Friday, August 28, 2009

Dear Abby...

Hello friends.

First, let me apologize for the radio silence of late. I’ve spent a long week tending to the home front, including (but not limited to) a bizarre and painful eye injury that my 14 year old son brought home from school Monday afternoon, and between visits to the ER, the pediatrician, the opthamologist, and the pharmacy frankly there just wasn’t enough energy left for me to tend to my blog. Or the laundry. Or the lawn. Or my hair, even. This little patch of the web is rarely far from my mind, though, and even in the midst of the chaos of the last several days I found myself knee deep in topical material.

As we sat in the various waiting rooms with little else to do than look around at the other people waiting there with us, it struck me just how very aware I am of the fat-content of any room I enter. I’m forever scanning the area, sizing up my obesity in relation to those around me. How much more room am I taking up than the man sitting on the other side of aisle? How much more comfortable am I than the woman struggling just to fit into the chair three seats away? How much area on this bench does my ass take up and how much space does that correspond to on the empty bench directly across from me? It’s an endless game of proximity and relativity and I’ve been playing it for as long as I can remember.

This is how I noticed a little girl I’ll call Lauren (because that’s what her Mom called her so I assume it’s her name--and because I doubt that her fundamental right to privacy is impinged upon by my mentioning her first name to the tens of readers who stop by my little patch of cyberspace) and while I don’t usually spend copious amounts of time intently watching little girls in public places, on that day I did. She was a lovely little thing, about 10 years old I’d guess with thick dark hair pulled up in a ponytail secured at the back of her perfect little head by a pink ribbon. Her blue eyes sparkled against her creamy complexion, and her white tank top covered her slim tummy where a pair of pretty plaid shorts peeked out from beneath the hem and below that her long, coltish little girl legs that seemed to go for miles before terminating in sparkly pink flip flops. As she flitted around first sitting, then standing, then pacing, then flopping back down in her chair (which, for the record, could have seated three of her comfortably, yet still didn’t leave me enough room to wedge my purse in next to me even with the aid of a handful of Crisco and a shoehorn) I found myself transfixed by just how…normal…she was.

I grew up fat. There is photographic evidence of a perfectly normal looking little girl who has my eyes and freckles and dimples all over my parents house, but after about the age of 5 ‘normal’ moved out and ‘fat’ took up residence, and it’s been squatting on my land ever since. I have no memories of those lean years, and to me it seems as though the fat has always been a part of me. I’ve always been bigger than anyone I know, and I’ve never been unaware of that fact. I’ve spent my life watching little girls just like Lauren. I’ve looked on with fascinated wonder at how easily they move through the world, how they were slim and lithe where I was broad and bulky, at how the clothes they wore certainly didn’t look like anything that came with the words “pretty plus” on the label. I used to watch them for clues about what it was that they knew that I didn’t, trying to decipher the whispered secrets of skinny girls that I just couldn’t hear no matter how hard I listened. I watched them live their lives in perfect little bodies that they seemed to take for granted, all the while living mine in one that I could never, even for a moment, forget about. I watched them and longed for what they had. I wanted to be like them, even when they made it clear that I never would. All these years later, I’m still watching.

Lauren was clearly getting exasperated with all the waiting she was being made to endure, and with a level of drama that only little girls can sustain for any length of time, she sighed her impatience to her Mother who responded by telling her it wouldn’t be much longer. Lauren rolled her eyes and asked “Well, can we at least still go to Dairy Queen after?” When her mother said that they probably wouldn’t, Lauren asked “Why not?” to which her mother replied (and I quote):

“Because you don’t want to get fat like Abby in your class, do you?”

Lauren thought for a minute, shook her head, and said “No way.”

And that’s when the nurse called her name…and they were gone.

And in that moment, I felt like I was 10 years old again. I don’t know Abby, but I sure feel like I do. I wonder if she watches Lauren too, if she wishes that she looked more like her. I wonder if she knows that she’s the warning that her classmates’ mothers use to discourage their daughters from eating ice cream. I wonder how many times in the last 30 years the name “Sara” has been uttered in similar cautionary tales. I wonder if Lauren knows how lucky she is in her own skin, if she has it in her to be kind to Abby despite just how much she doesn’t want to be fat like her. But mostly, I wonder if Abby is OK.

Dear Abby,

Where ever you are, whoever you are, you’re not alone.



  1. I feel bad for both little girls.

  2. Yeah, I've got quite a weigh-dar myself.

    Good post.

  3. Gosh, this made me sad. For both girls. And the mother too in some respects...she heard the same thing growing up and is now passing it on to her child.

  4. Oh my goodness, Sara, what a great post.
    It brought back to mind everything I felt as the bigger kid.
    I don't even know her but feel bad for Abby.
    And I wish Mom hadn't used her as an example ... it sets her daughter up to judge others by appearance.

  5. Sara....are you my much younger alter ego? Every time I read one of your posts the tears roll down my face. I was Abbey too, and I watched those girls - the baton twirlers and dancers, the volley ball girls and the cheerleaders. I always wondered how it felt to be in their skin and marveled at how they moved. Thank you for expressing it so beautifully.

  6. I was most definitely "Abby" growing up. One day, a "Lauren" and her mother invited me to come home and spend the night right after church on a Wednesday night. It was completely spontaneous so I declined since I didn't have any clothes or pajamas with me. The mom said not to worry that they had things that I could wear. "Lauren" who was slender and stating a fact not trying to be mean said,"Mom we don't have anything that will fit her." to which the Mom replied,"Yes we do. Remember those green pants?"


    I *did* spend the night. I kept my same clothes on until my parents picked me up the next day. I repeatedly refused the green pants because I lay awake most of that night thinking,"What if the green pants are too small?!?!" It was too horrific to consider that I might not be able to squeeze into what they clearly considered to be really big pants.

    Abby is most definitely not alone.

    Great post, Sara.

  7. Powerful post, Sara. I did not grow up fat...and although I was not ever much of a bully or one who had fun at other's expense, I am sure at one time or another I was heartless on the subject of over-weight people.

    Poor Abby has no idea that Lauren's mom uses her as an example. But my heart goes out to her anyways.

  8. Sara, you should change the name of your blog to "The Irresistable Force".

    It's just simply impossible to not be moved by it.

  9. Great post, Sara. I, too, feel badly for Abby. And for Lauren, too, learning at an early age to look down upon others and to feel superior.