As of right now, I’m celebrating a little victory.
In my last post, I talked about the body shaming that is rampant within the cosplay world. I pointed to several websites that made their bones out of making fun of ‘fat’ or ‘ugly’ cosplayers. The whole explosion of blogginess happened because of a Facebook page called Fat Cosplayers, in which some internet troll decided to post up photos of people for the sake of making fun of them. Me and tons of other people on social media went to Facebook to report the page.
Less than twenty-four hours later, that Facebook page is gone.
And in my mind, I’m saying: We won.
I’m celebrating. This is a minor thing in the grand scheme of the universe, but before I go back to my work at grad school or my freelancing today, I had to celebrate. Because that’s one against bullies. That’s one against the insensitivity of the world. We take what we can get.
Today is known as Spirit Day, a day when people speak up about bullying and stand up against such behavior for the future. So let’s have a little story time today about why anti-bullying is important. We’re going to open up and be super, completely honest.
Let’s tell a little story about Shoshana.
Hi. This is me. I’m fat. I’ve been this way more than half my life.
I’ve been fat since I was eleven years old. Before that, I was a horsey-limbed little colt of a thing, running around playing sports. Then puberty hit and, wouldn’t you know it, I grew to nearly 5’11” in one year and developed all those women-parts that cause you to suddenly look WAY older than you actually are. I also gained nearly one hundred pounds in a year. It didn’t hurt that I was super depressed that year and took to eating as an answer. Why was I depressed, you ask? Because I was bullied pretty hard. There was a girl in my class who hated me for some reason who made it her business to make my life a living hell. She broke into my locker in school. She slammed a window on my wrist. She called me names. When I spoke about being adopted, something that was very difficult for me, she came out and said: “The reason you can’t ask for money from your folks [for a school trip] is because you’re not their real child.” Years later, this girl swore up and down she didn’t mean anything by any of it. But I remember her. I remember her name, all those years later, and I remember how she would always say her hair was auburn and not red. I can’t forget.
I went through high school being teased. I had no friends. I ended up dropping out of high school and staying home because I was so depressed, I couldn’t walk down the hallways. I got nailed for not being as religious as the kids around me, for feeling uncomfortable with some of the bigoted nonsense in my community. I felt alone in my skin, with nowhere to turn. It didn’t help that I was developing what we later discovered was bi-polar disorder and my mood swings were awful. But I discovered the internet, stayed home and stayed online. Why? Because it was easier than dealing with the terrible things that people would say to me. I ate because I was sad and because, frankly, I didn’t give a damn anymore. I figured there was no reason to take care of myself. I should enjoy what I could because there was no being happy in life. I was depressed, suicidal, and eating to forget. I thank God I never discovered drugs or alcohol during that time period or MAN would there have been issues.
I pulled myself out of it to go to college. And there I discovered a world of diversity. Of people who looked like me. I discovered the world was big, wide, and full of all kinds of folks. Still, I had trouble. You train a person for years that anyone, at any time, can come up and hurt you, you’re going to get someone who doesn’t trust easily. I joined a sorority, tried to have friends, tried to date. And this is where I got some of the most harsh lessons in what it’s like to not be like other people. I was a bi-sexual, bi-polar, terribly sheltered Jewish fat girl. I was like the slow moving gazelle in the herd- easy pickings for bullies and the chronically insensitive.
I still remember the first guy I had a major crush on. His name was David. He liked video game music and was Jewish. His dad went to synagogue with mine. My father thought for sure I’d met someone finally that I might get together with- happily ever after. I thought this guy was hilarious and, during a party at a local bar one night, I asked him out. He was pretty wasted and we were joking around. He turned to me and laughed so hard and said he didn’t think he’d ever go out with me. I asked him why not. He said: “You know how people like certain kinds of porn? I don’t like fat people porn.”
I remember where I was standing when he said that. I remember how cold it was. I never spoke to him again. That was over ten years ago now. I can’t forget.
I went on in college. I left school to get my life together. I did martial arts as my profession for eighteen months, starved myself on a practically liquid diet in the hopes of losing weight, and always felt awful that I wasn’t in the same shape as other people. I would run in class until I thought I was going to throw up and faint. My martial arts master would always frown at me as though I were a disappointment. I left that school and went back to college. I went overseas and discovered that if you need to buy clothing in London and you’re fat, you are going to have a hard time. I had people on the London Tube say I was too fat to sit on the seat with them. I went to France and had a woman there call me a “fat kike” (a Jewish slur I’d never heard to my face). I ended up in the hospital and nearly died from a stupid gallbladder failure and decided, right then, that I wanted to fix up my life. I made new friends, who I loved and adored. But who would still say things like:
“Sometimes I see the beautiful person trapped inside all that fat.”
“You could become a vegetarian, that would fix all your weight problems.”
“You just need to stop eating all that stuff. I mean, you can’t eat like normal people. You have to try extra hard.”
I remember every name. I remember every person, what they said, where I was. I can’t forget.
I remember my female friends, who would make mouth noises about being accepting and loving of everyone no matter the body type, look at me sideways when I would say I was into someone. And if I said I was interested in the same person they were, I would watch them shrug that off, as if to say: “It’s not like you have a chance.” I would call them on it, too, and watch them protest. “But that’s not what I was thinking! Of course not! I’m so sorry I made you feel that way!” Yet the next time the issue came up, the exact same thing happened. I was the fat girl, the invisible one. And it was a bitter joy that at least, to them, I was invisible in certain ways and yet acceptable as a friend. At least I wasn’t alone anymore. But I still remember each of those moments, and each of the hurts. They mark a long list of bullying tactics, insensitivity and invisibility that has plagued me all my life.
I’m not invisible anymore. I’ve created for myself the life I always wanted, where I have good people around me and the opportunity to create as a way of life. I no longer accept bullying in any forms. I don’t accept ‘it’s just a joke’ as an answer from those who say that they are ‘really nice people’ and ‘would never want to hurt someone else.’ I call it out as I see it. I learn to let things go and to forgive because people aren’t bad, but they can make stupid, apathetic, hurtful decisions.
But I don’t forget. I can’t forget that to some people, I am other because of how I look. That to many, I’m invisible unless I open my mouth and the power of my voice carries me beyond their prejudices to validate me as a human being. I will never forget those sideways looks, the pity in people’s eyes, and the years it took for me to not give in to just bitterness. I won’t forget how hard it has been to hold onto hope.
Hope lives. It lives in every friend who has given me a supportive hand, who has never judged me when I put a fork to my mouth in their company, or who stood up for me when some ‘well meaning’ asshat on the street says how sad it is to see a young woman like me ‘in my condition.’ Hope lives in the lovers who have called me beautiful and made me believe them, and no matter how we parted company, I won’t forget their names either. Hope lives in friends who have commiserated with me, and who have supported me, and treated me like a person who exists and is relevant.
Hope lives and I live because of hope every day.
That’s my message for Spirit Day, folks. Hope lives for those on the receiving end of bullying. And hope even lives for the insensitive, the chronically hurtful, the bullies out there. There’s hope enough for you too. I believe that, I’ll never forget it. I just hope you can find that too.