Taking Up Space

[Content Note: Fat hatred.]

The great fat activist Marilyn Wann once said: "The only thing that anyone can diagnose, with any certainty, by looking at a fat person, is their own level of stereotype and prejudice toward fat people."

I love that quote. For a lot of reasons.

Once of them is because it has helped me understand as a fat person at whom someone is looking, their discernible prejudice toward fat people is their problem, not mine.

There was a time when I was looked at, when I could sense that palpable prejudice, and I would shrink into myself. And now, I don't. I stand my ground, and I look back.

Recently, a friend of a friend was telling me a terrific (not terrific) story about how gross fat people are. Like most stories of this nature, the anonymous fat strangers that were the source of his ire seemed predominantly guilty of taking up space. In public. Where his delicate eyes were forced to behold them.

He was telling the story in that way of a perfectly rehearsed anecdote; it was a story he had told a lot, so often that it did not occur to him that he was telling it to a fat person, who was looking back, meeting his story with an expression he was not used to seeing.

Sometimes, when this happens, when a thin person realizes that they've just disgorged a bunch of rank fat hatred right into my fat face, they apologize. Often in a way that exacerbates the offense. But mostly, they try to convince me that they're not talking about me. That those other fat people were gross in a way that I'm not.

They attempt to turn me into an Exceptional Fatty, in order to absolve themselves of their own fat hatred.

Often, they try to accomplish this by saying, "I don't mean someone who's your size. I mean way fatter." As if that makes it okay. As if I am not very fat.

The friend of a friend didn't even bother trying to use words to convey this idea. When he caught my level, uncompromising gaze, he simply used a gesture. The International Sign for Fat People: Arms out in front of his belly in a big circle, cheeks puffed out, rocking side-to-side.

From that, that absurd gesture that many children learn in Christmas pageant choreography for songs about Santa Claus, I was meant to understand he meant someone really fat. As if that made it okay. As if I am not really fat.

He went on with his story. I maintained my steady gaze. Eventually, he finished his story.

"That sounds terrible for you," I told him.

I looked back at the person looking at me. And I knew his prejudice toward fat people. Toward me. And I didn't shrink.

I took up space.

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