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Fat for a Day

This post is the fourth and last installment of my blog series, Where Pounds and Inches Hurt the Most. Follow these links to read the firstsecond, and third posts.

Since I am petite, it has not been an uncommon experience for large size clients of mine to be skeptical about my capacity to empathize with the daily disdain and disapproval that they endure. So when the opportunity presented itself for me to experience life at more than double my normal weight, I leapt at the chance. 

I had been an interviewee on Channel 3 News entitled “Fat and Forgotten” which documented the physical and emotional hardships of being a large sized citizen. Many of my patients and members of NAAFA (National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance) were featured. A seamstress from Hartford Stage Company was commissioned to make a realistically proportioned “fat suit” which was worn by reporter Barbara Pinto with clothing from Lane Bryant. Since she only went undercover for one day, her experiences were not particularly dramatic nor newsworthy. By her own report, the most noteworthy aspects of her experience were the multitude of minor inconveniences which cumulatively contributed to the sense of existence in a world in which, literally and figuratively, one does not fit in.

After some effort, I managed to convince Channel 3 to bequeath the fat suit to me. The first time I wore it was to a restaurant in Enfield. I was meeting my best friend for dinner at our favorite place. I was both excited and nervous. She knew about my collaboration on the news series but was unaware that I had inherited the fat suit. We had not seen each other in five months. It was a Monday night and the restaurant was half empty, yet for the first time we were seated all the way in the back. I was about to sit in the booth when the host motioned to the other side. I noticed that it was larger. Carol still hadn’t said anything. The cotton batting was really getting to me and I said I was really warm. Finally she commented on my extra padding. I asked why she hadn’t said anything earlier. She said that although she suspected I was wearing the fat suit, she feared that if I wasn’t, it would be embarrassing to both of us. Subsequently, upon our return from the ladies room she looked rather shell-shocked. She was saddened by the number of disapproving looks or just plain stares that came my way. Like my fat patients, I avoided eye contact and was surprised by how self-conscious and embarrassed I felt. Much to my own chagrin I wanted to show and tell people, total strangers, that I wasn’t really fat. So much for altruism.

My experience wearing the fat suit has not only helped me to appreciate more fully the hardships of being fat, but also to realize that I have not transcended the cultural bias. I felt disappointed with myself and ashamed of my reaction. I believe it is of utmost importance to spare the next generation’s fat children and adults from this legacy of pain born of blame. Self-esteem and self-worth should not be measured in pounds and inches.


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