Do I Look Fat in This?

My sister sent me the above photo last week. My brother has been transferring my mom’s photos to digital files and sent this one to my sister for some reason.

A little backstory on the photo: I am 14 and in my first year of high school. I am waiting for a boy named Jim to pick me up for the semi-formal Homecoming Coronation Ball, wearing an older woman’s orange cocktail dress that my mother made me buy because she did not want to pay for a semi-formal dress. I hated the orange dress and didn’t want to go to the dance wearing it. I actually ended up getting my wish because Jim never showed up. It hurt at the time, but looking back it was a blessing in disguise. I would have been miserable, and I didn’t like Jim all that much anyway.

The first thing I noticed about the picture though was how small I was, a mere slip of a girl really. I was almost as tall as I am now, but I was so slim. You couldn’t have convinced me of that back then though because I was already convinced I was fat. I was always on a diet because the message I kept getting over and over at home was that I was overweight. It started when I was in middle school, when my older brother came up with a nickname for me, “Super Oink,” to let me know he thought I looked fat. He eventually shortened it to “Super,” but the name still hurt me deeply. My parents laughed every time I brought it up and thought it was funny and told me to “get over it;” my brother was never asked nor told to let it go (my brother still calls me Super today, like it’s some endearing connection, but I refuse now to use or respond to it). The hurt was so deep at the time that I moved over to my grandmother’s home for a few months, walking to school every day and hitching rides with friends for choir practice and church on Sunday (my grandmother didn’t drive). My father got in on the weight shaming as well from time to time. For example, during the summer after my freshman year I practically starved myself and exercised daily to lose weight because I had been selected for the school’s drill team and thought I should be thinner for that. When I went to tell my parents one morning that I had reached my goal weight, my Dad’s only comment was, “Well, your legs still look heavy,” and there was no comment or rebuttal from my mother. I remember feeling crushed. By my junior year I was attending Weight Watchers meetings even though I had trouble convincing them I needed to lose weight.

When I look at that picture of my 14-year-old self now I feel angry, sad, and disappointed, just like that young girl in the picture felt that evening. I was not overweight, even by a little, but I had already been conditioned to think I was, already seeing the “fat girl” every time I looked at my reflection and constantly comparing myself to other girls I thought were thinner. I know now they weren’t.

Why did I think I was overweight? Why was I made to feel so ashamed of how I looked? That’s what makes me angry now, not just for myself but for so many women. Who did/does that serve? What did it/does it matter? What was/is the point? Back then I was a good student, read constantly, had nice friends, and earned my own money babysitting in the neighborhood. I was healthy and active. No one outside of my family seemed to care what my weight was or how I looked, so why did my family keep it up? Because of their judgements and remarks, and also because super-skinny models like Twiggy came to be seen as desirable and attractive at about the same time, I have spent most of my life obsessing about my weight and food, always asking myself if I “look fat” in something, always thinking things would be better if I was “thin,” and constantly following one diet or another and berating myself when my weight creeped up. For what?

That early conditioning has been more potent and ingrained than I ever imagined, and has stayed with me, impossible to get rid of. It has only been in the last two decades that I began to recognize and remember what had been going on and begin to change my attitude and how I see myself. I worked hard to raise my daughters differently so that they exercise and eat well for no other reason than it is healthy. I’m losing weight now for my health as well, so my joints don’t ache. I am no longer obsessed with food and I refuse to buy a scale. I accept that I will never be model thin, but again, so what? Sadly, I still stop at a mirror whenever I pass one and check to see whether I “look fat,” and I still see a fat girl most of the time, not what Brett, my children, or others see. I’m still healing, but I’m not there yet and sometimes wonder if I will ever get there. The scars of the past are deep.

42 thoughts on “Do I Look Fat in This?

  1. Beautifully written. It’s surprising how the hurts from our childhood continue to haunt us 40+ years later. It’s a reminder to all of us to be kinder with our words in present time.

    Like

    1. Yes it is surprising. As I grow older, I think about my childhood quite a bit, both the bad and the good, and the effect it has had on me, both bad and good. There is so much I would love to had disappear completely, but it is wedged into me pretty tightly and refuses to let go. The best we can do is try not to repeat the bad, and improve the good.

