Hello, I Am An Epidemic. Nice To Meet You.

Courtesy of Marie Southard Ospina

Hello there. Thanks for stopping by. Before we do anything else, I'd advise that you don't get too close, as I may be contagious. Today, you could be innocently sitting here talking to me about whether Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen should get it on (the answer is no, duh) — then tomorrow, you might just wake up to find yourself with a set of love handles so wide that you need to replace all of the deck chairs on your patio.

I first realized I was "infectious" in the fourth grade, when a health and science teacher tried to explain to a bunch of nine-year-olds what the definition of an epidemic was. "An infectious disease," she called it. "The widespread occurrence of an illness." Google has since confirmed that this is, in fact, the prime definition. The teacher referenced the Black Death, influenza, and obesity as examples. Obesity, we then learned, was the disease of fatness, to which the only cure was thinness.

And it was in that fourth grade health and science class that clarity washed over me, the chubby girl getting routinely teased for her too-tight clothing. Perhaps people were afraid of becoming like me.  In the years since my early education on epidemics, I have realized that obesity is among the most feared "infectious" diseases out there. I learned that 10-year-olds are more afraid of getting fat than of getting cancer, and that the same seems to be true of many adults. The same could be true for you.

Courtesy of Marie Southard Ospina

I struggle to believe that these fears are rooted in the perceived medical consequences of obesity, so maybe you can help me out. I keep hearing from reporters, extended family, and Instagram trolls that obesity is the prime cause of death in the United States, but most studies reveal that heart disease is at the top of the list — and thin people get heart disease, too. In fact, you can't die just from being obese. I've read up on my condition quite a bit, and there is no medical side effect to obesity that thin people are entirely immune to. Thin people get diabetes. Thin people get osteoarthritis. People of all sizes can get kidney disease as well.

If there's no disease exclusive to being obese, it must be the way we look that is the true epidemic, right? I have Stage 4 VBO (that is, a very large visible belly outline that protrudes through my clothing and wobbles when I walk). Although cellulite and stretch marks are not a fat-specific ailment, they do seem to be more widespread on us individuals of size. As for my back boobs, they really scare people. I once tried to go to a public beach in a low-rise bikini. I had heard that it was the style de rigueur of the times. Even though I kept my distance from fellow beachgoers, so as not to harm them, I could see them cringe from afar. They wrapped their arms around their bodies tightly. I guess they didn't want those back boobs to get 'em. Maybe I can't blame them.

Courtesy of Marie Southard Ospina

I say this because, if I'm being totally transparent, being an epidemic is hard sometimes. The experience is rather dehumanizing. Have you ever noticed that every time we, the obese, make it into mainstream news, our heads are chopped off? Our bodies are presented as repulsive. Our existences are reduced to a problem to be solved. Insurance providers don't want to give us care. Designers don't want to make clothes for us. Casting directors don't even want to acknowledge that we exist, unless it's to poke fun at our bodies or remind us that we must be taking extreme weight-loss measures ASAP. Many people on the street can't even bare to look at us unless it's to make a crude joke at our expense.

I know, I know. If we are allowed to roam this world freely, without limitations or social repercussions for our bodies, we might continue to wreak havoc. What will happen to the children then? The world is full of crusaders aiming to put a stop to childhood obesity. After all, the abundance of fat kids is just so much worse than the abundance of those who bully, torment, or mock others. If obese is among the worst things a person can be — worse than cruel, worse than hateful — then we must start them on the right path young.

Courtesy of Marie Southard Ospina

At this point, you may be wondering why it is that I don't seem to hate myself all that much. I can assure you that I once did. It's hard to feel worthy of, like, being a human when so few want to treat you like one. I know people are afraid of being like me. I know some people wouldn't want to be seen with me; heck, sometimes those who do want to be seen with us feel the need to offer up an excuse or justification. I even know that just being seen often means being at risk for mistreatment. It all comes with the territory of being an epidemic.

Epidemic or no epidemic, though, I'm stuck on this weird-ass planet much like the rest of us. People keep telling me I have a fast-approaching expiration date, but it hasn't come yet. As far as I can tell, it's not going to come all that soon. It will someday, of course. From my calculations, no one (not even a thin person) is immune to death.

In the meantime, I guess I'll surround myself with other epidemics, like me. I'll surround myself with the rare non-epidemics who, for whatever reason, don't hate my fat guts. Many others will continue to dread the possibility of succumbing to the disease of fatness, but I don't know. Maybe being an epidemic isn't really so bad. Once you get past how others think about your body, and talk about your body, it's probably much the same as being like anyone else.