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Thursday 21 June 2012

Life as a plus-size woman: "People still judge and mock me."

Did you see the story on Tuesday night on A Current Affair, on 'the weight debate'. The reporter donned a fat suit and watched as people reacted differently to her. You can watch the entire clip here: http://aca.ninemsn.com.au/investigations/8486224/weight-discrimination-debate

So it got me thinking about the weight debate. Yes, I have seen fat suit stories before [see below for another one filmed by US TV's 'Entertainment Tonight'] and have had someone on my mind for eons I knew would write a brilliant opinion piece on what it's like to be plus-size. I was right. Her honest thoughts blew me away. So much so I thought it deserved several blog posts. Here is part one, from Maria, 42.

"I couldn't bring myself to watch another report on ACA tonight about a "Skinny Girl/Fat-suited Girl" segment. I have seen stories like that before, and really – nothing changes except the model they use, and the fat-suit attire.

I am an overweight woman. I have been overweight since I was a 4 or 5 year old. With European roots, and being first generation born in Australia from migrant parents, some of the "old country" philosophy landed on me as a child. A "chunky, grab-able" baby is the only way a healthy baby should be. The more flesh to cuddle and tickle and hug, the healthier the baby will be.  And really, come to think of it, I never got seriously ill, nor did I ever realise I was different, until I went to school.

Early years
At school, and I was lucky with regard to the bullying aspect I think, that I kept up with the other kids, I liked making friends and being social and they responded to that.

In saying that, school was that, just “school”. From 9am to 3.15pm at my great little Catholic school (and it still smells the same today) I was at school. Mum picked me up at 3.15 and we were straight home. No after school activities, no socialising with other kids. Mum was busy.  She had to get home and feed us at 4pm when Skippy was on. My siblings and I would eat in front of the television. 

Finally in 6th class, I got permission to play netball – and I fancied myself as a sporty kid. It was a HUGE struggle to convince my parents that I wanted to play a sport. I was the oldest child, this was a  foreign concept to them. “Why do you want to do that?", they said.

Given a choice, I would have chosen to be a dancer. Somewhere inside me is a little brunette muscular five foot four ballet dancer, who would have given her right leg to dance with Baryshnikov (which wouldn’t have happened if I had to give up a leg) – but you get the gist.

Dieting from a young age:
What I have just remembered as I write is that at the age of 7, I was put on a diet. I remember it distinctly. Mum packing my lunch box of two rye crackers with tomato and cheese (which would inevitably get soggy before lunch), a peeled orange and apple, with a snack size packet of chips (because 10 chips wont really make a difference is you eat the other healthy stuff).

I was made to eat grapefruit before eating a slice of toast and milky sweet coffee (not PC these days) for breakfast. Dinner was always home-cooked. The only take away we ever ate, was hot fish and chips or a hamburger from the local takeaway joint (and those hamburgers were AMAZING), once a month. Seeing a grapefruit in the fruit market these days, makes my mouth tingle with sourness and scowl forms across my face.

I hated grapefruit with a passion but I was told that “you eat grapefruit because it’s acid and the acid will eat away the fat”.  So I ate that damn grapefruit.

Thinking about it now, that’s when I started to realise, that I was very different to other girls, and that eating grapefruit would make me “okay”. 

Well, suffice it to say, even at that age of 7, you can lose momentum sticking to a diet, and that’s what happened to me. I remember being weighed, and noting down that I had lost 1 pound (half a kilo) after a week of grapefruit for breakfasts, and feeling like a failure.  

Jumping forward 38 years, I am now 42. I still hate grapefruit and haven’t lost weight for a long time – after many failed attempts.The most weight I lost was on a well known weight loss program in the late 90s - 16 kilos. But that slowly creeps on over time and more.

Experiences as a kid that shape you in your adult life:
Teenage years were difficult in retrospect – although I think I and my siblings were cocooned in a traditional Italian/Polish family to a certain degree.

Beach holidays were the best as kids (and still are). We’d go to the Central Coast every long weekend, and every Christmas holidays for two weeks of sun, sea and sand. From 12, I remember not wanting to take off my t-shirt at the beach.  I’d watch the glistening water from my towel under the guise of “getting some sun” and wait for people around not to be looking, quickly rip it off and run in to the water, where I would stay until the section of beach was quite empty of walkers, and then run out and rug up in a towel. Surfie boys making jibes about ‘beached whales’ and other comments are remembered, but I could stand up for myself and always had a quick response which I think had enough bite, that they would only say something to me once. The problem is, there are lots of surfies, so by the time you deal with them all, my holiday was over.

