Fat Bitch

“You’re not fat, you’re beautiful!” a woman told me afterwards. “I didn’t say I was ugly, I said I was fat,” I told her with a scowl on my face.

The last time someone called me a fat bitch I rolled my eyes. It wasn’t the first time someone called me fat and I doubt it will be the last time someone uses my body as a weapon against me. I wasn’t even hurt, I was just…annoyed. I went online and bought a shirt I saw on Instagram. It said Fat Bitch. The shirt was cool but I didn’t buy it because I thought it was too brazen for my toned-down style. Here’s the thing, I’ve identified for a while as fat, or chubby, or curvy, or whatever you want to call a fat body. Using fat to insult me doesn’t work anymore.

When I was an infant, my mom brought me home to Minto, a small village north of Fairbanks in the heart of Alaska. One day, she walked me down the street and stopped to talk to an elder, Susie Jimmie. Grandma Susie noticed I stuck my tongue out and babbled to her, she pointed and told my mom “Look! She’s babbling, she’s going to be a mouthpiece for our community, she’s going to talk for us one day.”

Well, I am finally using my voice and all it took was one more person to call me a fat bitch. Just kidding, it wasn’t that one person. But it definitely sparked the slow burning coals under my fat ass into a full-on flame. I have not advocated for fat bodies enough and now is the time if people will ever come up with more creative insults to hurl at me. I don’t know if Grandma Susie meant for me to parade around wearing a Fat Bitch shirt, but I do think she’d want me to stand up for myself.

Once, I found myself in a training called “Being Trauma Informed.” The training was filled with people who, for the first time, acknowledged some traumas and some people who got it, they were there to brush up. During the training, I shared the story mentioned above. I unabashedly identified as a fat person to the whole group, and I was waiting for the shirt to arrive.

“You’re not fat, you’re beautiful!” a woman told me afterwards. “I didn’t say I was ugly, I said I was fat,” I told her with a scowl on my face.

I am more than my body. I don’t, and many others don’t, need to hear comments to rebuff our assertion of fatness, especially ones about how beautiful we could be. In many spaces, like the training, there are good people. They understand racism and colonization. They want to help fix these problems. The standards of what beautiful is and what an acceptable body looks like, are rooted deeply in these harmful systems. We can’t dismantle these systems without talking about what an ideal body means and where it came from.

I’m still entrenched in this system of “health.” I constantly think about what I need to fix. I need to eat better, I need to work out, I need to meditate more. More, more, more. There is always more to do.  I’m never good enough right now. Over time, I’ve learned to remember all the experiences my body has made it through.

I once spent four lonely days in the hospital with a deadly infection in Bethel, a Western Alaskan town. I only knew my friend Mary Lou, who invited me to stay with her to get out of Fairbanks. This was the first time I left home indefinitely and the first time I was hospitalized.

 “I don’t get sick or miss work,” I declared to my new boss. A bump formed in a private area of my body shortly after. The bump grew more painful each day. I didn’t know anyone or what to do.

By Thanksgiving a week later, I had a fever and the shakes.

 “I can’t move, I’m sick,” I said.

“Get up, you’ll be ok,” Mary Lou replied. Mary Lou raised five kids, I was another kid she took in growing up. She thought I was faking an illness to get out of making a dish for Thanksgiving.

Later that day, we went to her friend’s for dinner.

“Nice to meet you, can I lay down?” I told Brooke when I entered her house. I laid on their couch almost the entire time.

The next morning, I could not move. I called in to work, aware of how bad this looked. I was 22, new to town and my job. But. I. Could. Not. Move.

I laid down most of the morning in unbearable pain until I discovered blood all over my underwear. I didn’t know how to get ahold of Mary Lou.

I called one of the countless cab companies to bring me to the emergency room. Taking a cab in Bethel, is one of the most ‘Bethel’ things you can do. There are cabs everywhere, and they charge per ride, not distance. At the time, they charged five dollars to go anywhere in town, seven to the airport, and ten out to a new neighborhood. The cabs also pick other riders up who were in the same area. This was before Uber or Lyft, so it was an unusual experience.

“Kusko Cab,” they answered in their Albanian accent.

“Trailer 62 to YK,” I responded and hung up.

A few minutes later, I hobbled out to a cab. On the way over, the driver stopped to pick up a pregnant lady who took an eternity to get to the car. “Dear GOD, get me there now,” I thought.

I laid in the waiting room until the triage nurse called me back. I lost track of time and curled up on the vinyl couch. My eyes teared from the pain, and I shuddered every few minutes in a sweaty fever.

As I laid there, a small elderly woman waved at me, she couldn’t tell if I was awake or not. When I looked at her, she asked me something in Yup’ik.

I told her “I don’t speak Yup’ik, sorry.”

“Are you alone?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I responded.

“Poor, you look like you’re in a lotta pain, where you from?”

“Fairbanks,” I told her, “From Minto, I’m Athabascan.”

I let her pray over me while I waited.

The triage nurse finally called me back. “I have a bump down there and it’s painful,” I told them.

They took me back immediately. I was surprised how fast this happened.

There was a row of beds separated by curtains. I could hear everything each patient was there for. I wanted to call Mary Lou, she didn’t know I was at the ER. There was a girl on the one phone who I swear called every person she knew. “Yep, I had a miscarriage, I’ll be home soon,” she said nonchalantly.

