Why I Choose to be Fat
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The doctor glances up from the first page of my chart — the only page he actually looks at — with the condescending smile that men in bars will flash me, the fat chick, when they edge past me to chat up my friend. As if merely acknowledging me is an expression of great tolerance.
I’m at the clinic at my therapist’s behest. My therapist is a petite woman with opinions as sharp as her suits. She has told me that she will stop treating me if I don’t begin a weight loss program. I am 23 at the time, and I don’t know that I can say no to her. She’s wept when I’ve shared stories of my father’s rages; she’s asked to see my scars. And she says that, by not forcing me to confront this horrible hindrance that is my body, she is “enabling” me, allowing me to deny myself my brightest, happiest life.
I might as well tell you now that this essay won’t end with a scene from that brighter, happier life: an image of a newly svelte me out hiking or auditioning a red dress for a hot date, reflecting that I’d never known the beauty of the world — and of myself — until I’d lost the weight. This is not that kind of essay. It’s an explanation and a celebration of a single decision: Even if I never lost a single pound, I’d be just fine. I’d be better than fine.
But this decision is still a seedling in frozen soil back when I am 23 years old and sitting in front of a doctor who is more interested in my chart than in resuming eye contact. He says something to me, but I don’t hear him over the bloodrush thumping between my ears. My last time on an exam table, a year or so earlier, a gynecologist as tiny and wizened as my Sicilian grandmother began extolling the virtues of bariatric surgery while I was in the stirrups.
“The weight just flies right off,” she’d chirped, jabbing in the speculum. I’d played off my tears as an effect of that quick pinch, but I’m still leveled by her words every time my hands sweep my hips in the shower or I look into my rearview mirror to smooth on lipstick.
Back at the new doctor’s office, five of his cohorts crowd the doorway: They are my “treatment team.” They talk of weigh-ins and biometrics, nutritional planning and low-impact exercise eventually ramping up to “intensive cardio.”
As soon as they leave to let me get undressed, I escape like a fat girl Jason Bourne. Just like that seedling knows how to muscle up from the earth, I know that I will not be measured and weighed and found wanting. My only choices seem to be getting caught in the wheel of the weight loss bandwagon and dragged through the dirt, or standing up and dusting myself off to say “enough.” I’m going to be OK as I am — even if what I am is obese.
The arc of my life has been defined by my waistline: Shop clerks give me the side-eye, direct me to accessories; the arms of chairs pinch my hips; an old woman sitting next to me on the bus yells aloud that I’m crowding her off her seat. It never stops being painful, but as I’ve gotten older, it’s become like that sore spot on my heel, now tombed in callus. Still, that moment with my “treatment team” remains raw: It distills my experiences into an inescapable truth — that I am not my accomplishments. I am a problem to be solved.