      Like

    1. Thank you, Cindy. I sure didn’t feel beautiful back then. I’ve been blessed with a husband though who tells me every day that I am beautiful and desireable and that has helped the healing.

      Like

  2. This reminds me so much of my childhood. I tipped the scale at 101 pounds and 5’8” at the age of 14. My mother called me fat daily despite being technically underweight. It never made sense why people at school said I was so skinny but was told to quit stuffing my fat face at home.

    Like

    1. At first I thought I was the only one going through this, and growing up I kept wondering why? Looking back, it was bizarre, especially since no one outside of my family thought I was overweight.

      I remember having friends that never were on a diet or trying to lose weight (and I was the same size!), and others that were, and I wonder now what they were possibly hearing from their families. I know now my situation was not unique. I am so sorry you had to deal with this as well.

      Like

  3. I remember my father saying “fatty, fatty two by four can’t get thru the kitchen door” even though at 10 I only weighed 69 lbs and when I went to college at 17 I was just 110 lbs. I gained weight in college and I remember going to weight watchers in my early twenty and my father used to wave food in front of my face and taunt me. No rhyme or reason to the cruelty inflicted on female children.

    Like

    1. Oh Vivian, that’s horrible! I thankfully never heard anything so overt; the digs were more subtle, or like from my dad, surprising.

      The misogyny in our family ran deep, and my mom bought into as much as anyone even though she always was telling me that I needed to have a career and never let myself be dependent on a man.

      Like

  4. I’m so sorry. I was teased as a girl (not by my parents), and my mom is exceptionally small (under 100 lbs as an adult). I always, always felt fat because she & I have very different body types. It’s interesting to see my two kids. One has my body type, the other my husbands. They process food differently & have very, very different metabolisms. It’s been a real eye opener, as I felt guilty for my entire childhood, like I’d done something differently vs my slim sister.

    You were a beautiful young lady, and that fool Jim missed out!

    Like

    1. My sister and I are basically the same height and shape (some differences), but I don’t remember her ever being on a diet or trying to lose weight until she was older (and had gained a lot of weight). She was the “pretty one” though.

      I forgave and forgot Jim long ago. In fact, I had trouble coming up with his name when I saw the picture!

      Like

  5. This makes me so sad. The sadness and disappointment show on your beautiful 14 year old face and body language. How can parents be so cruel or thoughtless?

    How were you able to rise above the criticism to become the positive person you seem to be today? How were you (and Brett) able to raise four self-confident children?

    Thank you for sharing your very personal story. I have followed your adventures for years and don’t remember anything this private. Your goal setting process and discipline to make your dreams come true are inspirational. Obviously you have a life partner who shares your dreams, goals and family values.

    ~Susan (the one who rarely comments but compared your hibiscus photos to your Japanese Kit Kat photos)

    Like

    1. I was struck as well by how sad I looked in that photo. I have no idea either whether it was taken before or after Jim didn’t show. I was a very unhappy girl though back then though.

      My grandmother was a very positive influence in my early life – she lived the saying “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it.” She had lived through and overcome deep tragedy and yet was always positive. She lived in the same city as us, and I saw her frequently. She always let me know I was loved and special – she called me her “diamond in the rough,” destined to do great things. Several of my friends’ mothers, and a neighbor also stepped up and supported me when I needed it too. I also had a wonderful therapist in my early 20s who helped me greatly – she knew my family and the dynamic of it and was able to help me deal with them. And Brett has been been my rock all these years – supportive, loving, affectionate, positive – all the things my family wasn’t (and he came from his own dysfunctional family). So, lots of help along the way, and role models for the benefits of focusing on the positive. My kids still say I whine too much about my childhood and family, but I tell them I’m still a work in progress!

      Like

  6. You were beautiful then and you are now! Society still does a number on people about weight. It’s the last acceptable prejudice. My parents did not fat-shame me, but society did; by 13 I was seriously dieting, by 14 I was anorexic. I recovered but struggled with weight my whole adult life. Only in my 60s have I been able to accept myself and my weight.