I couldn’t lift myself on the bed so the nurse helped me and I could hear her walk over to the doctor and tell him I needed pain medicine. I changed into a gown and they gave me the first dose of morphine.

In the next bed I could hear a 17-year old boy cry out in pain. “You’ve got a boil on the butt,” the doctor told him. A few minutes later I could hear the kid scream for his mom.

My eyes widened, “Shit” I thought, “I’m about to go through that.” My stomach knotted up.

Two nurses came in to hold me down while the doctor numbed the area between my vagina and anus. They gave me another dose of morphine, only 15 minutes after the first one. I still remember how the scalpel felt cutting into my skin, the infection released a burst of pus that filled the room with the smell of death. You could hear me scream me throughout the emergency room. I couldn’t believe I had endured that alone.

In a morphine fueled haze, I turned to one of the nurses, tears trickled down my face, and said, “I’ve never given birth, but I am certain what I experienced was just as painful.”

“You could have died if you waited any longer, don’t let that happen again,” the doctor scolded me as he packed the wound. He wanted me to stay in the hospital to make sure the infection didn’t get into my bloodstream.

 “You got the Bethel Crud,” someone told me after I was released.

I left the hospital bloated from constant morphine doses and starchy hospital food.

How could I, after such a hellish experience, turn to my body and say, “Hey fat ass you need to lay off the carbs and go run a few miles.” Did I mention this was over Thanksgiving weekend? Well it was, and I certainly did chastise myself. I went on a no carb diet. Yes, during Christmas and New Year’s. At the time, it was called South Beach. I think it’s now rebranded as Keto.

The grocery stores in Bethel were out of nearly everything because of the holidays. My food options were limited to boiled eggs and peanuts. It was all I knew at the time. When the world constantly tells you to lose weight, exercise, suck it in, eat kale, drink water, and chug protein drinks, what else are you supposed to do? I was never taught to honor my body or the experiences I survived.

Mary Lou, Harold “Smiley” Fly, and me in Bethel 2009.

Through TV, radio, and social media, we are bombarded every moment to be conscious of our body. There are commercials that want you to take their diet pills or beauty influencers who offer us a ‘flat tummy tea’. We talk about going to the gym as a penalty for eating foods we find indulging. I went to the clinic once with a sinus infection so bad it made my teeth hurt. While there, the provider lectured me about blood pressure, prescribed high blood pressure pills, and told me to lose weight. I am pretty sure sinus infections happen to everyone regardless of weight.

I followed up with my primary care provider after a month on the blood pressure pills and she told me to get off them immediately. She looked through my chart and my blood pressure was normal. I can’t even receive treatment for a goddamn sinus infection without someone mentioning my weight.

I didn’t wake up one day and decide I was beautiful and fat. I had the good fortune of living in a time where I could find people like me on the internet. I followed fat bloggers on Tumblr, filled my Instagram feed with photos of fat people living their lives, and followed pages on Facebook which taught me to engage in conversations about the experience of living in a fat body. I still remember the first time I saw a fat person dress stylishly with perfect hair and makeup. I wasn’t even half their size, yet I saw a glowing beautiful person who loved their body and shared it online! What a concept!

When I graduated with a bachelor’s degree, the first in my family to do so, guess what people noticed first? Yep, my weight. Someone told my sister I should have been running on treadmills instead of going to class. My self-worth has always been connected to my weight no matter what I did.

I can’t force anyone to change, and I know the culture we live in is deeply rooted in phobias of fat bodies. My one essay may not change much. But the problem is, we don’t have these conversations enough. We talk way too much about exercising or ‘eating clean,’, or ‘new lifestyles (it’s not a diet!),’ or ‘one day I’ll be happy when I lose this weight.’

How can anyone be happy when those are they only messages we are fed? Despite the progress I’ve made, my insecurities are easily provoked. I know if I hear someone talk about trying a ‘new way of eating’ or ‘exercising to feel good,’ it will trigger deeply embedded thoughts to eat green peppers, chug a gallon of water, and go run it off at the gym.

I know I’m not alone. How many of you have turned to food for comfort, only to scold yourself? We don’t value food as a source of comfort, even though it is, and we don’t value our bodies enough to guide us through difficult times. I’ve learned to love my body in new ways but I still have days where I hate it. Sometimes, I stop and wonder where these thoughts are coming from. “Who is benefitting from my low self-esteem?” I’ll ask. Sometimes I follow the thought and see if produces results to make me happy. They rarely, if ever, do.

When I posted a photo wearing the Fat Bitch shirt, my friends and family told me “ignore those people who say mean things, be the bigger person and look the other way.” They said those words are just a reflection of the people who said them. If I had an issue with anything else, I wouldn’t look the other way. I would address it. People continue to put others down because we look the other way. I don’t need to name who called me a fat bitch or who said I should have been running on treadmills instead of reading books. But I will call that behavior out. Name calling and verbal abuse is the very root of all systematic oppressions.

Even the most progressive-thinking people have internalized the body ideals of the western world. As if eating certain foods and exercising like our ancestors is decolonization. This grossly ignores Indigenous ways of communal living, how we took care of each other, and saw life from a strength-based view. We view strength as how much hard work one produces rather than see all the gifts we all bring to the table.

Being fat is ok. Calling people fat as an insult is not ok. Calling me a fat bitch only tells me you know how to repeat what you’ve been told all your life.

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