I had once made a vow to never leave the house without lipstick. At 17, I was ready to commit to my persona. I would gather my small paycheck from working part-time in a popular mall to spend it all on MAC lipstick bullets, using beauty in full-forced defense towards the oncoming inevitable judgement in the thoughts of each passerby. My thick-winged eyeliner became a shield, which seemed to grow like a vine to become a permanent fixture on my eyelids. Though I wore heavy make-up as a young teenager and was often championed as “fierce” and “bold” by my peers, I simply saw it as practicing an art.
In these years, social media blossomed into a full-fledged pastime and I was quick to share my craft with the world. I uploaded photos of my face often. It wasn’t long before my dedication to public displays of unwavering existence that my visibility online was hailed as “inspiring” and “brave” by my internet followers.
I had always recognized that I took up more physical space than my peers. Though with this knowledge, I never pinched my body rolls in hatred or looked at the mirror in disgust. Delving deep into my past, I remember having crushes develop naturally and being treated as any other awkward tween during my most embarrassing puberty-driven experiences, regardless of being the chubbiest girl in my 5th grade class. It wasn’t until bullies evolved and began finger-pointing, while exclaiming metaphors matching my body to objects much larger, that I started seeing how my body made outsiders react. In my 7th-grade history class, a few rotten male students called me “the ocean” while they threw pens at me. Our teacher was quick to defend them because “boys will be boys.” Through a handful of tough school bullies over the years, I was reminded time and time again that I would live through all this and be stronger for it. This was work I had to do as a consequence for possessing this body. After feeling sorry for myself for a few short moments, I could always pull myself up by my bootstraps and go on living. I didn’t have a problem with my body, and I was making a choice to keep it. The bullying was my cross to bear. It wasn’t bravery and it wasn’t survival. Yet, when I retell the story when a girl posed as my friend, only to reveal private details from the life of the Girl Who Isn’t Upset That She’s Fat to her actual friends, I am awarded ribbons and medals. I must be so strong and heroic to have overcome such targeted hatred.
Yes, in high school I packed on the cover-up, wore my eyeliner as shield, and I made my lipstick oath to myself. I cared very deeply for my aesthetic. I wanted to paint myself as someone who hasn’t built walls with words like “even though I’m fat.” In my eyes, I had nothing to make excuses for. I paraded myself on online because sticking my face out on those social platforms allowed me to be in charge of my very new, strong persona that I was dedicating to control. My face told a better story than my words ever could.
My eyes have always been the bluest blue. I always wanted everyone to see right through me, put their hands through my eyes and into my brain, and see all the things I wished and tried hard to be. A therapist once further explained, “you have sad eyes.” I thought back to the ocean in which I had been compared to a few years prior. I am a vast vessel in which so many living things circle inside daily. I have highly sensitive currents which make up my machinery, none of which are focused around my body, but rather all the things nestled inside of it. This was the moment I came to terms with dealing with depression that was unrelated to my bully endurance or possibly body issues. I may have a full aquatic underworld behind these blue eyes, but deep waters can lead to shallow ground. My therapist spoke of courage and endurance when we tackled the subject of my sadness. I only envisioned effortless floating.
College was when I chose to swim. During this time, I would sing in front of an audience of 400. I would have my writing published in the school paper. I would ask people to hang out after only talking to them for five minutes. I savored every experience I could get my hands on. When I walked through campus one blissful day during my junior year, I overheard one half of a couple say to the other, “If I looked like that, I’d kill myself.” I didn’t run and hide or yell obscenities at them in my own honor. At first, I was shell-shocked. I’ve often flirted with the idea of killing myself, but never because of my body. It was always because the voice in my head was sadder than my personality. The voice in my head has been tired and broken from trying to reflect on these comments thrown at me, one sharp dagger after another. The voice in my head has meticulously molded a shield of thick, sharp eyeliner and stocked up on lipstick packaged in bullets to help protect my sad, blue eyes, which couldn’t hide the self-hatred that has proven much larger than my body. When I walked to receive my diploma, built on unique accolades and experiences, my peers and elders hailed me once again as “promising” and “fearless.”
When I was applying for jobs that could become careers, I ran through the vocal recommendations that people had given me, based on my past success: I’m the brave, strong, courageous, promising and fearless girl with sad eyes. To sum up all these words that never agreed with me, I can only think of a conversation I was never meant to hear: “It’s like she’s so fat, it’s inspiring.” My thoughts were rarely driven by “If only I was smaller, I wouldn’t get harassed.” More often than not, I wanted to be so talented at something that my body was an afterthought to the discussion. I used my well-trained beauty routine to keep a space between myself and these words of encouragement because they were based off the idea that my body was the culprit. Each time someone finds me inspiring, it is because of the perception I’ve overcome so many obstacles with my heavy burden of belly and body. It is as if my success should not have been given to me, but rather I aggressively stole it back. I am stronger for being a thief of my destiny. I am viewed as a warrior because fat bodies so seldom see success and I seem to have tackled all my doubters down to achieve mine. I was brave for combating for my beauty and proving that I, a fat person, could see myself as worthy of trying. When I gather the reviews made by those I trust, they were all reactions to my lust for life in this fat body, rather than the impressive work I put into the world or the person I have come to be.
While the traditional young bully trope has stopped appearing as obviously in my day-to-day, the adult beastly counterpart prevails. At 24, a video I created for an online lecture was repurposed as a hate-campaign on the internet and edited in tandem with scenes from gore movies. Hundreds of trolls begged me to kill myself because I choose to live in my fat body so visibly. Though I struggled with suicidal thoughts during this time, it was caused more so by the fact that in spite of my words and hard research, that all strangers noticed was that I was fat. In turn, when I was hurt that my work went unnoticed, my consolation prize was that I was lauded as brave and inspiring for not ending my life when some other fat people might have ended theirs.
To live up to praise like “courageous” and “confident,” I’ll work myself tired to prove that I’m talented and smart. I’ll be funnier and more savvy than my neighbor. During the last months of 24 and into turning 25, I stopped wearing makeup every day. I stopped curling my hair and some of my fancier dresses have been left hanging in the closet. I am a fat girl with no daily frills, in an effort to highlight my hard work and loyal friendship. While it’s true any form of vicious bully has not stopped me from being my fattest, raddest self, they haven’t stopped me from succeeding on my own terms, either. I am not brave for remaining fat and visible.
I am a vast vessel of earned courage. I’ve lived full years of my life debating if it would be easier to go to work or to end my life, because my gears have been tired of working in double time so that my talent can be heard louder than my body. When I’m stepping out on a stage to sing in front of 400 people, the only thing I want to hear is, “damn, that girl can sing.”