When the ‘Fat Friend’ Is Your Identity, Change Seems Impossible

I thought I was comfortable in assuming a role, but now I want something different

Illustration: Janet Sung

“Sorry I can’t come; I don’t like amusement parks and I’m afraid of rollercoasters” is a lie I told friends many times.

I’d gone a few times with family but always carefully researched the rides and their weight limits beforehand to determine whether I’d attempt to ride or just tell everyone I wasn’t interested. Because the truth is, I have always been afraid of getting to the front of the line for a ride and being told I’m too fat to get on.

Recently, I realized this was one of my first acts of treating myself as the fat friend and excluding myself from things that I decided weren’t for people like me. While I’ve been fat my entire life, it has always been something I tried to hide. I thought if I didn’t mention it, no one would notice and it’d go away. Obviously that wasn’t true, but it didn’t stop me from pretending it was. I wanted to lose weight, but something was stopping me. That something was the fact that I’d grown accustomed to being the “fat friend”.

I remember being a teenager who loved to dance but feared being laughed at even more. Before going to a party, I would practice choreography in my room for days, but when I got there my insecurities wouldn’t allow me to do more than a two-step. I recall times that I mustered up the courage to do full-on dance moves and as soon as I’d start, I’d hear laughing. To this day I’m not sure if people were actually laughing or if my insecurities were getting the best of me. Either way, it was enough to convince me to stop and head back to my safe space, the sidelines. Many of my friends didn’t share these fears. When they saw me holding up the wall or standing by awkwardly, they’d ask me to hold their things then head back to the spotlight. They likely never realized how this made me feel, but I’ve never forgotten. This became my thing — standing by. When boys came around, I stood by. When pictures were taken, I stood by. I knew the guys didn’t want to talk to me and figured that the picture would look better without me in it. I played my position.

Deep down, I always wanted to get in the game, I wanted to be one of the beautiful girls in the picture and to dance all night. By college, I had let go of some of my insecurities and was more likely to get in the pictures and dance at the parties, but I still found myself feeling like the fat friend. What now?

Being the fat friend became a part of my identity, and I stayed that person because I was afraid of the alternative. But I’m ready to find out.

I dreamed of losing weight and having a body I was comfortable in and being able to wear name-brand clothes that didn’t come in my current size. But then I’d tell myself that my role was elsewhere, that being the seemingly confident, funny, fun, “well dressed for a fat girl” girl was the role I’d been given and I was used to it, so why change? I also didn’t want to find out how my friendships would change if I was no longer the bystander. Many times I was told that although I’m a big girl, I “dress it well” — I’m never sure how to feel about that, but throughout the years it did make me feel better. As time passed and I remained the same while watching others get the bodies they wanted, statements like that kept me complacent. This complacency spilled over into other aspects of my life too and I found myself stuck in professional roles, relationships, and friendships because it was what I had. Why push against the status quo when you’re in a space that appears to be comfortable?

Therapy helped me realize that I wasn’t comfortable, I was playing it safe. And in that, I consistently showed up as the girl version of myself, not the woman. Being the fat friend became a part of my identity, and I stayed that person because I was afraid of the alternative. But I’m ready to find out.

Throughout the quarantine, I’ve taken a lot of time to get to know myself. I’ve been paying attention to my reactions, likes, and dislikes and pushing back against many of my own outdated beliefs. For instance — the belief that I don’t deserve to be seen or to be beautiful.

I created a divide in my mind a long time ago: There were beautiful people who had beautiful things — and then there was me. But an ongoing Twitter conversation about seeing more Black women in luxury struck me; luxury is something I’ve never considered for myself. Like the amusement park, I’d often say that I don’t like certain clothes or brands, however, more often I just couldn’t fit them. It’s exhausting to constantly make excuses for why I don’t want to go places or pretend that I don’t like things, to try and hide the obvious from everyone.

I’m fat and many spaces were not made for me.

It’s often assumed that Black women are innately strong and can figure out anything that comes our way, but sometimes we’re simply sticking to the script that family, friends, or society have written for us. Recently, I decided to dedicate myself to a healthier lifestyle which includes better eating habits, exercise, and meditation. I have a goal of losing 100 pounds, and with every pound, I am shedding the labels. I am shedding the fear of how things will change when I’m no longer the fat friend and accepting that in life, change is necessary.

This journey is a lot deeper than just losing weight, it’s about putting in the work to become the person I’ve always wanted to be, breaking my own boundaries, and not allowing comfort to stop me. It’s about wanting something for myself and going for it; it’s about stepping away from the sideline and getting in the game.

Author of “A Book of Failed Love Stories” and host of Destinista’s Depictions: The Podcast, Destini uses her voice to inspire and create change.

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