Episode Transcription by Fayelle Ewuakye. Find her on Twitter at @FayelleEwuakye.
Nicole – Welcome to Fat and Faithful, an ongoing conversation about faith, politics, and culture as they relate to fatness.
Amanda – Hello and welcome to this episode of Fat and Faithful. We’re glad to be here with you today. Today we’re talking about being the fat kid: experience. . . The experiences of fat children. I am Amanda Martinez Beck and I am with my cohost.
Nicole – Nicole Morgan.
Amanda – We grew up as fat kids.
Nicole – We did.
Amanda – So we wanted to talk about that a little bit.
Nicole – So a few weeks ago I had a picture in my Facebook memories that showed up and it was like a picture of me when I was 13 I think on the beach. . . and I was like, yeah, a picture of my childhood and I remember being 13 and trying to remember, or trying to figure out if I was allowed to like that picture of myself. I was like carrying a little boogie board and the sun was setting. It was very beachy. It looked kind of cool but, I was like well I’m in a bathing suit and I’m fat so maybe I’m not supposed to like this. And that was kind of … I was like, we should talk about this and just all of the things that go on as a fat kid.
Amanda – Absolutely. Well what what is new in fatness and faith?
Nicole – Oh goodness. I usually have an answer ready for this. And I don’t today. I got a haircut yesterday. Maybe that doesn’t sound like fatness, but it’s short hair and all the rules say you’re not supposed to have short hair when you have a fat face. But, I love it.
Amanda – Oh no, It’s an amazing haircut. It’s an amazing haircut.
Nicole – I should retweet it into the Fat and Faithful timeline.
Amanda – Oh please do.
Nicole – So everyone else can see my hair.
Amanda – Well it’s connected to what I wanted to bring up about in faith and fatness not related really to faith or fatness but I guess it’s been a week or maybe two weeks. There was a “post your original headshot” from celebrities.
Nicole – I saw all that.
Amanda – And they . ..so we see pictures, like Reese Witherspoon as a 13 year old who looks pretty much exactly the same in her face as, I don’t know, a 40 something year old but I thought it would be fun if we found pictures of ourselves that we liked as children. Or you know to go back and look and be like see, I’m obviously didn’t have a headshot done here or maybe had a Glamour Shot done or whatever but just to post them, to post them on the Fat and Faithful page so we can just delight in your child’s self.
Nicole – Fat and faithful childhood.
Amanda – Yeah.
Nicole – Have our own hashtag.
Amanda – And you don’t have to be fat to post your picture, because everyone’s body is good. But I found some awesome pictures. It’s definitely I was, I was always the biggest kid in my class, but when I look back at my pictures I’m like, I was also the most awkwardly dressed.
Nicole – We should talk about the lack of plus sized children’s clothes..
Amanda – Yes especially in the 80s 90s. Oh man.
Nicole – I can tell you a little about that as we get into. What I remember wearing. There was lots of stretch cotton.
Amanda – Oh yes. And my shorts that I was not allowed to wear to school but that I still wore. I was buckin’ the system early. They’re like, my teacher, I remember my fifth grade teacher being like, Amanda, you can’t wear bike shorts to school. And I was just like nothing else fits!
Nicole – Like, this is all I’ve got.
Amanda – Yeah and even to wear it, which was very counter to my personality type. I was very much a people pleaser. But if you don’t have clothes, that’s a big deal.
Nicole – It is a big deal, it’s a thing, it’s a problem. I think it’s better now for kids these days. But it’s a thing.
Amanda – Yeah the internet has made things so much more accessible.
