By Kerry Daniels
Managing a big ego when you're a big gal is no small task. Speaking as a seasoned Heavy Girl, I know how fat chicks can be sentenced to lives of social invisibility in this culture. Taking up space has become a political act when you're female and we are all expected to view our bodies through society's skinny lens.
Early in my chubby life, I become aware that size-ism was simply part of the deal. Learning how to manage this evil "ism" is central to whether I succeed or fail at most things. I work hard at resisting this all-pervasive bias and don't cave in to narrow social clichés. I've proven that being a groovy Heavy Girl can be a choice.
My first recollection of feeling I was treated differently because of size was around age 7. Before that I was oblivious. Chubbiness — a deadly sin? I was a healthy, proud and happy little girl. Beautiful and tiny, my mother excelled at keeping my ego strong. My family's gene pool had manifested itself in a diverse way. The generational expression of beauty was like a human collage — artful and aesthetically appealing, with elements of whimsy and random beauty. We had many successful big folks.
Heavy Girls everywhere remember the turning point I call "Heavy Girl initiation." I was abruptly introduced to the world of "skinny-centrism." Memories of playing jump rope during recess or after school, while other kids dissed me for being a bit rounder, float around in my head. Another fairly universal ritual is giving the unassuming fat girl a wedgie while announcing to her friends that she will be destined to a life of goofiness because of her big butt.
No matter how you slice it, this event marks the end of innocence for a Heavy Girl. But these unpleasant experiences are also opportunities. It's our job to use our special powers to establish Heavy Girl turf. For it is the wit and wisdom of the Heavy Girl that will put her on the map as a nouveau-hipster. Remarking on the irony of your opponent's comments in light of their chronic impetigo and flood pants is an effective strategy. IQ disses never fall out of fashion. Or you can cite plump historical figures who changed the world: Minoan female warriors, Winston Churchill. Even Marilyn Monroe by today's standards was a Heavy Girl.
Having lots of time in '70s suburbia I read/watched tons of cool stuff and figured out how to forge ahead. Having big boobs and a bit of a gut did not impede my social development. Being cute with freckles and really bright didn't hurt. Later, I realized I was pretty and downright smart. A good mind is the best asset any chick — heavy or not — can hold.
I needed to be taken seriously, but refused to adopt dominant culture's script for Heavy Girls. This was hard for others to understand. "You'd be so much prettier if you would lose a few pounds, dear." After years of this nonsense, people simply knocked it off. It was "my body" and if it was mine it had to be cool. A deep connection to my femininity was also key. I reveled in being womanly and would not apologize for it.
When I entered puberty, I refused to be a goofy fat girl. I was athletic and this definitely defied the myth of the physically unfit chubette. All the conventionally beautiful girls bragged about their crushes on boys and I, too, was determined to slow dance to Stairway to Heaven in the school gym. I needed to safeguard myself against high school years wrought with frustration and sexual-outsider status. My angle was this: find a guy who is super-cute, but in some way equally as disenfranchised by the codified how-tos of popularity in the suburbs.
Bingo — my first gay boyfriend! He was the quintessential sissy, but we shared attitude, quirky good looks and the need for hard-core adolescent intimacy. He was funny, smart, hated the world that punished us for being "real," and was like having a lover and a cool girlfriend all in one. While other Heavy Girls might have had trouble accessing tacky 1970s fashions, I had my femmy-hunk working for me. He would shop until he found the funkiest stuff that fit me. I was a suburban star. Who else had their own personal valet? My hybrid image was comprised of a certain Valley of the Dolls sensibility combined with titbits he had picked up from Charlie's Angels. I am grateful to this unlikely stud for my entrée into style, but inevitably he discovered the world of beautiful boys and was never to be seen again.
This is not a sad ending. He gave me loads of confidence and the chutzpah I needed to enter my adult years with a bang. My identity as a Heavy Girl had been firmly established. Mind you, I had been living in a utopia of sorts and now had to re-enter the world of singlehood. I also didn't want to become a career fag hag, so where to look for healthy male attention in a fat-phobic society became my mission. I dated lots and slowly realized that while North American guys are scared of Heavy Girls, there are thousands of beautiful, gentle guys from other wonderful places who define beauty on my terms — big and curvy. Gradually, I found myself almost exclusively dating men from cultures that revere large women, which includes most of the Middle East, vast stretches of Africa and many Central and South American countries — not to mention Jamaica and Trinidad.
Most recently, I strutted my stuff in North Africa. Instead of being ridiculed for carrying extra beef in my fanny pack, I was incredibly aware of how desirable I was to the array of eligible men in my midst. It was like 24-hour Heavy Girl therapy. As I made my way through the narrow and ancient streets of Marrakech, I could practically hear the whispers: Who is that lovely, big girl? Who will be the lucky man to win her heart? Women asked me to marry their sons after seeing me in the public baths, intrigued by my round, pretty body. Men cried at my feet, pleading with me to marry them.
Was I on Candid Camera? Nope, I was enjoying a privilege not often afforded Heavy Girls in North America. I was seeing confident, full-bodied women everywhere. They reinforced what I'd known for years: Beauty comes in all sizes. Eventually my travels landed me in the arms of an extremely handsome and kind Moroccan man. His love of my body made me realize that you shouldn't ever settle for second best — especially when you are a Heavy Girl. I fly off to marry him soon and hope we live happily ever after. Inshallah!
My journey has been remarkable. I'd argue that without these extra pounds I wouldn't have half the opportunity and excitement. This supersonic body forced me to make a choice early on — use it to your advantage or let it consume you. Had I been slim, my life might have been easier, but a whole lot duller. I'm in the unique position of having to use my mind, body and soul creatively to be the best I can be. And I just keep doing it!
Kerry Daniels, aka Heavy Girl, is the editor of Heavy Girl Press in Toronto.