The following is an extract from Happy Fat: Taking Up Space in a World That Wants to Shrink You by Sofie Hagen.
I always wear headphones when I leave my house. I like music more than I like people. My anxiety sometimes means that a lot of noises – say from traffic and people and music from shops – stress me out to a certain extent. But more importantly, I get shouted at in the street. It does not happen every day. But it does happen. Enough that I feel safer with my headphones on.
I stay away from nightclubs. Again, I am not a fan of people or loud, fast music. It is not a big sacrifice that I have made, cutting out nightclubs. Even if I were not fat, I probably would have stayed away from them. But I had a period of trying to fit in when I went to them quite a bit. I was of the opinion – or hope – that if only I didn’t think about being fat, maybe people could not see that I was. Maybe all those people who said, 'No, you’re not fat,' were actually right. Maybe I could trick more people.
Allow me to introduce to you the normalisation of the abuse and violence against fat people in the form of 'fun party games'. Two examples of these are 'pull a pig' (where a group of guys compete to 'pull the ugliest-looking woman' to win the game) and 'fat girl rodeo' (when a guy pulls a fat girl in a club, whispers this in her ear to let her know, and then holds on to her tight, like a 'rodeo', as she tries to get away). These may sound like urban legends or something I have made up to make my point, but I’m afraid it’s very possible to google both of these 'games' and see many examples. And I know plenty of people who have been victims of these 'games'.
When I was twenty years old, I kissed a boy in a nightclub. A few seconds into the kiss, I heard the sound of a group of guys laughing. The guy kissing me started laughing too. I was so embarrassed that I kept kissing him because I thought that it would make it worse if he realised that I knew what was happening.
Only a couple of weeks later, I chatted to a dreadful guy in a bar. I was bored because my friend was dancing and this guy seemed more interesting than staring into a wall. It turned out that the wall would have been a bundle of joy compared to him. I only spoke to him for ten minutes when he suddenly started laughing and said, 'I can’t believe you thought I was going to fuck you. Ew, gross,' and then he left. The loud music in the bar made it impossible for him to hear what I shouted at him as he was walking away. I think that might be why people like him enjoy nightclubs. The loud music makes it impossible for them to ever be called 'cunts' to their faces.
I have rejected guys who gasped, 'But you are fat!' as if that was their get-in-for-free card. I have been chatted up at 2am by men who seemed close to crumbling under the pressure of needing to 'pull', and who had hoped that I would be grateful for their attention.
After a certain point, when men started flirting with me, I stopped trusting them. Even after they eventually wore me down, I would hold my breath and await the inevitable punchline to our night together. There are men I slept with years ago who I still sometimes expect to show up at my door with a sign that says, 'Ha! Joke! You actually think I wanted to fuck you?' and a part of me would be relieved to see them.
I once listened to a podcast in which a comedian joked about fat women in nightclubs. He said, 'Fat women can definitely pull in nightclubs . . . Just after 3 am,' and the rest of the podcast group laughed. Only a year before I heard him say that sentence in my headphones as I was sitting on a bus, he had invited me to his flat at 7pm one night. When he opened the door, he was sober and he had lit candles everywhere. After we had made love, he begged me to spend the night because he wanted to have breakfast with me in the morning.