Nicole – So we asked many of you about your fat childhoods and if you wanted to share anything with us or tell us about what that was like if you were a fat kid too and we heard quite a few of you. So I wanted to read some of those stories. So I guess we can just go back and forth and read these. So I’ll start. So this is from Erin. And we did ask permission to use everyone’s names so we’re good here. So Erin says “I was a fat kid with a thin mom and sister. I think the thing that messed me up the most was the mixed messages I got from my parents. My mom in particular. I never doubted I was loved. I was told I was beautiful. They never berated me or called me out for being fat. Never praised my sister for being thin. But they took me to the doctor to see if there was anything physically wrong with me, ’cause why am I so fat and my sisters are not. They asked me if I had been abused, because I guess that would have explained something. But I hadn’t been. It would stop me from taking second helpings at dinner. My mom, who is naturally thin, always complained about her weight, obsessed about what she ate, or demean herself when she gained weight and she never weighed more than 112 pounds when I was growing up. The thought I internalized was, if she thinks that about herself, what must she think about me.”.
Amanda – There’s so much there.
Nicole – One thing with what Erin shared was that, they called her beautiful. They didn’t make fun of her. And that’s so often, I hear people’s that vice for body image is for like parents to tell their kids that they’re beautiful or tell their girls that they are beautiful. And I, I understand that. But like, pretty is not the point. Parents or others can tell people they’re beautiful. But when you get treated like you’re different, it still matters. It’s still noticed. Kids still notice that, and there are definitions of beauty in our culture that change with culture and change over time and you can play into those or not play into those on any given day. But for me I just I don’t really, I like to feel pretty personally but that’s not the point for me. And so I tend to not advise people to use like, the princess beautiful pretty language because that makes it so that that’s the goal, is to be attractive in some way. When in reality the goal is to be accepted for who you are and valued for who you are and not made to feel ashamed or othered or that you don’t fit into your family or that you’re somehow different in a bad way. Because of your body.
Amanda – I have three little girls and a son who’s awesome. They’re all awesome. But figuring out how to speak to them in a way that affirms their bodies is something I think about daily. And I’m probably counter what you said just slightly. I think it’s important to teach children what beauty is and then affirm that beauty in them. So I think you’re probably using beauty as a shorthand for attractiveness.
Nicole – Yeah.
Amanda – And I I remember growing up and never really hearing that I was beautiful and that there was a place in me that wanted to be beautiful. I think that that actually I would say that’s a human drive to be beautiful. And I think we, each person is. But we define it in our culture as attractiveness, which has to do with what other people, how other people value our appearance as opposed to the inherent goodness. Now I’m not saying you said that any of that like you didn’t.
Nicole – Yeah, you’re just clarifying the words. I definitely mean like attractive and I’m like not everyone is attractive.
Amanda – Right.
Nicole – That’s just the truth.
Amanda – It’s true.
Nicole – That doesn’t mean not everyone is valuable.
Amanda – Yes. My two older daughters they’re 6 and 2 and my oldest, she’s a fashionista. So she’ll put on clothes and she’ll comment she’ll be like Mommy am I beautiful?And so in those circumstances, trying to unpack that of, Oh my goodness you are beautiful and I think you have good taste in clothes and you are delightful. I try to round it out so that she knows that it’s not merely what she looks like on her face or her body, like she’s engaging as a person. But my 2 year old has started doing it just in the past month or so. She’ll say “do I look pretty and my beautiful?” And so trying to, I’ve been just trying to work through that of, oh my goodness she’s so beautiful. And I want to affirm all these other things that are valuable. So sometimes like I remember there was a Verizon commercial. I don’t know why it was a Verizon commercial. But is about a little girl not being able to play in the creek in a dress, and like turning her away from science, and because she was being complimented for being pretty and beautiful, and we needed to compliment brains instead. And I just remember watching them being like, I think we have a desire to be aesthetically pleasing. You know what I mean?
Nicole – Yeah I think it’s a yes and a both and. Yeah I mean I, I tell my nieces they’re pretty, and I like being pretty when people tell me I’m pretty, everyone told me my haircut was pretty. It was fun. But like yes, what you’re saying is go beyond that. So you have good taste in clothes or, that was very creative of you or I let your adventurous spirit or you know adding to it that it’s not all about what you look like at the moment.