    Like

    1. Yes, weight still seems to be an acceptable prejudice, although I do think things are changing. Brett has said he has no idea why I did not develop anorexia or bulimia as I was an ideal candidate in an ideal situation.

      Like

  7. The sadness on your face in the photo is haunting. You were obviously a very slim child (not that it matters) and it’s also obvious from your writing that you were not in ownership of your body (patriarchy is a cruel machine). I’m so sorry for your suffering but also am happy for you that you beat the odds and ended up with a partner who respects you inside and out and four children who are your pride and joy. Thank you for this beautiful piece of writing and for all your heartfelt prose over the years.

    Like

    1. All of our girls said the first thing they noticed about the picture was how sad I looked. I am still trying to figure out why my family chose me for weight shaming. Misogyny certainly played a part, but there were other things going on as well that I still don’t understand.

      I was very angry and depressed for a long time, but in my early 40s I realized one evening that I was the one with the power to change things, to be more positive and not feel so angry. I had control, not my family or others, over how I saw myself and how my life progressed. That “aha moment” and becoming more assertive was life changing for me, and has made all the difference.

      Like

  8. No one ever called me fat or commented on my weight. However, I felt i was fat, horribly fat. When i graduated from hs, I was 5′ 7.5″ and weighed 110 lbs. Twenty years after I graduated hs, I noticed in my annual that my best friend was shorter and slighter. So, i suppose I compared myself to her. Even though I thought I was fat, I would have been crushed if anyone, especially in my family, said that to me. Sorry you had to go through that abuse.

    Like

    1. None of my friends ever commented on my weight; in fact, most could not figure out why I was trying to lose weight. I had one other friend that was always dieting, even back in high school, and I realize now she was probably getting the same messages I was from her family.

      It was soul crushing to have my family comment on my weight. I still wonder what was the point of it all.

      Like

    2. Everyone in my family did call me ugly or make it clear i was ugly. Finally, even my husband told me i was ugly. I cannot get past it, even now.

      Like

      1. That is so sad, Linda. I can imagine how much that hurt then and still hurts.

        Once, when I was a senior in high school, I asked my mom why I had had to learn to cook, sew, clean, etc. and my younger sister didn’t. My own mother actually said, “Your sister will get by on her good looks alone. You’ll need those skills to get a husband.” Ouch – I’ve still never forgotten that she said that.

        Like

  9. I am sorry you had to go through that. I was fat-shamed by my mother growing up. She would tell me I would be fat when I got older because I had fat calves. I was 110lbs at the time. Even when I was pregnant with my son, she would comment on how big my backside was getting. FYI I only gained 20lbs through my pregnancy. I am taller than my mother by about 6 inches so of course, I was bigger than her.

    Like

    1. My heavy legs were the focus of my family’s shaming as well, although looking at pictures back then I see that they weren’t really heavy (they are now though). And, if they were heavy, it was because of genetics, not because I was overeating. I was very active too – ran, walked, participated in sports, etc. I ended up gaining a LOT of weight in my last year of high school – a self-fulfilling prophecy.

      Like

  10. What a terrible experience to have as a young person, Laura. I am so sorry your family did this to you. And I’m happy you have a loving family that doesn’t judge you regardless of what you weigh or eat. Health is everything as we get older, and I admire you for not having a scale or focusing on weight, but on health.

    It’s just so hard in this society to not absorb the weight messages, regardless of how we actually look. I was teased for having skinny legs, etc., when I was young, but the messages I absorbed were more from teen magazines and society, I think. My group of friends had a few girls who were (actually) heavier than the rest of us, but no one made fun of them that I recall. OTOH, I have a brother who thought it was funny to call his daughter “fatso” and tease her. Her mother (my former SIL) was a tiny woman who never weighed more than 100 lbs. Sadly, my niece has been obese most of her life and she moved as far from my brother as she could. Clueless people who berate or ridicule another never seem to realize how long lived that damage is and what ongoing harm it causes to the relationship.

