Words by Gabbie Lynch
Artwork by Frances Cannon
Ever since I started high school at the tender and influential age of 12, I was the “fat one” in my friendship group. Whilst no one ever openly admitted this (or not to my face at least) it was an unspoken truth. There were always challenges being the fat one in the group; I couldn’t share and swap clothes amongst my friends, my circular face gleamed noticeably larger in photos and chaffing between my thighs was something that only I experienced.
These things about being the fat one in the group sucked. But the hardest thing about being the fat one was being unable to actively participate in the conversations of self-loathing and body hatred. Being fat meant that I was uninvited to these daily conversations. Not on purpose of course. But when your thin friends discuss how much they hate their fat thighs or the lining of excess skin across their stomachs, as the fat friend, you cannot openly partake in their vernacular of self-loathing. Because as fat as they believe their thighs or stomachs are, your’s will always be bigger. And both you and your friends know that they can’t honestly tell you otherwise because if they themselves believe that they are fat, well then, you must be a monster.
It sounds silly and trivial now that I’m a moving further away from my teen years but when I was fourteen or fifteen I would have loved to have openly admitted to my friends “Oh my thighs look so big in this”. Instead, I reassured them that their tiny figures were beautiful and that they should never associate themselves with being fat whilst I let my own insecurities eat at me from the inside and continued to feel guilty for letting myself take up too much space.
I know what you’re thinking, “How could she possibly feel like she was left out of conversations of self-hatred and body insecurities?” I wasn’t left out because I didn’t have insecurities. Of course I did; I was teenage girl living in a society that judged me by the size of my body rather then by the size of my achievements. I was left out because I wasn’t game enough to admit to my beautiful and petite friends that I hated my fat body. In their own self-hatred, it was not possible for them to honestly reassure me that I was not fat. Instead, I kept my own insecurities locked inside because the only thing that hurt more than silence was dishonesty.
When I was fifteen years old, I went through a vicious few months of intense anxiety. I lost about 10 kilos and moved from a size 12 to a size 8 – 10. Everyone congratulated me for my weight loss, as if it was my greatest achievement. Little did they know they my weight loss came from an inability to swallow food because I felt like butterflies had found their home in my stomach. It seemed the greatest achievement I had made in my life was my ability to become so mentally unwell that I couldn’t digest food and thus lost a significant amount of weight in a short time. Forget that I was talented sports women, playing both state level netball and tennis or that I had won a singing scholarship at Newcastle Conservatorium of Music. Forget that I was a high achieving academic student with a flair for photography and art. Forget that I had an enormous and beautiful group of friends and a highly active social life. At 15 years old, my greatest achievement was my unhealthy weight loss.
As my mental state improved, I began to gain weight again. By the following year I was the happiest I had been in 12 months and also my heaviest. I was relatively fit and completed a big five-day trek through monsoonal conditions in Vietnam – something I could not have done when I had lost all that weight. I was playing competitive netball again and I reconnected with my love for photography. And I was back to my position as the fat one in my friendship group.
I didn’t receive any congratulations for my ability to bring myself through an intense period of anxiety. People weren’t proud of me in the way they were when I lost all that weight. I was applauded for a dramatic weight loss but when I put the weight back on and became happy again, the only thing people noticed was my weight gain.
This is, at its purest form, the problem with our societal values. Instead of cheering people on for being the absolute best versions of themselves they can be, we cheer for people when they appear to be at their best PHYSICAL version of themselves according to unwritten societal expectations. If someone is thin, then they must be happy. Good on them!
The truth for me and for many young women and teenage girls is that being thin does not equate to happiness. I found myself the happiest when I was heavier. When I was fit and my body could take me across the world to meet beautiful people, to see incredible places and to indulge in the most indescribable experiences that fill me indescribable joy – that’s when I’m the happiest. Or when I’m sitting in a pub on a $10 schnitty and $5 schooner night, that brings me a lot of joy too!
It’s okay to be the fat one in the group. Fat does not mean bad or ugly or disgusting. YOU CAN BE FAT AND GORGEOUS AND TALENTED AND WORTHY OF LOVE. And it’s okay to be the skinny one in the group. It’s okay to be whoever you are, as long as you are the happiest version of you. What is not okay is the conversations of self-loathing and self-hatred we encourage women to indulge in. Insecurities are inevitable and living in a society that demands so much of young women invites us to fall victim to the self-loathing trend. My (completely unprofessional but based on previous experience) advice for teen girls and all women is to stand in front of a mirror and say “Wow, I love my thighs in these shorts”. It will be hard at first, but once you get into the habit it will soon become natural and hopefully, you’ll begin to believe it!
As someone who was always been the fat one in the group, I can vouch that I if heard my friends tell me how much they loved their bodies instead of how much they hated them, I would not have experienced the guilt and disgust for being fat. I may have even been able to join the conversation for once and say “Hey, yeah, I love my thighs in these shorts too.” Unlike negativity and self-hatred, positivity does not discriminate.