— Karie Fugett (@KarieWrites) September 17, 2019
Warning: a little naughty language ahead.
In my small Alabama high school, before I’d ever considered the calories I put into my body, a boy told me I needed to eat more cornbread to get some meat on my bones.
He told me I had a flat ass, then said, “But at least you got DSL.” I was 14. I was 14 and I’d never heard of DSL, so I had to ask around to find out what that meant. This was before DSL high-speed internet. Back then, according to another boy who laughed at me when I asked, it meant “dick sucking lips.” I’d never considered that before, either.
A year later, a boy wrapped his arms around my waist. I didn’t want him to, but didn’t know how to tell him that. “Damn, girl. So tiny. So sexy,” he said. I pushed him away when he tried to kiss me, and he told all the football players I was a tease.
When I quit high school, I gained weight rapidly. A whole 20 pounds in a single year. I was no longer on Adderall, was no longer playing sports. When my boyfriend at the time broke up with me, I stood at a payphone, cars buzzing by on a highway, all of them oblivious to the tragedy that was unfolding on the sidewalk. He told me he’d gone to New Orleans and cheated.
“I got my dick sucked,” he said. “I never want to see you again.”
I figured it was the weight I’d gained. He’d mentioned it before, suggested I be careful about what I ate. When he hung up on me, I craved punishment for letting myself go.
I was afraid that, if I didn’t give people what they wanted, they would no longer approve of me.
That night, I looked at myself in the mirror, crying, cut a large chunk of my hair off, then dyed my hair black and buried myself in my closet under a pile of garbage-bagged clothes mom kept forgetting to bring to Goodwill. I wished I could cut the fat off, too, and leave chunks of my body hidden in the closet, pretending it never happened. Instead, I cried and I cried, the wet plastic from the trash bags sticking to my arms, my hair crooked and dark, my body unlovable.
I lost the weight again. It didn’t take much. I was still young. Eat a little less. Work out a little more. Men approved, and it felt good to be approved. I started sleeping with anyone who wanted me, soaked up the counterfeit affection as long as I could until it inevitably faded, and I needed to start over again. I was ashamed. I didn’t want to be this way, but I was afraid of saying “no.” I was afraid that, if I didn’t give people what they wanted, they would no longer approve of me. I would be rejected, and that I couldn’t bear.
With time, my body became a thing I hated, an object like a toothpick or a rail or a “stick with tits” as another boy once said. I was nothing more than something to behold, to be judged, a thing for others to use. What I really wanted—what I needed—was love. I craved it. I had become a junkie—desperate and willing to do anything to get it. Instead of looking within, I sought it in others. Unfortunately, they were the kinds of others who got me there in the first place.
When I got married and my husband deployed to war, I gained all the weight back plus some—150, 160, 170. Then, my husband was wounded by a bomb, and I spent days and nights and weeks and months and years in hospital rooms eating vending machine food, eating takeout, watching him sleep after surgeries, dressing wounds, eating away my sadness and fear and anger.
I looked at myself naked in the mirror one night—I was 200 pounds for the first time ever. I moved my hands over my hips, my gut, my breasts, and thought, “This is what it’s like to be fat. This is what a fat body feels like.”
I remembered being desired. The rubbernecking. The hollers. The compliments. Any fucking comments at all. Those things didn’t happen anymore. Nice people don’t tell you when you’re fat. Nice people don’t stare at fat bodies. They just don’t say anything at all. In my fatness, I felt invisible. I didn’t cut my hair that time. Instead, I cut apples, made a pie, ate as much of it as I could with a side of vanilla ice cream.
Weight Watchers was strict, but I found ways to cheat. If I starved myself until dinner, I could eat an entire medium thin-crust ham and pineapple Domino’s pizza. I was told by a friend who’d been fat before but wasn’t anymore, “Don’t drink your calories,” so I only ever drank water or vodka seltzers with lime. After losing 25 pounds, my husband asked if he could take pictures of me. “What if you wore nothing but those boots?” he asked. The wanting felt good. No, great. Like sucking in a chest full of air after having been underwater for so long. I sprawled out on the bed, and he liked it so much he tossed the camera aside and we had sex.
