The way I related to other fat women and girls (and men/boys, but that's perhaps for another reflection another time) over time says something about my fat identity.
Fat women have always been in my life. Although my mom was thin when I was little, family on both my mother's and father's sides were on the hefty side more often than not. I remember the first time I saw a picture of my mother from high school. My body made so much more sense to me. In her childhood pictures she is an average sized girl with short blond hair, but as she aged her hair grew and darkened and she became heavier. Her high school picture was very different from the thin mother I knew as a child, or even the size 12 mother I knew as a teen. At age ten I was wearing my mother's clothes--in fact, I raided her closet often for the clothes I thought were funky and 'vintage,' which mostly meant I looked like a bit of a weirdo to my classmates, but I took a lot of pleasure in it and remember feeling a loss when her clothes no longer fit me. I hadn't quite found thrift shopping at that point.
I think middle school was the point at which I started to feel actively antagonistic toward other fat women and girls. One day in homeroom I was sitting with a table of boys. Assigned table, probably. Our homeroom teacher was fat. She had also, oddly enough, been my fourth grade teacher. I didn't like her very much then. Perhaps I already had some antagonism going on. She seemed nicer in middle school homeroom, though. In middle school she mostly taught kids who were lagging behind and kids who were differently abled.
In homeroom I sat next to a boy I had once had a crush on in grade school, who at that time had picked on me in art class and then gotten me called to the principal's office after I apparently reacted by smashing clay into his clothing (which angered his mother), though I didn't remember doing it even at the time I was called to the principal; what I do remember was that going to the principal was a BFD for a kid like me. Anyway, said boy, skinny and short with sandy hair in a bowl cut commented about our teacher being so fat. I agreed! She was sooooooooo fat. I'll never be that fat, I thought or said, I'm not sure. I couldn't imagine being that fat. My plan was to get skinny! I had already internalized the dream of showing up my classmates by getting skinny and (thus) beautiful (desirable, lovable). This conversation, in fact, is documented in my 8th grade yearbook where he wrote:
"Good luck in high school. cheerup and don't be a crump like usual. Surly don't end up like Mrs. _________. (fat)"Next to it, for good measure or for posterity or as a reminder to myself, since it was my own yearbook, I wrote. "I won't. I PROMISE."
And I meant it. I couldn't imagine being as fat as our teacher. I trembled at the thought of becoming that fat. Looking back, perhaps my classmate didn't think I was fat (and maybe I wasn't, really), but I already thought I was. I remember having an identity as the fat girl because I also remember feeling like I had to take sides. Someone talked about the fat teacher, I had to also denounce her. And to cast off fatness even further, since the possibility of real fatness was borne on my body, I had to swear it off myself. I wanted nothing more than to disassociate myself with a fat teacher; I already felt enough stigma because of my body.
My relationship with fat girls was more complicated. I had fat friends (at least 'fat' friends), but a few 'fat' girls--often, I'm ashamed to say, poorer and less physically attractive 'fat' girls--I didn't associate with. To be fair, several of these girls were seriously lacking in social skills and I found them to be mean, though I'm sure those things are partially attributable to the fact that they were heavily ostracized; it was hard to know which came first. It felt good to know I wasn't dead last on the middle school/high school totem pool...but honestly, not that good.
Other 'fat' girls who were my friends sometimes simultaneously held this weird antagonistic place in my mental space. They were the sassier, bolder fat girls. Fat girls with attitude, striking and opinionated, and it felt like perhaps there was only room for so many of us. I never became very close with these girls. It was as if there was an unspoken competition--we were all about equal in status, so perhaps that made things more tenuous between us.
In fact, there's only one sassy fat girl I can think of from that period of my life with whom I did bond with. I met her in drama club, and she was a grade older than me. She'd scoff at me calling her sassy--she was the driest wit and had the most sarcasm in our whole high school--but it was a kind of sass. To this day she is one of my best friends. Our sass-es must have meshed well, harmonized. There was another 'fat' girl in drama club who was also a grade ahead of me, and she did hold that antagonistic position in my mind...though she did get the part I wanted in the play and was kind of a dick about it since her head inflated considerably. I told myself I would not have gotten such an ego about it, though I had wished the part would give me an ego boost.
Growing up I had a couple of good friends who were thin, but by middle school many of them were 'fat.' Less sassy fat girls I could bond well with. They were not void of sass--that simply would not do--just a milder sassy. Usually I was the sassiest. I felt a bond with my 'fat' friends based on the mere fact of our size. I thought there was a certain understanding, a certain point of view we shared. I didn't feel judged by them or in competition for my sassy fat girl identity. And I wasn't afraid to be associated with them, for some reason wasn't afraid that they'd bring me more stigma. I suppose as long as they didn't drag down my social status in other ways, that solidarity meant something to me socially. And none of them were "that fat"--as fat as our teacher--nor could I imagine that they ever would be.
Perhaps another reason was because, in a typical contradictory fashion, I started to identify more with other fat girls, though not fat teachers. There was a delicate balance of feeling and not feeling solidarity, but I certainly could not identify with the fat teacher.
In high school, though, even that started to change. Our Spanish teacher was a very fat woman with very thin curly long brown hair and a striking redness to her face which I now know to be rosacea. She often wore knee-length, long-sleeved dresses made out of sweatshirt material. I could not understand, at the time, why she would wear such hideous, unflattering clothing. I'm sure I understood, to some extent, that she didn't have many options, but I still couldn't fathom wearing what she wore.
Needless to say, high school kids were horrible to her. Terrible names for her playing on her last name. No respect whatsoever. She could not control the class, and I slept a lot because I was either very bored or annoyed. She stopped calling on me once she realized I could lift my head from my desk, open my eyes, and answer her questions correctly. I believe it was in her class that I realized I had to get the fuck out of that town...of the high school.
For one of group projects, we were to bring in food. Was it supposed to be food from Spanish speaking countries? I don't know, but my group brought in chocolate covered strawberries. Maybe she also taught an English class. At some point a student was going to put a tack on her seat, which I protested against and thought it was better not to cause a teacher physical harm. I thought they had given up on pranking her when suddenly I see the ass of her white sweatshirt dress is smeared with chocolate. Someone had put one of our chocolate covered strawberries on her seat or at least wiped chocolate on it.
I was horrified for her. I prodded friends to tell her, to no avail. Finally, at the risk of others thinking I was on the side of the fat, poorly-dressed, red-faced teacher, I told her about the stain. How could anyone in good conscience let her go around like that all day? In addition, I was furious at my classmates because above all, I knew that the reason they behaved this way was because she was a fat woman, a fat woman who didn't even have what most would consider a pretty face, nor a flattering outfit, to compensate for her size.
Something in me changed that day, just a little. I started to identify more with the way she was treated and less with my classmates who taunted her. I knew what it was like to face that stigma and disdain...and there was some emotional connection there that could not be mitigated by fear of that same stigma.
I could tell she was embarrassed, but I was almost concerned when she didn't seem nearly as mortified as I had expected. Perhaps she was used to these kinds of things. Maybe she didn't care so much about what people thought. But in her reaction I discovered a new respect for her. She wasn't the coolest fat lady, but it was clear to me that she was a stronger person than I had known.