I’m the fat, second child of three. To my right is a gorgeously complicated, petite, ethnic brainiac, and to my left is a cheerfully strapping, blonde young father. I’m the squishy middle. I can say all of this because my brand is self-deprecation, and also because it’s a goddamned fact. But be assured that I believe the term “FAT” to be pejorative and compromising, and that independently, I do not identify as FAT. I’d punch someone if I heard it directed at me. I identify as chubby because it’s a kinder term, and because my body doesn’t always feel FAT. It feels fluffy, marshmallow-y, like you could stab my ass with the end of a sharpened stick and hold me over a fire for a golden, caramelized treat.
You can trace my chubhood as far back as pictures doth allow. In every snapshot up to adolescence, my chub gave me an adorable daffiness; I smile through suffocating cheeks and duckling-like lips. But as soon I was introduced to the concepts of sexuality and personal value, what was once a charming, unassailable trait had become a poison that would permeate every single facet of my womanhood. My chub still tries to poison me — even after years studying the poison’s root toxins and avoiding unpaved places where the poison grows. I — like every woman pricked by the devilish dart of advertising — have body issues. And I work daily, sometimes hourly, to live in a body that I love.
When I was in fourth grade, I attended birthday party with other young ladies in my class. In the midst of romping around like the athletic broads we were, I took a moment in her bedroom to change into a T-shirt. As I pulled my sweater up over my head, an awkward hush settled in behind me. I turned around to eight concerned and disgusted expressions. “They’re so...big,” one girl threw down. They all agreed, surveying me like a pack of alien. These women — my comrades — were repulsed by the size of my 4th grade tits! It wasn’t at all like the Judy Blume stories I had read where desperate adolescents rummaged around their older sisters’ bedrooms for secrets to pumping up their tiny tits. It was my very first body shaming, and it happened to my boobs — perhaps the most sexualized female body part — by my trusted female friends. This memory is a keloid scar in my life, growing more bulbous and cumbersome over time. I don’t know what Judy Blume novels those bitches were reading, but I was at once humiliated and ostracized, despising my early knockers for growing up and being original. Something got all fucked up between the publishing of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and the year 1992. In hindsight, the 90s were a time for small breasts, or, at most, average breasts. But mine were always huge; always one size above average than the rest.
Now, I don’t even remember my body without big boobs! I have no recollection of feeling weightless at the shoulders, nor can I recall being able to look straight down at my feet from a standing position without two giant boulders obstructing my view. I have grown potently aware of my body’s marbled silhouette, the deep lines where things bend and the strained tug of my skin where it struggles to uphold globular parts. I wonder if we have all been living a hypocritical existence in our bodies. We fight the unfair industry standard with our loud-ass voices while sobbing alone into magazine clippings of Jennifer Aniston. I admit that I’ve used my curves as an excuse for nearly everything I lack: a career in entertainment, the love of a man, and even moving to a warmer environment.
Others have affirmed my insecurity. Last summer, I got hired with a group of a few other younger female comedy writers to help a famous standup comedian brainstorm and develop ideas for a play she is writing about body image. This comedian is in her 50s, is very famous, and told us that she has struggled to love her body her entire life. I was one of the older, chubbier ladies in the room but that didn’t mean I had any more or less insecurity about my body. What hit a chord with me through this convo was how Famous Comedian, who has survived body hatred and had a gastric bypass surgery, wanted me to disclose to the group the limits to which I hate my body. She wanted me to feel the same way she felt at my age: riddled with insecurity and desperate for hotness. “But if given the opportunity to trade your body for JLo’s, wouldn’t you?” she goaded.
Eventually, because I was being paid and because I just didn’t want to talk about it anymore, I relented. I mean, who wouldn’t trade their body for JLo’s! If that were an option, we would all look like JLo, and then what’s the point of anything? But truthfully, I don’t feel that way anymore. I’m 34 years old and my body feels 50. Every one of my pounds has been earned through stress and exhaustion and darkness and celebration. Every handful of my body has gravity and character and jiggles in all the silliest ways. It’s fuckin’ weird and aesthetically, I like weird things!
A year ago, I forced myself to change my thinking. After eight years of teaching emotionally disturbed adolescents and being called “fat bitch” on a pretty regular basis, I decided that my energy was better directed at outsmarting the poison rather than outrunning it’s heavier effects (pun intended). I’m not talking about launching a regimented lifestyle of carb-free dieting and running marathons so that I can finally — for fuck's sake — commit to becoming thin. I’m talking about the much more extreme and complicated idea behind truly loving my body the way it is right now. I’m just really fucking tired of hating this thing and there’s no way I can sustain this hatred for an entire lifetime! There are way more important things going on: I’m trying to move to Los Angeles, I’m trying to change careers, I’m trying to become open to romance, I’m trying to be my funniest self, I’m trying to relish the time I have on earth with people who are important to me, so there’s simply no more room to loathe my goddamn chubby body, for Christ’s sake!
I would never knock Famous Standup for writing the material she writes about women’s bodies. It’s interesting! I don’t hold it against my childhood friends for staring at my strange 10-year old body. Honestly, I feel like if you stood a bunch of naked people up next to each other, the fat wouldn’t be my focal point. I’d probably stare — mouth agape — at every single person’s bush. Pubic hair is really interesting to me. I like mine really short but I have thin friends that like to keep gigantic, fluffy bushes! Just like I want to keep my gigantic, fluffy ass. I like my marshmallow ass. I like my marshmallow tits. I like them under clothes and sometimes I like them naked (I’m workin’ on it). I think that the language we use to talk about self and beauty is still underdeveloped. We’re like a bunch of children that have been standing around wondering why we feel shitty all the time and in the next breath, criticizing our loaded diapers. There are women in my world — unlike Famous Comedian’s, I guess — that are actively trying to change the dialogue, and it’s working!
I’ve finally gotten to a place where I can think about other things in life instead of stressing about how FAT I’m going to look in my friends’ weddings. I’m not at the empowered place where I love trying on bikinis because I’m just tickled by the way my cellulite glistens in the sun. No. In fact, I’m still considering getting a breast reduction after the memory of those eight girls spitting hate at my 10-year--old tits is fresh as an untrimmed bush in my mind. I’m not a spokesperson for body positivity. I don’t post memes to my Instagram that say “Curvy Girls Rock” because I think that’s cheesy AF. All I’m saying is that I’m cool with being chubby. It’s a body and it’ll become disgusting, like the Red Woman on Game of Thrones. I haven’t met a single elderly lady who has given a half of a fuck about how sexy her body is when it’s fighting cancer or when her organs are failing. You know what old people say when they’re about to leave the physical world? They always say, “I wish I hadn’t cared so much about what other people thought.” I wish I hadn’t cared so much.
Well, shit. I was taught to always listen to my elders. So if they’re saying I shouldn’t give a shit about what other people think, then I’m going to think this body is right on me. It’s correct. It fits. It’s mine.
*bikini strap pops loose* Shit.
Top photo: Sine Cerere et Baccho friget Venus by Peter Paul Rubens
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Jana Schmieding is a public school teacher, comedy writer and performer in New York City. She co-writes, produces and directs material for popular shows such as Jana & Lauren Presents and 20/400 Sketch Comedy while writing solo material for live and digital projects. You can catch her with an early 90’s hair-style in Season 3 of Broad City. Follow her on Twitter @janaunplgd.