A writer comes to terms with her desire to be fat
by LaTroya Lovell
That night, on my own, I thought about the bitterness in the conversation with my friend. I had laughed and joked with her about how gross fat women are for an entire evening. I felt guilty about how a single comment led me to have such a violent conversation. The question that pressed me most was whether I was lying to myself about my own self image. I did not want to be fat. Who would want to be fat? Sinking into the soft, mauve couch, slumped over butter pecan ice cream, I thought, “what is really wrong with being fat?” Alone on that couch, free from the judgments of anyone else, I finally admitted to myself that the truth — I did want to be fat.
I sat there and imagined that I was no longer average-bodied. I imagined my face round and dimpled, a plump neck rolling into a chest with no collarbones. I had hips as wide as a truck body. I wanted to know what it felt like to have thighs that rumbled and ripped the insides of my jeans. I wanted to complain about how my ass couldn’t fit into small places. I imagined myself calves with no ankles; that I had a belly so soft it folded in two when I sat.
I wanted to hide my bones, they stuck out of me from everywhere: my ribs, my hips, my knees. I wanted to look like a real woman, so I was ashamed of these bones. When I cursed the woman that took up two seats on the subway, I was projecting. When I whispered to myself that she should have paid for two seats, I knew that it was me who wanted to have to pay for two seats. I was blame shifting. I was defending myself against an unpleasant impulse by denying the existence of this state in myself. In my shame of inadequacy was a huge space of fat shaming. I was indirectly sending hate because no matter how hard I imagined it, my hips would never be graceful and make someone feel uncomfortable all at once.
My back is leaned against the door of a Bronx bound train. Kat’s arm is wrapped around a pole near the door, she is showing me a picture on her phone. At the train’s halt, a woman enters. She is wearing a cropped T-shirt with a butterfly on the front. The bottom hem sinks under her breasts. Her stomach is bare and bulging outward in a dome shape. I lean over to my friend and whisper, “She’s too fat to have that shirt on, fat people should wear clothes that cover their bodies.”
My mother has a doughy face with two holes kneaded into each side. Her eyes, hazel with flecks of gold, sink into caves above full cheeks. Sometimes I watch her cook. When she stirs pots of stew peas and rice, the fleshy upper part of her arm swooshes like jello. She is swift and her body manoeuvres through the room like her thighs have learned the blueprint of the place. She does not bump into a single thing, but she always looks like she is about to. Her feet thump heavily across the floor as she walks from fridge to stove declaring, “Mi lost weight ya know. Thomas fi leave mi.” She dreads losing weight; my mother, as do nearly all of the women on the Trinidadian side of my family.
My mother, at 200 pounds, possesses the strength deemed necessary to be a real woman by Trinidadian values. In Trinidad, a skinny body signifies adolescence, illness, frailty, the inability to reproduce and weakness. The skinny body in Trinidadian culture also represents low social status. Big bodies in Trinidad signify wealth, the way that material assets signify wealth in capitalist countries. If you are fat, it means you can afford to be.
In Trinidad, women want bigger breasts, bigger butts and stomachs that ripple with the slightest movement. My mother is from an island where curvaceous women are celebrated at festivals, or at least a festival. A desirable fat woman flaunts her erotic body, almost naked, taking centre stage on the streets and beaches at a massive jubilee called Carnival. Large-bodied, masked women parade proudly, their bare skin embellished in stones, pearls and feathers of luminous colours. These women are dismissive of the gender divide, flaunting their sexuality in a way that some may believe objectify them, but really creates their agency and empowers them. Their agency is present in the confidence of knowing that the thicker they get, the more they are surrounded by the gaze. They use their bodies to assert themselves, swinging jewelled hips side-to-side, thudding through the air in rhythm with the music, making the most macho of men appear timid and submissive. Carnival celebrates a fat woman as the ideal, sensual body. Two-hundred pound women are the aesthetic of femininity; of the true, real woman.
