At nine years old, I met my first best friend. In retrospect, it was our bodies that bonded us instantly. We weren’t even pre-teens yet but we had already lost the kind of childhood innocence that allows so many kids to live unapologetically — to assume the cannonball position and jump into open water or to strip down into underwear and run through the sprinklers on a hot summer’s day.
We met in July but, had anyone seen our outfits alone, they would have probably assumed it late fall. Jeans, long-sleeved tees, oversized sweaters, and dark colors were our armor. We were both fat, and with only a decade of life under our belts, we had already learned that this was a terrible thing to be.
We were both fat, and with only a decade of life under our belts, we had already learned that this was a terrible thing to be.
For the next nine years, until we parted ways for college, our common goal kept us close. We aspired to be thin and to relish in all that seemed to come with living in an “acceptable” body. Thin girls got asked out to school dances. Thin girls got hired at the ice cream store during summer vacation, a place where all the popular kids gathered. Thin girls went to the best house parties. Thin girls, we believed, became happy, confident, adored, and successful thin women.
Together we enrolled in jazzercise classes. We opened up gym memberships. We lived off Special K cereal and granola bars for months at a time. For a while, we stopped eating entirely. We encouraged each other’s disordered eating behaviors, bought and shared over-the-counter laxatives, and when my family eventually began to suspect that I had developed anorexia, it was my dear friend who assured me that they were wrong. That I was OK. I was doing the right thing; the only thing I could do.
I had a few other fat friends throughout my childhood and adolescence. Some lost weight (albeit usually only temporarily, as weight loss so often goes) and climbed the social ladder enough to leave me behind. Others stayed plus-size. Like my closest friend, we continued to support one another in toxic, even life-threatening weight loss attempts.
In retrospect, though, I’m grateful for these relationships. Having fat friends ultimately kept me from feeling utterly alone. Amongst one another, we understood what it was like for a teacher to body-shame us in front of a class of 30 or for our peers to “moo” as we walked by in gym glass or for our parents to suggest we “lose a few” before prom.
What these friendships, unfortunately, didn’t do was help any of us feel better in our respective bodies. If anything, they perpetuated the anti-fat biases that we had found so harmful. We didn’t affirm each other’s existences. No one told anyone else that it was possible to live a full life — one of adventure, love, wonder, travel, or professional achievement — while in a fat figure. No one said those things, because none of us believed them.
No one told anyone else that it was possible to live a full life — one of adventure, love, wonder, travel, or professional achievement — while in a fat figure.
I didn’t begin believing them until I was in my early 20s. I can still remember the feeling of seeing Gabi Gregg, the OG plus-size style blogger, in a black and white bikini (which she lovingly referred to as a “fatkini”). Gregg was a plus-size babe who was only a few years older than me. Unlike me, however, she didn’t hide her body in oversized tarp dresses or baggy sweaters in 90-degree heat or tankinis with a T-shirt on top by the pool. She seemed to celebrate everything she was. She also seemed to have an enormous fan base behind her. She worked with popular clothing brands. She had a dating life. She traveled. She looked so damn cool while doing it all. Essentially, she seemed to be doing all the things I had always been told were not possible for fat individuals. She blew my damn mind and opened my world in ways I didn’t know I needed.
Gabi Gregg was my port of entry into a much larger world of fat-acceptance, much like she has been for countless people. I soon learned she was not the only fat person proving that you could dress stylishly in a larger figure. I later discovered writers, artists, activists, and models unpacking what it means to be a fat person in much of our world. Through some of them, I learned about fatphobia within the medical-industrial complex. Through others, I heard terms like “diet culture” and “intersectional feminism” and “thin privilege.” This was the language that explained so many feelings I’d grappled with for the vast majority of my life but that I never knew how to vocalize or contextualize.
An incredible thing happened when this community that I found online found its way into my offline existence. The more I immersed myself into this space on the internet, through my own writings and images, the more I began venturing into fat-positive spaces IRL: Things like panels, plus-size fashion shows, fat-positive dance nights, and art exhibits.
The more I did this, the more I met some of these revolutionary fat people who were not ashamed of the space they occupied. I met fat people who stood up for themselves at the doctor’s office, in the face of practitioners who refused to prescribe them anything apart from a diet. I met fat people who embraced their sexualities and had no trouble finding people to do so with. I met fat people who wore all the clothes I didn’t think I was allowed to wear unless I was thin. I met fat people who became my first fat-positive friends. I developed a sense of community and solidarity that now spans both my online and offline lives.
The most crucial thing that I learned from these friendships, and that has helped me navigate every day of my life since, was a lesson in self-worth. As I watched fat-positive people refuse to apologize simply for existing — and not only that, but to assume their right to joy — I began to realize that I was worthy of the same type of life.