    Like

    1. Woman are bombarded with messages about our bodies, from our weight to the size of our breasts to our hair color – EVERYTHING. It comes from our peers, media, advertising and is non-stop. I am happy these days when I see older women and women of all sorts of different shapes, sizes, colors, and physical condition used in advertising. It makes a genuine difference.

      My heart goes out to your niece. The cruelty (which is really cruelty for cruelty’s sake, sadly) will stay with her forever. It can overshadow everything and affect relationships for the rest of your life.

      Like

  11. Great post. The same went for me as well, growing up as a teen in the late 60’s and early 70’s (I graduated HS in 1972) I always felt I was fat and ugly – mostly feed to me by the “popular mean girls” in HS. Terrible time for me.

    That is awful about the boy, Jim standing you up. But glad it wasn’t a major disappointment. Things like that sometimes can really mess a young teen girl up. You couldn’t pay me to go back to those days!

    Like

    1. One of my daughters said she thought my family’s messaging about my weight was just a part of the times. Nope – I have several friends that were the same size or larger than me that grew up in a positive, supportive environment and never developed negative body images about themselves. So it wasn’t “happening to everyone.”

      I forgave Jim a long time ago. He was only 14! I had a hard time remembering his name, to be honest, but after a day or so it came back to me.

      Like

  12. Thanks for sharing such a personal story. I think from the comments that many others share your experience. For me it was my father who fat shamed me and wanted to know why I couldn’t look like my thinner friend. (Answer: genetics, duh!) Teaching boys and girls that their bodies are instruments, not objects, and that any kind of bullying is harmful should be part of parenting. Regarding losing weight for your joints, have you ever considered that age might be a factor rather than weight? Thin people have joint issues, too, especially as they age and maybe trying to shrink one’s body has other harmful side effects. Yoga and stretching plus supplements might do the trick. A few years ago at my lowest weight I had a lot of knee pain when hiking. Since not trying to control my weight, I’m a bit heavier (I, too, tossed the scale), but doing the things that doctors advise skinny people with joint issues has really helped. We just did 5 hikes in 7 days, and my knees didn’t give me any trouble. Sometimes I think that women are too quick to resort to shrinking our bodies to solve health issues–and doctors are too quick to give that advice to anyone who doesn’t meet the societal standards.

    Like

    1. My brother used to say that our family was “dysfunctional before dysfunctional was cool” and that someone could get an entire doctoral dissertation out of just studying our family. Weight shaming was not the only thing going on. My dad was always comparing us to others and finding us lacking, no matter what we did and what we achieved. And, as I’ve said, the misogyny ran deep – my brothers were definite the favored ones.

      I have a very small frame, and when my weight climbs too high it gets uncomfortable, especially for my hips. I thankfully don’t have arthritis, but I do have bursitis, and keeping my weight down is one way of controlling the pain from that.

      I am using MyFitnessPal right now to track my eating, to watch my calories and make sure I am eating a balanced diet. I have been doing it for a couple of months now, and according to them, even with daily exercise and limited calories (1200 per day), I’m not losing any weight even though I’ve never recorded my weight. It makes me laugh now. I’ll weigh myself again when I see the doctor next year.

      Like

  13. I see a slim girl in a lovely orange dress (orange happens to be my favourite colour and I love the elegant lines of the dress), but I understand why you didn’t appreciate any of it at the time. I was a teenager when I started to feel fat at 135 pounds and 5’6″ tall. My mother was always nagging me to diet; in retrospect, she was just projecting her own insecurities on to me (an aunt of hers once told her she was dumb, so it was too bad she wasn’t at least pretty — to set the record straight, my mother was and is gorgeous, and so smart she moved from her native Germany to Canada, and did such a great job mastering a new language that she ended up teaching English in high school, so the dumb, and probably bitter and jealous, one was the aunt). My brother, who’s always weighed more than me but has always been slim because he’s much taller, has more than once lectured me on my weight, telling me I just had to be more disciplined (which I thought was rich, coming from a smoker; I rarely talk to him anymore, and certainly don’t ever again put up with being lectured).

