Everything changed in middle school. All of a sudden, life took on an unfamiliar social context that didn’t make sense to me. I was, and still am, more of a ‘nerd’ than anything else. I loved school because I loved to learn. The new social requirements – clothes, hair, make-up, boys – were not incredibly important to me nor did I have any natural skills in these areas. Not only was I a chunky kid, I was a chunky kid who didn’t know how to be cool.
During study hall, I went to Mrs. Camp’s room and got the reassurance I needed to keep on going, that someday this would change, and that I was ok. That year brought many tears.
7th grade wasn’t much better. My best friend, Kelley, decided that I just couldn’t run with the popular crowd and quickly dropped me. The only constant seemed to be that my weight increased. By this time my self-esteem had gone down and I felt less than almost all of the time. I escaped in food, in books, in cross-stitch. Anything that I could do alone. Even being smart was no longer an asset. I learned quickly that by playing dumb I could at least fit in a little better.
Stylish clothes for fat kids didn’t exist back then. I wore my mom’s sweaters to cover up by body. My shoulders slumped, my head down, trying to avoid eye contact – everything I did said, “Please, just don’t notice me.”
To make matters worse, my old best friend Kelley found a new best friend who was just plain mean. At lunch, they would come to my table, put a dime down and say, “Use this to buy some new clothes.” Or, they’d follow me down the hall and tell me to go to Weight Watchers. A daily practice on their part, I did my best to ignore it and hide how bad it hurt.
Their cruelty pushed me to go on my first official diet – Weight Watchers. My mom was doing it. My aunts were doing it. It wasn’t hard to figure out. I got 24 points for the whole day and I could use them however I wanted. I quickly developed the “starve myself so I can eat junk” mentality and lost some weight. I’ve never enjoyed being hungry, though, so I shifted to the “how much food can I get with 24 points” strategy. Celery was almost a free food so I ate a lot of that. I think vinegar was free too, because apple cider vinegar became my go-to celery dressing.
This worked for quite a while. I actually lost 25 pounds by this way, and at 13 felt really good about myself. I got my first boyfriend and started to fit into the popular crowd. Even the girls that used to follow me down the hall and tell me to go to Weight Watchers wanted to hang out with me. I learned a very tough lesson that year – the world treats fat people like they’re less than human.