Amanda – WelI, I don’t want to encourage an gnostic view of bodies, saying that our brain or you know soul is more important than our flesh. What we want to to celebrate the whole thing together as an incarnational people. So I’m sure, I’m sure that we’ll get a lot more interesting points so we go on. We’re kind of going off the cuff with how we’re discussing these things. So I love it. I’m, I’m an off the cuff kind of person, Nichol’s a very planned person. Let’s go into the next story here. This is from Jordan. “I was always above the average weight but it started becoming noticeable more as I entered elementary school. I liked foods especially, quote, bad foods and hated vegetables, still do because of food textures. I remember going through my school scrapbook, my grandmother kept of me and her getting frustrated as my weight kept crawling up, up, up, every year. I heard constant versions of if only you lost weight. You have such a pretty face or if only you looked like her or her, or you can wear such cute clothes or do this or that if you were skinny. The list could go on. The worst was when they’d compare me to my cousin, five years my junior, who has special needs, one of which includes eating and stomach problems so she’s super skinny. I remember being told once, I’d never be able to do a certain job. I think it was singing, I had wild aspirations as a child because I was fat. It stung. I was also an emotional eater who was extremely sensitive to these types of comments. So instead of pushing me to lose, they were pushing me to eat more. As a child, we tried different diets and such, but nothing stuck. I was put in dance classes in an effort to lose weight. I was forced to play outside to play, bike ride, despite having asthma and severe allergies.” What do we see in Jordan’s story.
Nicole – The thing that sticks out to me is that I resonate with, is the limitations on what your future could be. She couldn’t be a singer. And I just remember, like I so clearly remember like especially like middle school, high school, even thinking about like the whole what do you want to be when you grow up thing. And like cycling through ideas. And there was a time that I really wanted to be like a pediatrician or something, I don’t even know. It doesn’t sound like me at all anymore. But I just I remember at the time thinking well that’s going to be weird if you’re a fat doctor. Like, you can’t do that one. And ultimately my first job after college, was a high school teacher. So I went to college to be a teacher. And I was just, I like walking back into a high school as a fat person was, I didn’t know if I’d be able to do that. So like my, for like one of my like really big diets that I lost a lot of weight on was early in college because I was like I can’t be a teacher if I’m fat ’cause they’ll never listen to me. And as a fat high school teacher there were some times when that became an issue. But that, by that point. So in college I discovered fat acceptance and learning to love my body. So by that point I had more of a sense of who I was and what was appropriate what wasn’t. But yeah that was a huge thing. What can I do in this body. And there was lots of limitations that other people would say or I would place it for myself.
Amanda – I think the thing that sticks out to me in Jordan’s story is the comparison with her cousin. In this case there was actually a medical issue that that prevented her cousin from being anything but who she was. I mean being super skinny, and that’s not a problem. The problem is when we compare people. I mean, we do it to ourselves right, we we say what do they have that I don’t have. But we also, oh my goodness. I try. I try so hard, I hope I have never compared bodies for my children. I compare behavior though. So I know that I do compare, I’m like look you’re sister’s doing this why can’t you obey like her. Making it clear that you are accepted the way that you are. One of my childhood difficulties was that I never felt like I fit in my family. I felt, felt on the outside. And some of that is just my personality. But some of that was because siblings automatically, or cousins you know whoever ever close family members, automatically are looking for, hey this is unfair. My kids constantly are like, you did this for so and so and not for me. So when I would analyze the treatment of, between my sister and me, my younger sister, I would say okay so why is she getting treated differently. Why, you know what my parents would praise her for the way that she ate, ’cause she just ate so slowly. I’m just, there’s nothing slow about me. I just like to be going. And so I felt ashamed by the way that I just like to eat fast. I like to read fast. I like to do everything fast. And there are definitely character development things that I’m learning to take things more slowly. But so when we’re automatically looking for, to our siblings. Like why do they get treated differently than I do and I’m not, we’re not blind like fat kids are not blind, they can see that oh my body is bigger than so and so’s. Is she getting treated better than me because of X Y Z. So to have that reinforced verbally to be like, why can’t you be like so-and-so who doesn’t eat very much. Or further isolates and others, makes you other-ed.
