The other day, my boyfriend and I were walking around Costco and a girl demoing bamboo foam pillows leaned in and whispered, "Congratulations."
She thought I was pregnant.
When she realized that I wasn’t, she looked at my boyfriend, horrified, and asked if I was joking.
He hung his head and sighed.
This is not the first time this has happened to me, and it certainly won’t be the last. A man working a hot dog cart once called me pregnant, and a college guy in a Budweiser shirt suggested I was gestating as I was selling him a camera when I worked at an electronics store years ago. When the hot dog cart man suggested that my baby would love a hot dog, I ran and hid in the bushes and didn’t eat for the rest of the day.
Earlier this year, I had my gallbladder out and spent four days in the hospital. Which was painful, took major healing and made me realize my body is a brave, badass machine that can both cause destruction and make miraculous things happen. But here I am in Costco, "pregnant" in front of my thin boyfriend, and I am trying desperately not to either kill that pillow bitch with all of my sample tooth picks, or run out to the car and have a nervous breakdown.
I decided I wanted a life where I am living bravely in both my body and my heart.
All of my invisible self-hatred thundered in. I have worked hard to put diet culture in the review mirror in the last few years. I finally understood that our culture wasn’t going to grant me the life that I wanted as an overweight woman — I had to claim it for myself.
Like many overweight women, I long figured this was the only way — carry your full belly and quiet shame around like a stone until the weight was finally gone. I didn’t wake up one morning and have a revelatory come-to-Jesus moment where I walked around my house naked eating pizza and worshiping myself (I wish). It happened glacially. But it happened. Would I choose a lifetime of struggle, ignoring reality and raggedly chasing change? Or would it be lifetime of honesty, food, vulnerability, and — most of all — freedom? I decided I wanted a life where I am living bravely in both my body and my heart. For me, it’s an ancient work in progress.
So I wasn’t really surprised that I was getting called pregnant again. But this time, I am with my boyfriend who I intend to marry — who I have been praying hasn’t really figured out I am kinda-a-little-bit fat. Right in public, it looked us both in the eye. He is thin, I am not. He is, in a traditional sense, desirable. I feel like I have to prove my attractiveness in this society with a pretty face, substantiate it with my killer wit and my general likability. I also have to be confident enough for fatphobia to not destroy me in sexual or social situations, in a culture where fatphobia tries to annihilate me on a second-by-second basis.
But society would have me believe I should be with someone more my size. It would make more "sense." He should be with someone "hotter." I will never be able to sit on his lap comfortably. He will never be able to pick me up. He could do far better, the world says. In a culture that rewards men for upgrading and accumulating hot girls, society might think he must have some sort of psychological disorder to want to be with me. Our culture might have him believe he must have seriously low self-esteem, or that he is really into big girls and I am a fetish. Awesome.
Three years into our relationship, we ended up having a jagged conversation about it over beers one night: “I hate being that guy, you know?" he said. “I hate that people think there is either something wrong with me or there is an issue with my sexuality.” I could barely speak. I was breathless with shame. We were talking about the thing we weren’t really supposed to talk about. The thing we touched, loved, rubbed, built, and yet we could barely talk about it.
The longer we talked, the better I felt. I felt lighter. We both did. The soft pebble of the truth — the seamlessness of his attraction to me. We took turns telling each other stories about our experiences with our bodies. I understood that it wasn't just about me. Just like this culture can’t grant me the permission to live the life I want, it also won’t grant the man I love permission to find me attractive and love me back. We both lose if we pay attention to this logic. We have to grant ourselves the life we want. We cannot deprive ourselves of letting the people who want to really love us, love us. We must let the people who are going to see us, see us.
But I did get it. I felt it for him. I felt people looking at us. I felt people wondering, "Is it that she is tattooed? Is that why he finds her attractive? What is the sex like? I wonder if he will ever cheat on her. He is going to get fatter just being with her." I am the fear that lurks in many husbands and boyfriends. Your skinny wife might get fat — terrifying, I know. I am the fear. The world questions why he loves me and why he finds me attractive. The most important decision of his life, and society demands an answer — or at least a justification.
Acknowledging this feels both like a punch in the gut and a badge of honor. There are so many things we have already chosen to ignore societally, our physicality only being one of them. We have picked the stories that we want to listen to. We have learned to follow through on what our bodies already know. Talking releases the vise of fear. It allows both of us to take part in each other’s journey with our bodies — let us not forget that men are humans with with bodies that house trepidation, anxiety, and self-doubt.
In the beginning, I wondered if there was a hidden motive behind my boyfriend's attraction to me. I agonized over his svelte ex-girlfriends. They followed me around like ghosts. My mind raced with bottomless questions about what he was thinking. But we had sex with the lights on, always. It never lacked in intensity, it was eager, it was new, it was real. There was something deeply transcendent about it — we fell into each other. I constantly sniffed at the air for hesitation, or even disgust. Would he be embarrassed introducing me to friends? Family? Or just simply expressing his attraction to me in public? My distrust robbed me of new relationship joy and left me feeling fatigued. But for him, I realized, loving me was instinct.
Our relationship contradicts many narratives. To men, it devalues the notion that they need a hot girl to validate their success and to compete with other men. To women, it contradicts the fantasy that there is a size requirement to being loved.
There is nothing that makes people more confused than a fat girl who loves her body and is actively seeking pleasure. According to the traditional narrative, fat girls should be working to get healthy, correct the issue — we should be living in the world of “as soon as,” the sad “before” picture in over-sized T-shirts and ponytails. Nothing is more bewildering or even enraging to people than a happy, fat girl who just cut you in line to the happiness buffet.
Being bigger than my boyfriend will be a lifelong lesson in bravery. We have to talk. I have to trust him. I have to trust myself. If I live in a world where I am loved out of charity, obligation, taboo, or deviancy, the truth is marginalized. True barrenness looks like endless doubt. We cannot deprive ourselves of letting the people who want to really love us, love us.
So I am a fat girlfriend. A happy, lucky in love fat girlfriend.