The day I turned 15 I coerced my mother into letting me skip school to get my driverís license. And of course, the first thing I did to celebrate this rite of passage into young adulthood was to drive through those tasty golden arches--this 15 year oldís nirvana.
Last summer (and several quarter-pounders later) I faced another rite of passage, but this time, instead of standing in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles with my mother, I was standing in front of a full-length mirror with my friend Cathy looking on. "I could never wear this in public," I assured her as I shook my head from side to side. Her "oh yes you could" remark was obviously more convincing, because less than a half hour later someone I didn't even know was rubbing sunscreen on my back. As I made my way into the pool, past the smiles and excitedly hushed comments of "Is this your first time?" and "Doesn't it feel wonderful," I felt like a woman being inducted into an elite caste. I had on my very first two-piece bathing suit, in a pool encircled by other fat women also wearing two-piece suits, women eager to share in my obvious delight.
Itís difficult communicating to my family, and even other fat people who have never been, what a life-altering experience it is to be at a fat event, surrounded by scores of other fat people and our admirers and supporters. It is my family reunion, my chance to be united with my tribe. For a time, the usual rules of society are twisted; I am in the overwhelming majority. It is the time when the most distinguishing factor about me is not that I am fat. I am in my element.
I am no longer the solitary fat kid in school, the adolescent who never wore shorts, or the young woman who wasn't asked to go to her senior prom. I am the glorious fat woman, celebrating my adiposity on the runway of the fashion show. I am the one dancing the Macarena, and (gulp) wearing a dress that doesn't cover my knees. No longer will you find me hiding in the back row, I am standing in front of the photographers, between my daring friends Frannie and Cathy, as we lift our t-shirts over our heads to reveal stunning pink polka-dotted two-piece swimsuits.
Fat events are a place where you might see a smitten bellman (the same young man whose legs were shaking visibly as he took a photo with us in the swimsuits) desert his usual post just long enough to find his way into our banquet room, gliding from table to table, unable to contain his glee as he asks "Anyone need tea... or anything?" And when the door of a crowded elevator opens on a passing floor, instead of turning away to wait for the next car, it is a moment of glory to be able to squeeze in amongst us.
You can sit in the hotel lobby and talk for hours on end (even after the hotel manager has been through for the umpteenth time, insisting you need your rest), realizing perhaps for the first time that you are not the only person in the world who has ever gotten a rash in a skin fold, broken a toilet seat, had the word "fat" hurled at you, needed help to trim your toenails, quit school because you were too embarrassed to admit you didn't fit in the desks, or had a total stranger offer the perfect cure for your "problem." You can hug your friends enthusiastically without being afraid of knocking them off balance, you can sit on the floor or get in the pool because you know there will be someone there who is ready and willing to give you a hand when you're ready to get up or out. You can even look at something another woman is wearing and legitimately ask where she got it because you know they'll have your size too.
These events can change your perception of yourself and your body, forever altering the way you face the world. Self confidence gave Fannies, Melissa, and me the ability to cheerfully face the wide-eyed gaze of patrons at a small-town Dairy Queen as we three supersized women walked through the restaurant laughing and discussing which of the flimsy plastic booths we were going to sit in. Instead of shame, we felt absolute glee as we walked to the counter and ordered the largest size they had of everything we wanted. And I'll never forget Melissa telling me about the epiphany she had at her first event when she caught her reflection in the bathroom mirror and didn't even recognize the beautiful woman looking back at her, or my own concession just a few weeks ago at another event that maybe I don't have the largest thighs in the world after all.
Regardless, I always go away motivated by my heroes, the achievers who came before us and blazed the trail of self-acceptance, those who continue to stand up and speak out for our rights, the ones who lead by example. I leave with my batteries recharged, confident in myself, ready to take on the world, and already anticipating the next event.
So what are you waiting for? Wear that two piece! Live Large. Ŗ