Nicole – Inside your own family.
Amanda – Oh one note on that is, being forced to play outside despite having asthma and severe allergies to pollen. That is a big deal.
Nicole – And fleetly ignore your actual health issues and for this aesthetic purpose of being thin. Yeah I mean that speaks even, that doesn’t stop. As you get older, medical issues get ignored. Everything can be solved by losing weight apparently. So.
Amanda – OK. Next story.
Nicole – This is someone left a comment on the Fat and Faithful Instagram, from Fayelle. She says, “all my childhood, I was told to hold on my stomach until I had kids that actually made a difference and how I looked. But I realized just a few months ago that it was actually physically impossible for me to casually walk around without involuntarily holding in my muscles. I have to intentionally relax them and even then as I move around other things my mind, I find that my abs have tensed back up again.” The thing that stuck me with this one is, there’s a lot of people who would read that and say, wow, success. And I think she even went on in her comment a little later say she’s kind of proud that she could retrain all of her muscles but also, oh my goodness look what I did to my body. Yeah like their muscles aren’t supposed to be tense 24/7 and especially not for, look a little bit slimmer, a couple inches slimmer.
Amanda – I mean so think about this. If you’re, if muscles in a different place of your body are tense all the time, we send you to a chiropractor or a massage therapist.
Nicole – Right, let’s work out those knots.
Amanda – Right. So we need to learn to carry our bodies with peace. Right. And that means I mean if you want to talk hold your stomach in great. Do it. Just know that you don’t have to. So this is, last night I watched Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy and she’s a social psychologist and she was talking about posturing and how our body language affects our psyche. A lot of alpha personalities are very open with their bodies their hands, their hands go up. They spread their legs, they sit. They take a commanding posture, called the power pose. And the weak poses, people who like hold their necks when they talk or cross their arms or just try to make themselves smaller, and that’s the language that she used, have different response psychically not psychically, psychologically. So the things that we do with our bodies affect our mental state and vice versa. She said, let me pull up the quote that I wrote down from what she said last night. She said “our bodies change our minds and our minds change our behavior, and our behavior changes our outcome.” So if we have in our mind that we need to be small. And I think that is a pretty common for women, that we are required to be small, that actually affects our psyches. That means that we’re going to try to impose less power in a room, we’re going to try to make sure that we are fitting in a specific space and that’s very limiting and it affects our our interactions with the world and not just in a, I’m going to be a small feminine thing way, but we don’t take up the space that our personalities need. And so it just made me think of, I knew we were recording this episode today. So I was thinking about how, as I have developed in accepting my body I have started just being way more open. I was always very confident. But but just being like this is my body, I’m not going to apologize for it. I’m not going to tense up my muscles to suck in my gut. I’d rather spin those, that energy that I have doing something else. And so when we’re children, just being aware that our kids need to be able to be fully themselves, no matter what that looks like.
Nicole – Yeah I don’t have specific memories but just the general, I was always like crossing my arms, or like pulling my arms in close to myself. Just really trying to take up as little space as possible or try to fit into the space. I remember in middle school I guess, middle school and high school, when the desks changed and the chairs were attached to the desks. Like, getting into the classroom earlier because there was a few desks that people had managed to bend the chairs back on. So there’s a little more space in between the chair and the desk in front of you. And just trying to get there so that I can get into that seat. And never actually have to say that’s what I was doing. And make it obvious, but just to be able to find the spaces where I could fit without having to hold myself uncomfortably. And always be on the lookout for that.
Amanda – For some of our listeners who have not had to endure being physically constrained into a tight space without choosing that, I don’t know people get into roller coaster apparatuses that squeeze you into tight spaces. When you sit in a seat like in school, and it, you don’t fit in it, the whole time you’re not able to fully engage in your lesson, right. Because it’s either, you’re in pain or you’re uncomfortable or you’re self-conscious like so many, so many aspects of that are limiting. And that also comes to clothing too.