I don’t go to the beach at all these days to swim. I miss it. I walk or drive to the ocean, but find a place to sit and watch the water, remembering what it felt like to be engulfed in the coolness of it, but never getting in. I’m trying to remember the last time I swam at the beach, and I think I was 15, 27 years ago – which shocks me. The overwhelming thing is, people still judge you and may mock you – although I am quite prepared to defend myself these days with a wonderful turn of phrase and a death stare to shrivel skeletons."

Stay tuned for the next blog post from Maria. Share your thoughts - have you ever been taunted and teased - at any age - because of your weight?

And here is Melissa from 'The Real Housewives of New Jersey'


  1. I cried through your story Maria. You are one hell of a courageous woman and I truly hope your brutal honesty makes other women speak out about their experiences.

    Society can be so superficial...it's sickening!

    As a plus size woman, I can empathise. Having lived the majority of my life at half of my current weight I am constantly amazed by how differently treat me since I've put on weight.

    It's almost as though they feel I've developed some form of handicap and somehow because I don't look like I used to look I'm not the same person...it really is so bazaar.

    I've even had people ask me straight out "What happened to you?!". If I don't get the former, I have people say "oh, but you still have a beautiful face" or "I didn't think it bothered you, because you have a partner" and "I didn't think it bothered you, because you appear to be so confident."

    Of course it bothers me, however I spend a whole lot more time these days being real, rather than focusing on the superficial aspects. If people don't like me for me...frankly I don't want them in my life.

    I look forward to reading the rest of your story!

    1. Hi Karen,

      It's great to read your feedback, and thank you. Something switched for me when I turned 40. It was like, "I've been on this earth long enough now to be able to have made my place and live within it, as a member of the community with something valuable to offer, other than a size 12 physique". You feel much less dissatisfaction after coming to that realisation.

  2. I watched this! On the weekend hubby and I were talking about this... so the timing was perfect. Over the last 18 months I have lost 24kgs and hubby has lost 14kgs lately we have noticed how differently people treat us. Even people we have known for years but have never been close to are suddenly very willing to speak to us. At first I thought no it must be me feeling more confident but no it isn't! It blows me away at how shallow people can be!! I can totally relate to how you feel as I have been there before.... Keeping the weight off is constantly on my mind as I don't ever want to go back. But it has been a massive plus to be able to see how people really are.... Like me for who I am regardless of size otherwise I don't have time for you!!!

    Good People are good people regardless of their weight or appearance : ) I always make a point of telling my children especially my teenage daughter outer beauty is great especially as a teenager and as you age the outer beauty will still be there. But inner beauty is there forever and will always make you feel more fulfilled than outer beauty.

    I look forward to reading the next part of your story!

  3. I've seen the stories on ET as well and quite frankly, I'm sick of them.

    As for the one on ACA, that was such a beat up. She was making issues where there were none, and it was so obvious she was out to fill in the story that just wasn't there otherwise.

    She claimed, as a fat person, no one stopped to give directions, sorry, WRONG, the footage showed young guys helping her.

    She claimed, as a fat person, no one stopped to pick up her food when it fell out of the bag, sorry, NO ONE WAS THERE AT THE TIME so no wonder no one helped her, and secondly, help your bloody self and stop expecting other people to.

    And as for that fat suit, it was God awful. The hair, the face, she looked like she had rolled out of bed and was so depressed.

    Several things I learned from that story. 1 - help yourself, because there won't always be someone around to help you. 2 - stop EXPECTING people to help you. 3 - reporters need to stop beating and beefing up stories that just aren't there.

    I was an overweight kid and got called all sorts of names. I realised in high school that once I left I would never see those people again and that helped me deal with it and get over it.

    I am still curvy, after gaining back what I lost over a decade ago. I have health issues that may not be helping my goal to lose weight, but I do what I can to get around it.

    People need to take responsibility for their own weight and health issues. If you're overweight seek help and stop using it as an excuse for the world not helping you. You need to help yourself before anyone else will.

  4. Yes, I think the fat suit story has kinda been 'done' now...

    As for Maria's story, I am definitely blown away by her honesty. Thanks for your comments, Karen - I, too, was emotional.

    And thank you Maria for your equally honest reply.

    I am a bit gobsmacked by your experience, Marcela - especially the part when you describe how people are suddenly willing to engage.

    And Jewel Divas, curvy is good!