    Unfortunately, most women in west culture are conditioned to hate their bodies. It’s not just weight. We’re told we have to perfectly groomed at all times, including shaping our brows, plucking any errant hairs on the upper lip, and removing all body hair, so we look like prepubescent girls except we’re supposed to be at least a C cup, otherwise we’re not real women. Cellulite and stretchmarks are gross and unfeminine. And don’t get me started on the fact that we’re expected to wear make-up and style our hair and, and, and. The expectations are insane absolutely crushing.

    I’m so glad that you encourage your daughters to feel comfortable in their bodies. That’s a HUGE part of being happy, yet it’s something most of us women struggle with our entire lives. (Even me, though I know it’s irrational.)

    Like

    1. Yikes, lots of typos but that just reflects how uptight I get about the subject!

      It’s just awful how we internalize these impossible expectations at such a young age, before we have the insight to reject them as unrealistic and unattainable and unnecessary, and then turn into our own worst critics for the rest of our lives.

      Silencing that negative inner voice is damn hard, and few manage it 😦

      Like

      1. I don’t think that negative inner voice will ever be stilled. I ignore it most of the time these days, but it’s always there, lurking, ready to come out again.

        Like

    2. Women and girls are conditioned to hate our bodies, to always find fault. It was a cycle I tried very hard to break for our daughters, but I wasn’t always the best role model. In fact, my daughters helped me see that my body is just fine, in a way that fits me and who I am and where I come from.

      My brother weighs more than me as well. I have heavy legs; he has a huge belly (and heart issues). But I was the one singled out when I was young for some reason. I was made to feel fat when I probably weighed about 110 pounds (at 5’4″).

      I gave up makeup years ago. Same for coloring my hair. But only after asking Brett and the girls if it bothered them. Irrational, I know.

      Like

      1. I haven’t worn make-up in years and my hair is starting to go grey; it looks a bit like tinsel under certain lighting conditions, and other times it just looks like my hair is a lighter shade of brown. I actually quite like it, to be honest. I’ve quit tweezing my eyebrows, so I can focus on plucking occasional chin hairs, ha ha.

        Life is too short to spend so much time fussing with my appearance, no matter what that damn inner critic has to say!

        Like

      2. Make-up was never a big deal for me – I was a hippie in the early 70s when makeup wasn’t “cool” so I never really got into it and it was easy to let it go. I let my hair go gray after our son’s wedding. I was covering the gray with blonde, but in the pictures I looked like an old woman (who dyes her hair). Also, the colorist said one day that women who colored their hair were putting his kids through college. That was enough for me. I asked Brett if he minded me having gray hair, same for the girls, and all said that I should do what makes me happy. That was 14 years ago and I’ve never looked back.

        Like

      3. I’m younger and grew up in the 70s and 80s so maybe things were different by then, but I don’t recall being concerned about my appearance or anyone mentioning it. I was thin and athletic and I do remember trying to gain weight, but to gain a more competitive advantage, not due to appearance or anyone’s comments. My parents were both teachers and knew a lot about child development, so I guess maybe I was lucky. It sounds like your parents had a lot of unresolved issues, maybe from their own childhoods. I see you mentioned below that your mother did apologize late in her life, so at least she realized on some level that what she/they did was wrong, although that doesn’t erase or excuse what happened. I applaud you for being able to rise above it.

        Anyway, I started going gray when I was in my 20s but didn’t start coloring my hair until I was in my mid-40s. With COVID, I haven’t had anything done to it since February and I’m noticing my hair actually looks good (50% gray) so I’ve decided I’m not going to color it anymore. I’m tired of trying to appear younger and why should I have to?

        Like

      4. As I’ve said, it was only my family that seemed to have an issue about my weight, and passed that on to me (and it’s stayed with me). None of my friends ever said anything, their moms told me I looked great, etc. I am ever thankful for them. They and my grandmother were life savers.

        For the longest time I have been the one most concerned with having gray hair, and often thought about coloring it, but every time I looked in the mirror I couldn’t actually come up with a color. And I’ve had stylists tell me that I have great gray color which has help me accept it more. The only place now where I feel self conscious is when I’m in Japan – I feel like the only one there with gray hair!

