The Murky Purgatory Of Being Chubby

Photographed by Maria DelRio
Growing up, my great-grandmother, Ida, was my human scale. When she said I looked too skinny, it meant she was worried that I might be sick and she’d try to fill me with cabbage soup and cookies. That’s when I felt like I was exactly the right weight. I dreaded the day she said I was zaftig, Yiddish for "chunky," which translated to "fat" in no uncertain terms. To her, a few extra pounds meant you were healthy. She survived the Great Depression and watched the Holocaust play out; who could blame her for having a different sense of “normal” than the rest of America?

Unfortunately, great-grandma’s ballooned barometer encouraged me to heap on second helpings of mashed potatoes and the like. By the time I was 10, I had bid farewell to the lanky child of yesteryear and embraced a slightly more fleshed-out version of myself.

I was officially chubby.

Great-grandma would have said I looked just right, but I knew that according to the rest of America’s standards, I definitely wasn’t thin.

There were a couple of years between adolescence and gaining my "freshman 15" when I slimmed down and rocked size-four booty shorts. But for the most part, I’ve hovered between a size 10 and 14 my entire adult life. And while this put me on the low end of the range of clothing sizes for the average American woman, I always knew I wasn’t quite the "thin ideal" — and that bothered me, no matter how much I recognized that my unfair self-perception was a result of the media’s problematic messaging, which drives a good deal of public opinion.

In a culture obsessed with skinny and fat, it's weird to be stuck in the middle. I’m a chunky woman who always finds herself in the in-between spaces in everything, from shopping for clothes to figuring out how I fit in — literally — compared to those around me.

When I travel on a plane, bus, or train, I’m hyperaware of how much space I take up and whether a stray elbow here or a thigh there hits the person in the seat next to mine. I’m forever concerned about spilling over into the next seat, especially with extra layers in the winter. I don’t want to be that person. I don’t want to be the large girl who invades someone’s space without realizing it.

If I were officially the 'fat girl,' it would be less confusing. At least I would know where I fell on the spectrum of troublesome cultural stereotypes.

Part of me feels that if I were officially the "fat girl," it would be less confusing. At least I would know where I fell on the spectrum of troublesome cultural stereotypes. Being the "chubby girl" means I’m the biggest of the skinny girls and the smallest of the fat girls. It’s like being the mediocre fruitcake at the potluck. Everybody is going for the fresh fruit or the chocolate cake. I’m just sitting there collecting dust. I weigh enough that doctors tell me I need to watch my intake and lose a few pounds, but I don’t weigh so much that I qualify for medical intervention.

I’ve spent my adult life watching thin girls eat Big Macs and not gain an ounce, and much bigger girls opt for the stomach staple or the lap-band surgery and emerge weeks later, newly thin. I’ve always been incredibly jealous of both. I have to eat rabbit food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, day in and day out. I have to exercise like an Olympic athlete just to lose a couple of pounds so I can button my pants without a sharp inhalation — and I look exactly the same.

I live in a weird purgatory where plus-sized clothes are too big, but sometimes, the largest size available in the regular women’s section is half a size too small for me, so getting dressed in the morning can be a challenge. Some days, I feel adorable. My outfit conceals my rolls and I feel like I look like an average-sized person. Other days, I look in the mirror and my second chin and back fat seem to be forming an alliance in an effort to sabotage me and take my body hostage. Sometimes, my fat dances to the beat of its own drum and I feel happy and comfortable in my body as it is.

When I look at pictures of myself, especially group shots taken by others — a.k.a, free from the manufactured smallness I’ve expertly crafted in selfies — I sometimes look great and appear average-sized compared to others in the frame; and sometimes, I have to do a double take, because I don’t recognize the round lady in the picture that resembles me.

I know that fat is beautiful and fat-shaming is wrong. I also know that the majority of our country still believes that skinny is beautiful. Both may be true. But where does that leave me? No one ever says much about chubby people. It may come to pass that I’ll forever be the forgotten middle-weight child.

For now, I'm content enough to walk in the chubby shoes I have been given (and which my great-grandmother helped me nourish and fill). I definitely go through periods that are healthier than others, in terms of both my actual physical well-being and emotional state. But the older I get, the less I care about beauty norms and the more I realize I'm my own beautiful person in this exquisite skin I'm lucky enough to embody.

After all, compared to what my great-grandmother had to deal with, it’s a luxury to worry about a few extra pounds, even if I’m not always able to see that.

It's your body. It's your summer. Enjoy them both. Check out more #TakeBackTheBeach here.

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