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You Will Never Take Up Too Much Space

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[TW for fat-shaming, disordered eating, narcissism]

My cousin has three children. Two of them are fat, and the other one is a boy.

I mean, let’s forget that they’re all about the same build, all athletic, all bursting with energy. Let’s forget that they all eat the same food, in approximately the same amounts, with the same enthusiasm. It doesn’t matter. Because the oldest one is “all boy!” and the girls are “pretty chubby amirite?!”

Apparently, pot bellies just aren’t normal on little girls, ok? And the youngest one, well, she likes butter just a little too much. /shakes head sadly

This is what I’ve learned from telephone conversations with relatives, anyway: that my cousin has fat daughters who need to go on a diet, and her son has a baseball game tomorrow, too bad I live so far away! (Trust me, it’s no pity. Southern Ohio is a shithole.)

I don’t know why people keep bringing this up around me, considering how pissy I get.

First, people have been telling these girls that they’re “chubby.” “Chunky monkeys” is apparently a name that gets used by people who are, you know, playfully teasing them. People pat the girls’ adorable potbellies and laugh, and then they diet-police. The girls eat such rich food (seriously guys, you’re a bunch of Germans—you all eat rich food); they’re “stocky”; their legs are “solid.” Not solid in a good way—not “able to act as functioning parts of the body” solid—but bad solid, “taking up too much space” solid.

My cousin’s nine- and seven-year-old daughters are taking up too much space.

Did I mention the nine-year-old had leukemia as a toddler? Yes, let’s body-police a little girl whose body betrayed her early on. Let’s make sure she never gets to just appreciate and enjoy her body, that once it’s able to perform its job adequately, she turns around and abuses it with unnecessary dieting.

I live far away from these people, and visit twice a year at the most. But I know exactly what they’re doing to these girls, because they did it to me. It’s not my cousin’s fault—actually, she’s being shamed right along with the girls, because how dare she not lose all her pregnancy weight? (And as for the possibility that some of her weight gain was caused by depression, uh, whatever.) But as for the rest of my relatives—very few of whom have attained the level of thinness they prize in others—well, I know them, and I know how they delight in fat-shaming.

I’m not “fat”; I never have been. But that made it worse in some ways, because I had a body that needed “preserving.” My gramma subjected me to weigh-ins, and other people felt comfortable saying things like “oh, you shouldn’t eat all that candy, it’ll make you chunky.” Well, no, you see, I eat candy all the time, and I stay this weight—so either you’re suggesting that I already am chunky, or you’re just full of shit.

When I was in my late teens and barely ate, it wasn’t uncommon to hear “you know, for as little as you eat, it’s amazing you weigh as much as you do.” Granted, I was fairly underweight at this point, with jutting ribs, a visible spine, and what I can only describe as “chicken chest,” but, you know, apparently I wasn’t thin enough.

But I didn’t understand how monumentally full of shit they were then, so I believed it, and I lived on somewhere between 20-40% of the daily recommended calories, and every once in awhile I would fast, and it hurt to sleep on my stomach, because, ribcage. I would pass out occasionally, and when I came to I would crawl to my fridge, sit on the floor and eat unwashed grapes out of the bag. My head hurt, I was dizzy, when I got up in the morning I had trouble walking across my tiny studio apartment. I was broke, so dieting saved me money, and I used that as my justification for hurting my body. I was fine, and this was just my normal weight, and clearly anyone who made comments about my skinniness was just “jealous.” I was a victim of “thin-shaming.” (Now I think that most of the people who made those comments were pretty well-intentioned, although they weren’t helpful. I twisted their comments into compliments. I enjoyed being Too Skinny. I thought it was great.)

I also had a horrible…not a boyfriend. I don’t know. A dude who infiltrated my life. And he was an active member of team You Should Lose Weight, even when I was significantly thinner than I am now. So he would say terrible things, and I would believe them, and magic! I would starve and be miserable.

And then I passed out once a day for five days in a row, and I got all dizzy and fell in the shower twice, and eventually I found myself sitting on the kitchen tile eating spoonfuls of sugar straight out of the bag—at which point I said, fuck this, I’m done. And I ordered a pizza.

I’m lucky, you know, in that I never developed a full-blown ED; for that I can probably thank my parents, who are great. But I still have fucked-up attitudes about food, and massive amounts of food-related guilt, and when some stupid dudebro points at my bag of Cheez-its and observes that “those aren’t healthy, hur hur hur” my responses range from hurt feelings to raging anxiety. Not counting calories is a conscious decision, clothes shopping is a miserable experience, I refuse to look at my body unclothed and/or from certain angles, the only shirts I’ll wear with jeans come below my hips (or I’ll wear a longer tank top under a normal-sized t-shirt), and I never prepare full meals because, guilt. I snack on the sly or eat meals prepared by others, because it requires less preparation, which means I have less time to guilt trip myself.

So, my cousin’s daughters? They don’t need this shit, but they’re getting it anyway. And I don’t know what to say to them, except that they will never take up too much space, that as far as I’m concerned, they will never take up enough—that they’re healthy, that they’re beautiful, and that even if they weren’t, they would still be fantastic and important. And that their fat-shaming relatives are full of shit, a quality exponentially worse than being full of food.


About Paprika

Paprika Davis is a perpetually annoyed twenty-something college student waitress who would rather be a squirrel. The lack of commas in the previous sentence bothers her, but her laziness overrides her desire to improve the writing.

2 responses »

  1. Unfortunately, this is the norm nowadays, and it is terrible.

    I was severely anorexic for 13 years and have been in recovery for about 3. My mother tells me every day that I need to lose weight, and never once told me I was too thin.

    I fear for all the little girls I know, who will undoubtedly be told their bodies are not “good enough”… whatever that means.

  2. Oh my. I have many thoughts about this. Many sad, sad thoughts.


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