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July 5, 2010

"Phat" Girl in a Skinny World

When you're the only fat girl in your 2nd grade class, kids can be pretty merciless. As someone who's been overweight their entire life I've heard every joke and jab imaginable: ugly, fat-ass, puffer fish, ugly fat-ass puffer fish. And even when some of the other kids would try to make me feel better, sometimes saying I was just "big-boned," that never did any good because I still knew 99% of the kids in my class - probably my school - were looking at me and seeing "the fat girl." Not Danielle. Not me.

I don't think people realize how hard it is to grow up fat. There seems to be this underlying hostility towards overweight people, and in many cases, it's worse against overweight girls. After all, I'm supposed to be skinny, toned, and tan; not flabby, soft, and pale. My hair is supposed to be shiny and long; not quirky and short. My chest is supposed to be big, my waist small, my skin smooth and blemish free, my eyebrows perfectly plucked . . .

Heck, if beauty truly is what we see in the magazines, I've failed epically.

It's taken me a long time to be okay with who I am. Maybe you wouldn't even call it "okay." I mean, it's not like I look in the mirror and say "I love you, arm flab!" But I've realized a few things in my time as an "all-knowing teenager":

1. People who call you names are hurting inside. When you're happy with yourself, and your life, you don't have to gain confidence by putting others down.

2. True friends don't care what size you are. True friends love you for being nice, funny, smart, fearless - not because of your size, race, or anything else.

3. Don't give a [frick] about what you're supposed to look like. The media that tells women they need to be impossibly skinny is the same media that tells us we can't have pores (just look at any make-up ad ever). If we spent as much time doing the things we love as we do hating our bodies, we'd all be a lot happier!

4. People don't care about you. Wait, don't take that the wrong way! We're always obsessing about our tiniest flaws - the way our shirt doesn't match our shoes, or that we're having a bad hair day - and we're convinced that everybody in the world is staring at us. But the truth is, they've got their own lives and their own problems. People aren't sitting there obsessing about your bad hair day, so neither should you!

5. "If something doesn't matter in five years, don't worry about it." I don't remember where I heard that, or if I just made it up myself, but it's helped me in too many situations to count. So when you spill that ketchup down the front of your shirt, the world is not going to end. It isn't going to matter in five years, so laugh and shrug it off.

I'm a lot different than I was in elementary school, even middle school. I'm not a wallflower. I speak my mind. I don't put myself down. I try not to care what people think about me. I respect myself. I surround myself with people who really care about me, and work hard to be a good student, citizen, sister, daughter . . . you catch my drift. In other words, I'm proud to be me! It just sucks it's taken me a decade to realize it.

On a slightly different note, all this got me thinking about the portrayal of overweight women in the media.

Are there overweight women in the media?

As Laura Frasier stated in her article Fear of Fat: "On television, for the most part, fat people are as invisible as in fashion magazines. When fat people show up on TV, they aren’t usually serious people, but are either comics (the jolly fat person) or pathetic talkshow creatures whose lives are miserable because they can’t lose weight."

That is so true! When overweight people (i.e. women) show up in TV shows they always have to be the subject of some moral. If they're not, like Frasier stated, for comic relief or to remind us how difficult dieting is, they're there to teach us to "love and accept ourselves." Sheesh, can't there be a plus-size woman in popular culture that's taken seriously, with absolutely no mention to her weight? Or is that an impossible dream?

Food for thought (ha!): Have you seen the new show Huge on ABC Family, and if so, what did you think? Is the show going to shed some much-needed light on the struggles overweight teens face, or is it going to do more harm than good?

My HUGE Review (Episode 2): Okay, I watched the next episode of Huge. After I got over the initial shock that the new camper's name was Danielle (my name) and that everybody in her family had a name that started with "D" (like my family), I realized what I liked and disliked about the show overall. I don't know, the show just seems so scattered. We learn a tiny detail about one camper here, another there, but everything is so disconnected that it's hard to get excited about a single storyline. Is the show about Will's rebellious nature? Amber's (kind of creepy) budding relationship with camp counselor George? Becca's journey to gaining more confidence? Dr. Dorothy's mysterious relationship with her parents?

I know the show's probably going to be one of those everything-connects-and-makes-sense-in-the-end deals, but I'm hungry for a plot now. The individual storylines just haven't developed yet, and I think that's what's leaving me a little sour.

Now you're probably thinking she hates the show, but that's not true! As an overweight teen who's never had an outlet like this, I find myself fixated by the problems these quirky teens face because they're many of the same problems I've faced in my own life. And even if I'm not as bold as Will, as shy as Becca, as hopeless a romantic as Ian, or as cooky as Alistair, each character has something that I can relate to. I love that! As for how this show is going to represent overweight teens to the general public, I'm still not sure. Even though I don't like the fact that they make out (some) overweight teens to be self-conscious, cynical, lazy, and food-crazy, I will definitely be tuning in next week!

P.S. Who wants to bet that Will and Ian get together in the end? :)

Want to check out a trailer for "Huge"? Here you go!