This, But Also More Than This

"I wanted to tell a story about a young woman who is heavy, but realizes that’s not all she is."

Is fat really the worst thing a human being can be? Is fat worse than vindictive, jealous, shallow, vain, boring, evil, or cruel? Not to me.

~J.K. Rowling

When I was 17 years old, some guys from my high school mooed at me. I was walking along the side of the road and they hung out the windows of their car as they drove by me and mooed. I was about 25 pounds overweight, and yes, high school guys can be judgmental, arrogant idiots. But being compared to livestock solidified everything I believed about my teenage self at that time—that my looks and my weight were what mattered most to people.

It didn't help that on that particular spring day I was out walking as part of a new resolution to lose weight. I'd gained some after my parents told me we were moving to California the previous summer. During the months before the move, we packed up our house and relocated to a small apartment and I'd quit swimming competitively to spend more time with my friends before we left. I was sad, angry and scared about moving, and part of that manifested itself as weight gain. But once I was in California I had plenty of time to "work on myself." Walking, swimming, and eventually running were part of this new regime. Until those guys mooed at me.

I have been fighting back against that moment of bovine shame ever since.

Why does it matter how much I weigh or what I look like? Sometimes I think trying to lose weight is just a way of giving in to the superficial insanity that keeps women focused on the number on the scale instead of the number of ways they can change the world.

But for some reason, I couldn't forget that moo. There I was, happy that I was following through on my new fitness resolution and instead I was subjected to that awful moment of shame. I went from feeling optimistic to figuring out the fastest, least public way to get back to my house to hide. It's taken nearly three decades to understand that while I was (and still am) overweight, I was also a successful student, a hard-working swimmer, a good singer, a caring friend, an enthusiastic dancer, an avid reader, and a bunch of other things that "moo" tried to obliterate.

When I decided to write a novel a couple of years ago, I knew that my heroine, Maggie, would be overweight. I also knew I wasn't going to write a story about her weight or her losing weight. I wanted to tell a story about a young woman who is heavy, but realizes that's not all she is. That was the story I needed to hear when I was seventeen years old.

Last year that book was published. The thought of people reading about Maggie, who in many ways is the teenage girl I wish I'd been, made me feel vulnerable and elated and ashamed and anxious, just like I did when I was seventeen.

But because of Maggie, I came to understand that I didn't need to write her story to exorcise the demons of getting mooed at; I needed to write her story to figure out what getting mooed at had come to mean to me. And I did.

This is the power of telling our stories, of making ourselves vulnerable in them and to them. Writing about Maggie helped me see that my body is a part of the package, not the whole thing. It helped me see I have talents and abilities and even flaws that have nothing to do with the number on the scale. And it helped me see that a woman with curves and substance can be the heroine of her own story. It might have taken me thirty years to figure this out, but it's been well worth the wait.

Cover image via the goatman I Shutterstock


This story is from Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy & Confident: 101 Stories about Loving Yourself and Your Body © 2016 Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC. All rights reserved.



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