relationship, I have gained over 130 lbs. Yet he says “you’re just as beautiful now as you were then”. I think, ‘clearly, this man has lost his mind’.
2009, I cannot take it anymore. I am lying to myself. I am lying to the world. I talk to my doctor about lap band surgery. She is not that crazy about the idea. She challenges me to lose 50 lbs. on my own. I do and then decide surgery is not for me. I am now a successful woman. I am a mentor to girls. I am an encourager of my friends. But, I am still fat. Slowly, but surely, I am starting to become ok with that.
2014, I am turning 40. I am comfortable (mostly) in my fat skin. Sometimes, I dream of skinny. But now, those dreams are few and far between. Mostly, I see this beautiful woman that I have become. Fat is a part of me. But, it’s no longer ME. When people qualify me now, ‘for a big girl’, I just think that it is ignorance on their part. I sometimes worry about health and life expectancy. I am proud of the now 70+ lbs. that I have lost and kept off. On a whim, I enter an online modeling contest to be the face of a website for the month of December. I become the face of 2014. The comments are things like “gorgeous”, “stunning”, “so confident”….and not one ends with ‘for a big girl’. And, I honestly believe it. And accept it. I am no longer Fat Mama Pig. I am LaTrelle. I am beautiful. Not for a big girl. Beautiful. Period.