        Like

  14. Boy, a very deep subject. I too was fat shamed and had a deeply dysfunctional family also. Both my parents were alcoholics, my dad died in his 50’s from liver failure as has my two youngest sisters (in their 30’s and 40’s ). Verbal and physical abuse surrounded us (physical was not frequent but still fearful) but berated and never knowing when the next tirade would come! I graduated at 5′ 2″ and 102 pounds but food continued to be a refuge to the point of getting a gastric bypass in my 40’s. This was a life saver for me. I am still overweight and am very fine with it. I truly believe I came to peace about my past several years ago. I can’t agree with your forecast for your Niece and others. This is not a lifelong sentence. Maybe not 100% can be let go but 99? One book that made a difference for me was Bad Childhood good Life. (Although I don’t agree with everything from Dr. Laura). One of her famous quotes are “from now till dead is this how you want to spend the rest of your life?” My parents were broken, they couldn’t give what they didn’t have. I also love the quote “growing up is accepting the apology you never got”. I have two younger sisters left. I’m sad they are still stuck in the past. This week marked my husband’s 25th anniversary of dying at age 41 from cancer. Every day I got to live longer than him is a gift. I have four great kids and 12 grandkids! My kids all say we have a good life. True!! I chose that outlook.

    Like

    1. I made a conscious decision when I was 40 that I was not going to let the past rule my life anymore, that I was the only one who could let the past go. I had the power to do that. However, that picture brought back a rush of bad memories and bad feelings.

      I have had a happy, contented life since my decision. However, my family has been upset at times when I wouldn’t play my old role or fulfill their expectation of and for me. My parents were “broken” too, in a different way from yours. My mom did sort of apologize one of the last times I saw her; I knew she finally understood who I was and that was enough for me. She also apologized for things my siblings had done. The last time I saw my father he still had to comment on my weight and compare me to my sister (we were the same size). So, nothing ever changed with him.

      You have made a wonderful life for yourself, in spite of a difficult childhood and the loss of your husband. A good friend of mine, who lost her husband to cancer shortly after they brought home their second daughter from China, told me that she never asked “why me?” For her it was “why not me? Why do bad things have to happen to other people?” You live the life you are dealt and work to make the best of it. It’s not hard to find the good.

      Like

  15. About two weeks ago a childhood friend sent me a picture of my mom with our neighbors. She was 5’6″/ probably 110 lbs. When she got it from me she actually asked who the women were. “That one on the end is YOU!” “No honey, I was never a thin girl, always fat.” She was ALWAYS on a diet and super competitive. Her obsession was constant and slipped down over me.
    I, unfortunately, was the recipient of her constant fat shaming. I played varsity sports in high school, but was never, once, even watched. Since she shamed, so did four of my five sibs. They still do. So does she. I hate, hate, to go home for even a small visit. But I do.
    The doctor says that my bones are the Most dense she has seen in a bone scan of a woman over 30. After my first child I was 150 lbs and the shaming was unbearable. Since then I just “gave up” and live with whatever weight I am . That doesn’t mean I am happy about the load I carry. My load is WAY too much and I know it has to go. Sigh. Still, all the rest of my numbers are good….
    May I say I dislike Twiggy and what she did to all of us…Actually, she always believed she was too fat as well—so I should say I dislike the (mostly male) media and what they decided was a beautiful person in our society. What sheep we all are. Painful.

    Like

    1. These days have tried to live with whatever weight I am, but I do want my joints to hurt less. No more stressing about it though – healthy is the goal. But that’s the thing that got to me about that picture – how could anyone have looked at me back then and thought I was overweight? My brother, however, found a way to get to me, it worked, and he brought almost the whole family along for the ride. By the way, I injured my ankle right before my senior year of high school (17 years old), and the doctor also told me I had very dense bones, like that of a fully adult woman. Small but mighty!

      Screw the fashion industry! Even my favorite store, J. Jill, uses super skinny models in their catalogs even though their clothes are mostly sized to fit what size women actually are. It’s still discouraging.

      Like

Comments are closed.