In fourth grade I stopped riding the bus, opting for a twice-a-day, mile walk, at 7 a.m. and 2:30 pm. On that bus, a fifth grader almost as chubby as me made my spirit his targeted conquest. I don’t even remember his name, just the way his head tipped back each afternoon on the ride home, ready to strike. His mouth would hang open, cackling after some hilarious joke that I was going to “eat him like a taco.” He shouted for the other kids to guard him so I couldn’t get my grubby mouth on him. As if my lips could ever get pleasure from something so bitter.
From even before this age, I’ve known my place. I’ve been told my place constantly—through pictures in magazines of women painted pretty, and in overheard conversations of snickering boys in hallways. I see it through bumper stickers on rust-rimmed cars letting every person on the road know that “friends don’t let friends date fat chicks.” My place is wherever I am to be seen least, but still viewable enough to stand as a reminder of what not to become.
I am the before picture.
I am that unhappy blob on the left side of the page. Just a frown and a wad of skin that overhangs whatever spandex shorts show best just how I’ve “let myself go.” Right next to me is my happy, better, improved self—a byproduct of the miracles of the billion-dollar diet industry (Only ten payments of $49.99 and you, too, can be just as plaster-perfect as I am now!) Slumped shoulders show me at my worst. My bones, too weak to hold up the weight of my shameful self, cripple and curve my spine like wilting leaves.
I have learned to hate my body. I have learned that everyone hates my body. The feeling that I want to burn myself out of my skin and live among people as just a whisper is, in the mind of the masses, justified. The three-letter word packs a punch to my oversized gut, declaring all that I am is “fat.” It is more than just a characteristic. It is a definition.
This lie tells you I am miserable, incapable, unworthy. I look at these pictures and I see it, too. I see a replica of shoulders heavy, frown static, body mocking. What this picture doesn’t show you is an up close of those shoulders, whose skin is marked by what my grandma called “sun kisses.” I’ve loved them ever since. It doesn’t show the overhang of my skin in open, naked air. Scattered stretch marks, like burnout tracks left through the course of my life don’t show you my mind. They don’t let you know that I am capable of deciphering the lies, even on the bad days when it’s easier to believe them, too. It only shows you what someone thinks they know, not who I am.
I am the before picture, and I am a goddamn fortress.
Jackie Olson is a senior majoring in sociology at BSU and won honorable mention in the 2014 Elliott Creative Writing Scholarship competition for “Fortresses and Truth.” When she’s not stressing over homework she put off until the last minute, you can find her watching British television or making lists she’ll never finish.