Nicole – Yeah it just becomes like this dull kind of thing that’s always with you. Like I got pretty good at tuning it out but it’s just kind of always there. Like to use the biblical example, the thorn and the flesh, you know it’s just there. You learn to live your life around it and to accommodate for it and to make adjustments to make it as bearable as possible.
Amanda – Yeah. The next story comes from my friend who preferred to stay anonymous. And we talked on the phone so I’m gonna be summarizing her story and pointing out some things that I, that I thought were worthy of talking about. So this is my friend and we’ve been friends for a long time. But she talked about just the ostracism of being the fat kid. And that her friends’ parents even would do things that let her know that they know. They knew she was fat and that it was something to be changed about her. She shared a story with me, that she went over to a friend’s house and they went to a restaurant where they serve just health food, when she was staying the night with her friends and then, and then when they got home the parents were like let’s do some activity. And my friend said she remembered it being fun and enjoying like going out to eat and then doing activities. Then she wondered later, was that because I was there. Did they change… like why were they saying, what were they saying by taking me to this restaurant and getting me to, you know climb, to do stairs together as a kid. She also told me about a trip she went on to Europe and being the fat person on the trip and she was in junior high, that people, I mean Europeans stared at her. She says she didn’t feel rejection from the people on her, in her group but that she was ogled, ogled as a fat person. So she would get comments from adults. She remembers that she wanted to be a majorette, to be a twirler in the band and the band director had a conversation with her mom that was basically we don’t do fat majorettes here. Like she was on Fen-Phen in sixth grade.
Nicole – For those who don’t know Fen-Phen was a diet drug that got pulled off the market because it caused heart attacks.
Amanda – She remembers being on a retreat with her with like a church program and one of the leaders, who was a mom, and one of the other girls came to her to talk about her weight. You know and to the point where she just didn’t, there was no place to feel safe. I’m sharing all of these specific instances because sometimes people think that fat people are being overly sensitive, but these things, this is just a sampling of things that happened to this one friend that I have. The school cafeteria where she was, there was a section for the teachers and the section for the students and it was like you could go back and get a seconds and, whatever it was a small school. And she said she would always get seconds or thirds. And she knew that other people were looking at her like she didn’t need to eat more. But her friends accepted her and so she was like, whatever I want to eat more so I’m gonna eat more. One time she was walking back up to get more food and her favorite teacher shouted across the cafeteria, No. Like said her name and said no about her going back to get more food.
Nicole – Wow.
Amanda – And just the I mean any kid in junior high or high school, for a teacher to intervene like that, no matter your size, I think would be embarrassing. And so for it to come just at a tender place of course couldn’t that have been more discreet. If you feel the need to, to police what other people are doing with their own bodies, couldn’t have been more discreet as opposed to publicly shaming.
Nicole – Yeah, the thing her story made me think of specifically the trip to Europe, when she was in sixth grade, and going on field trips and class trips. I remember when I was a freshman, one of my classes at high school took a long weekend trip, a field trip. And I don’t even remember really why we were going. But they went and like lived on a ship in New England for the weekend and was like the ship’s crew. It’s like an old like sailing vessel kind of thing. And I didn’t go because my family couldn’t afford that kind of trip. But I remember like I was sad I couldn’t go. I wanted to go. But I remember knowing that it was probably better anyways because something in me just knew, that like ships were cramped. And had tight quarters and like narrow passageways and things like that. Or you’d have to climb up into the, to do all the sail lines and climb up into the wren’s nest or whatever and they did all those kinds of things. And so I stayed. I didn’t go. And when they came back and they were showing pictures and stuff and I was just looking at like, how small the openings were to get down like below deck. And all the things they had to do. It’s like I knew that if I had gone, and who knows what actually would have been the case. But it in my mind as a 15 year old I was like I wouldn’t have fit that there anyway, even if we could have afforded that trip. So just the sense of being outside of your classmates and you can’t really participate and no one else is thinking about that. No one else is trying to figure out if it’s accessible to you or even asking those questions.
Amanda – Hey listeners we’re going to continue this conversation in the next episode. So make sure you check out Part 2 on Being the Fat Kid.