The first time I tried to get fat was when I found out that I was pregnant with my son. I ran through all the emotions that came with finding out that you are pregnant. However, at 110 pounds, I saw this as a time that I should take advantage of, when I could gain a tremendous amount of weight in a short period. So, I ate everything.
By 35 weeks pregnant, I was triumphant. I weighed in at 160 pounds. All of my joints were cradled by cushions. The bones in my chest were no longer covered by thin skin. My ribcage was buried underneath plump pudge. My belly was swollen with layers of weight and looked like a large African shea nut. The backs of my knees dimpled, and sunk into my calves. Supporting the best smile I ever had were two chins. I was whale-like and glowing. I was bloated with this feeling that was deeper than becoming a mom. I was 50 pounds heavier and becoming a woman.
Two months after birth and I had dropped three sizes. I was afraid to weigh myself. A dark, bottomless depression ran through my veins whenever someone told me (told, because it could not merely be a comment or a compliment) that I had lost weight. It was not a sad depression; it was an irate raging depression. It had claws and was ready to lash out in defence.
Sometime later, I successfully became fat for the second time. I was in bed with my boyfriend. He slept, diagonally across the bed, his whole body under a blue paisley print down comforter. I was propped up with three pillows against the wall, reading a book. There was a late night 90s reggae video playing on the TV. I had been trying to turn the station for an hour, but every time I reached for the remote from his hand, he jumped up and declared that he was still listening and not asleep. I finally got a hold of the remote and turned to a channel that had not a lot going on and a good white glare so that I could read while he slept. The channel that I finally landed on, was playing an infomercial for a weight gainer supplement called CB1.
CB1 is a “natural” weight gain pill that beautifully sold to me the promise of gaining 10-40 pounds in just four weeks. I opened my laptop after hearing this and ordered two bottles. I did not read the warnings, the reviews, the price. I wanted to be fat.
I am standing in line at Trader Joe’s with my friend Monae. In front of us is a woman with bulky ridges rippling down the backs of her arms. Her shoulders are broad and sitting on top of a lot of body. Monae looks at me then back to the woman, we smirk at knowing each other’s thoughts. Monae raises an eyebrow and says, “Well at least she got fruit.” But “How do you eat fruit and allow yourself to get so huge? It’s disgusting,” I respond.
One night about three years ago, I remember having a dinner movie date with my mom. We chose to watch Titanic. My mother cooked oxtails with wild peas and rice. She sat on a pillow at the base of the couch soaking up gravy with slices of bread. She made comments in between taking bites of the dripping bread and spoonfuls of rice. She had on a midriff T-shirt that stopped at the top of her thighs. Her legs were closed together and looked like red-brown jelly sprouting from the floor. I ate slowly, tearing the meat off the oxtails until I could not eat any more food.
My mother looked down at my still full plate. It was piled at one side with rice that had never got near the fork. She glared at me. I knew that she felt insulted when she saw that I had not been able to finish it. I was never able to eat all of the food she made for me. In Trinidadian culture, it is considered rude not to finish a plate that someone has cooked for you. “Wah mek yuh din’t eat?” she asked. Her yellow green eyes cut into mine. Her face crumbled into a frown, deep wrinkles framed her mouth. “I can’t eat anymore I’m too full,” I said. I stood up to take my plate to the sink. After that, she got up and followed behind me. She stood right next to me at the sink and went on a verbal rampage, and I could not get one word in:
“Mi ah cook fah yuh an yuh din’t eat one bit nuh. Why mi do fah yuh ungrateful? Yuh wan be skinny up lik ah tree branch. Yuh k’yant be ere and shrivel up. I ave gyal daughta or I ave a woman? Yuh k’yant be act fi grown and not look fi grown. So yuh trough away any ah mi food an mi ah box yuh out. Yuh ave ta find a man to marry yuh, yuh play wit dat if yuh wan to. Yuh tink I not know a ting? I ah married 13 years. An mi ah fatter than ever. So yuh betta eat dat food so yuh ah leave my house with a husband since yuh so grown. Remember yuh not more woman than me.”