I never got high-school-skinny as I’d hoped, but people were quick to say “Wow, you look great!” or “How did you do it?” Then, when I couldn’t maintain the diet, I gained all of the weight back and everyone went silent again.
When my husband died, it felt like the ultimate rejection. I’d never felt so desperate, never craved something so badly before. At first, I hardly left my house. I drank wine in my bed every night, straight from the bottle, cried myself to sleep watching back-to-back episodes of “Lost,” woke up next to those bottles, empty, head spinning, consumed by nausea and guilt. Then, I tried to fill the lack with the company of other men, even convincing myself I’d fallen in love with one of them, until he rejected me, too. Weeks went by. Wine bottles piled up. My house foreclosed. My car was repossessed.
“This,” I thought, “is what I’ve always feared. This is what it feels like to be alone.”
This was not how I wanted to spend my life, I realized, constantly in battle with the only body I would ever have for the entirety of the only life I would ever have. But how do you shed a lifetime of shame?
When the initial fog of grief cleared, the world looked different to me than it ever had. Though I had always known people die, suddenly, I really knew. People die, I thought. I would die. I meditated on this. On death. On my death. Where once it might have made me feel desperate, now it gave me clarity, or so it seemed. This was my chance to live, and I wanted to live in a way that would make my husband proud.
I would live for myself. I would never let someone convince me I needed to be or do anything. I began to purge.
Anything negative in my life had to go. That included fat. It was a symbol of my past pain, of my grief. I wanted my body to reflect the new me. The happy me. I ate leaves and boiled eggs, drank warm water to suppress the hunger, took pills to suppress the hunger, and ran for miles and miles until men’s heads began to swivel, until my friends said, “Girl, you are f*cking hot!” Until I fainted.
Without the fat, I noticed wrinkles. I paid thousands of dollars to pump botulin, pump collagen, into my face, hiding proof of the sadness I once had, hiding proof of my age. Then, I noticed sagging breasts. When I asked my well-meaning boyfriend if he noticed, he said, “They were perkier before, but you’re beautiful either way.” What I heard was, “You are never going to be good enough.”
I thought I had figured something out, but I was only on a pendulum. I was disappointed in myself for feeling this way again. I wanted to be happy. I was tired of fighting. This was not how I wanted to spend my life, I realized, constantly in battle with the only body I would ever have for the entirety of the only life I would ever have. But how do you shed a lifetime of shame? How do you escape the cycle of living for others and start living for yourself? How do you learn to love your body?
I’m 33 now, and I would be lying if I said I’ve figured it all out. I admit I still fear rejection. I still want to be good enough. I don’t want to die alone. I still don’t know what I’m doing. But, with age, I have found some peace. And I’ve found the confidence to ignore the incessant voices telling me who I should be.
Maybe, after years of hearing confusing messages, I realized they’re all bullshit. Maybe surviving it all has shown me my own strength. Maybe I’m exhausted. It’s hard to tell.
But I’ve stopped the injections. Stopped the pills. Stopped the hair dye. Stopped using sex and food and alcohol to numb my pain. I stopped giving so much of a shit about what others think of me, and it feels really good.
I am aware now of how privileged I am in this body, no matter its shape. I have two legs that have always taken me wherever I wanted to go. I have two eyes that have seen beauty so great it’s brought me to tears. I have two hands that feed me, that have reached out and touched the faces of people I love. My breath flows without effort. My heart has never failed me. Even the color of my skin is a privilege. When I meditate on these things, I can’t help but feel love for the body I have.
This is what it’s like to exist in a body. This is what my body feels like. This body is mine, and I am lucky to have it.