Once Upon a Time…

…I worked with two guys we'll call Chad and Thad.

(This was indeed at the same place where I also worked with Tim and Doug—I wasn't kidding when I said I could write a magnum opus about that place.)

Chad and Thad were not their real names, but they both had four-letter first names that were fairly common names for dudes of their cohort (slightly older than I, so they'd be about 40 now). They were also both male, white, straight, cisgender, without visible disabilities, thin, blond, and blue (or green) eyed, and approximately the same height. They both worked in the same department and shared similar interests in working out, drinking, and getting laid.

I nonetheless never had any trouble telling Chad and Thad apart, despite their many superficial commonalities.

Both Chad and Thad, however, had difficulty distinguishing between my coworker (and close friend) Miller and I. That was something else they shared in common—an inability to speak to one of us with certainty about to whom they were speaking.

Miller and I are both female, white, straight, cisgender, without visible disabilities, brown-haired (though different shades), blue-eyed, and almost exactly the same height. There were other women in the firm who met the same approximate description, but Chad and Thad never confused them for us, or us for them—only Miller and I for one another.

Miller and I lived in the same neighborhood, too, but I suspect that was not the characteristic that we shared in common—and did not share in common with the other similar ladies at the firm—which caused Chad's and Thad's inability to tell us apart.

I suspect the thing that set us apart, and made us the same, was that we were both fat.

At the time, we were about the same weight. Miller is now thinner, and I am now fatter—but back in the days of Chad and Thad being unable to differentiate between the two of us, we had a pretty similar body shape. We didn't dress alike, and we didn't wear our hair the same way, but I don't think those were details that Chad and Thad could be bothered to discern; they simply viewed each of us as a featureless blob whose unfuckability rendered our individuality superfluous.

"I'm not Miller; I'm Melissa," was a sentence I uttered approximately two dozen times in the two years (or so) that spanned their total employment.

"Oh, sorry," one would murmur, the nicer of the two, who at least had the sense to look embarrassed. The other would look aggravated by my insistence on asserting my personhood, and once snapped at me, on a day I happened to be wearing my specs rather than the contacts I typically wore back then, "You should wear your glasses if you want me to be able to tell you apart."

* * *

My sister, who inherited the squarer face and slanted eyes and luscious lips from my father's side of the family, and I, who inherited a perfectly spherical head and round eyes and impossibly thin lips from my mother's side of the family, have been told our whole lives that we look like twins. We do not look like twins; in fact, we have cousins whom my sister more closely resembles than she resembles me.

If we were not both fat, people would probably remark with surprise that we are sisters. But being fat has rendered our differences invisible.

Other fat women have the same experience.

It is an experience that will, of course, be particularly recognizable to women of color (and probably men, too) who have worked in a predominantly white environment with one other woman of the same ethnicity. (Or one presumed to be the same: I had a teacher who could not distinguish between two classmates, even though Tram was Vietnamese and Kim was Korean, and they looked nothing alike.)

And because there exist in the world individuals who might have occasionally mixed up Chad and Thad, or two men very much like them, there are undoubtedly people who feel obliged to conjure other reasons for privileged people not to be able to tell two vaguely similar marginalized people apart. Surely there had to be, or at least could be, some other reason underlying Chad's and Thad's shared perplexity, they will think.

But a lifetime of being not seen because of being fat has taught me the difference between someone who simply doesn't recognize me and someone who doesn't see me.

* * *

After getting new specs—ones I kept for 10 years and was still wearing in my old author pic—I wore them to work. I'd recently had my hair cut off into a short bob, too. Chad saw me in the hall at work and said, "Well, you're looking all artsy-fartsy lately."

I squinted at him. "What?"

"You're looking different. It's good, though—now I can tell you and Miller apart."

Thank you for sticking some recognizable accessories onto your nondescript fat blobbiness. It really helps me out.

I stared at him for a moment, with a mixture of disbelief, pity, and contempt—and then I just walked away.

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