This was along the lines of what she said. I stood there by the sink, holding my plate feeling 110 pounds and defeated.
Four years back, I sat in a chair with a rounded wooden back post in my girlfriend, Kai’s, apartment. It wobbled when I moved, because it sat unbalanced on top of a grey shaggy rug. Kai’s room was painted sky blue and it slipped through me, lulling me to a calm. She sat on the shaggy rug with her head between my legs. Her hair smelled of turmeric and vanilla. I ran my hands through her hair over and over taking breaks in between so she could have a sip from the water jug that had sunk between the mass of her thighs.
Kai has wild, coarse curls that swirl and frame her chubby face. She has beauty marks that are sprinkled over her moon face, two of them sit at the border of her mouth. She has large, almond eyes that are bordered by long, straight lashes. Her lips are full. The bottom lip curves into a round, dimpled chin. Her shoulders are rounded like ripe mangoes. When she hugs me I get lost in folds of softness that remind me of warm bread. Her stomach has no folds, but her hips are abundant and carry her frame. Her walk is weighty, and volatile, and shakes the floor slightly. She is insecure and asked me often how I could love someone as fat as her in a voice that was sonorous and made my chest pound.
I never told her that I left her because it was hard for me to be around her. She was as big as I wished I could be. I hated that she wanted to lose weight. I hated her for not noticing she was beautiful. I loved her. But I also broke up with her on a train to Brooklyn because I was ashamed that my friends would judge me for loving a fat woman.
In the elevator of my sister’s building there is a couple kissing in the corner. The man is average but the woman is pot-bellied and swollen. He has his hands aiming towards her back pockets but he cannot reach them. She is giggling and they carry on from the 12th to the 1st floor like I am not standing there. I open my phone to text my best friend, “Fat people shouldn’t have sex. Or be touched.”
I read in a New York Times essay, “black women are fat because they want to be fat.”  The black woman body does not adhere to the American thin body ideal. When we see the thin white body, we cannot relate to it. In this community, we see fatness as an active form of resistance against the structure. Though I’m not fat, most of the African American women on my father’s side of the family want to be thicker. Always, I see them performing the fat body. They overeat and try not to burn off too many calories. I actively mimic this practice with plates of food piled high and nearly over-flowing. We tell ourselves the fat is for us, that it will make us more beautiful. We do not need men to tell us this.
When I get dressed in the morning, often, I pull on something form fitting to wrap around my curves. While I do this, I look in a mirror, turning my ass from left to right to see if I look a bit buxom in the outfit that I chose. Researching, I found that black men tend to prefer larger bodies. They want women with bellies that hug hips when they are sitting. They want women with butts that push out far from their backs. Black men may be the men that respond to the body that I want to be in, so I survey myself through the gaze of black men. I thrive off of the validation I get when I hear “Hey, sexy” because it makes me feel a part of the big girl cannon.
One night recently, my boyfriend brought home Spanish food. He got himself one plate of food. He got me one roast chicken dinner, and one stewed pork dinner (though I don’t eat pork). On the side was a slice of tres leche cake, also for me. I looked at him asking what all that food was for. He responded that I had lost weight and he was concerned. I raised my brow so high my hairline arched. He had noticed that I had lost the weight and was trying so hard to gain it back. His way of fixing me was to feed me, and I knew that wasn’t the end. I became infuriated and lashed out, “You want me to be fat like your two obese ex dolphins?” We stared at each other: his with shock, mine with venom. I felt on top. Until he responded, “I love all shapes of women. I got you more food because you were bigger and you lost weight. It makes me feel that you’re stressed or getting sick.”
I am surrounded by “Eat LaTroya eat, you’re getting too skinny,” and “here LaTroya, is a green goddess detox for that tummy pudge.” I am in a push and pull turmoil. I want to be fat because my culture loves that in a woman. But, I outwardly express this with ill intent because of the thin body ideal here in America.
LaTroya Lovell is a fiction, memoir and poetry writer born and bred in Harlem, New York. Her writing is centered mainly around personal identity, minority issues, women’s experiences and origins.