Monday, September 20, 2010

Another Open Letter...

Over the weekend, I attended Jaquelyn Frank's Authors After Dark conference in Secaucus, NJ. Overall, it was an amazing, enjoyable weekend. There were plenty of good friends, some I had met before, some I met for the first time. There were readers and authors, both sides fangurling over each other, fun giveaways and free books. Tons of fun was had by all.

Keeping that in mind, what I'm about to say is not a reflection on the conference. It is a reflection on one particular individual, and it should in no way turn readers or authors off from attending the conference the future. It's fun, affordable, and everyone goes home happy.

Unless they spend the weekend having their body weight relentlessly mocked by someone who should fucking know better.

I'm a large woman. I make no apologies or excuses. If I wanted to be thinner, I could be. I could work out more, eat less, I'm large enough that surgery is an option. But I don't pursue any of those options, because I'm happy with my life. It never occurred to me that anyone would feel that they had the right to be unhappy with my size on my behalf.

This weekend, one particular individual, and author who I used to greatly admire and looked forward to spending time at the conference with, took it upon herself to make comments leveled specifically at me, to my face and in front of other attendees in an attempt to shame me about my size. Comments like, "There's nothing worse than a fat woman wearing flowers," in regards to my love of Hawaiian shirts. "Don't eat that, that's why you're fat," when I grabbed a snack (this in front of a horrified group of readers attending a party in the con suite). Other fat-hate comments about "feeling sorry" for large people who wear sweatpants in public, and "knowing what that's like," that assume all fat people secretly long to be thin and are miserable because they are not.

When the straw finally broke my big, fat back (the "that's why you're fat" comment), I started off feeling enraged. How dare someone police my body? How dare someone feel they had the right to pity me for the way I dress or what I eat or how much I weigh? I have given no one permission to pity me, because I don't pity myself. I like myself, at any size or shape, and I love my awesome, awesome life. I live for every moment, and I try to make sure that I feel everything in my life with enthusiasm for living. Okay, maybe not as enthusiastic when I'm stuck in a plane on a runway in Allentown, PA because God decided to smite New York with a crazy huge thunderstorm, but most of the time I really do love every second of my life. The thought of someone pitying me, making a judgment that because I'm fat I must also be unhappy with my lot, made me see absolute red.

Then, it made me even more mad to realize that if she'd said these same comments to someone who has a problem accepting their weight, they might have thought, "She's right." A friend who roomed with me said, "If she had said that to me, it would have destroyed me." I thought about how low my self-esteem was after I gave birth to my first child and gained the first seventy-five pounds of what would ultimately be an over one-hundred pound weight gain. If someone had said to me then, "This is why you're fat" or made a comment about feeling sorry for people like me, I would have been crushed. I struggled with binge eating back then, out of hatred for myself and my body. I crash dieted, desperately counted my "points" and kept a "thinspiration" journal of svelte bodies that I wanted so badly to have for my own. If I had met this author back then, when my career was first starting and I hated myself for getting fat, I would have given up. I would have given up writing, starved myself, missed out on friends and acquaintances that I met in this business who I hold very dear. A single snide comment about my weight, back then, would have literally ruined my life. Did she make a remark that hurt someone else that badly at this event?

But as I considered all this, I also realized that this woman was not making these comments to me. She used to fat, and makes no attempt to hide the fact that she has lost the weight. She shouldn't, either. She was unhappy with something in her life, so she changed it, at great personal sacrifice. She worked hard for a dream, and she deserves credit for that, just as anyone who is brave enough to make a huge sacrifice for what they want deserves recognition. But for some reason, it's not enough for her to have attained her goal. She needs to punish her old self for not living up to her new standards.

She wasn't talking to me. She was talking to herself before she lost the weight.

So, to this individual, who I hope reads this post, I say: Let go of the hatred you have for yourself. Who you are is not about what you used to weigh. The people in your life who loved you then and now will never stop loving you because of a number on the scale. Your readers, who devour your books, don't care what you look like. They love you and your stories because you have a gift that transcends physical standards of beauty.

I know, because I used to be one of those readers. I'm not anymore. I will probably never forgive you for the hateful way you treated me this weekend. I know I damned sure won't be reading your books in the future, because every time I pick one up I will be reminded that you don't feel I'm worthy to shake the ground with my lumbering steps. But I do truly want you to forgive yourself for being fat in the past. You were a lovely person then, inside and out. You've made the outside lovelier. Now work on fixing the ugliness you grew on the inside.

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