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Adventures of a Fat Skinny Black Girl: The Tank Top Incident


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This is fat girl happy

So the alarm went off at 5:00 a.m. I was tired. Bone tired. The kinda tired that makes you just let the alarm go off because you’re too weak to even turn over to shut it down. That kind of tired. But I couldn’t shut this alarm off because it was my internal body clock. If the sun is up so am I. If I go back to sleep I feel tired the rest of the day. I started to fall back to sleep.

“There’s no way I’m riding to work today,” I thought and rolled over.

I had a triathlon on Sunday, a sprint but a tri nonetheless, and I turned my recovery ride and run on Monday into a hunting rabbit episode. Which means I was doing crazy intervals and spinning like mad on the bike and running like a fool on the run. Then four hours of laundry and editing later I crawled into bed around midnight. So needless to say this Tuesday morning I wasn’t bright eyed and chipper. I slept on and off waking up at 6 a.m., 6:30 a.m., and finally at 7 a.m.

But I didn’t get out of bed. I just lay there. Finally I dragged my butt up and went to go take a shower but then I realized something…I was sweating. The temperature had risen and it was 66 degrees. Perfect riding weather.

I turned on NPR “the high will be in the 80s…” the announcer said. I was already late. If I was going to make it to my desk on time it meant leaving no later than 7:30 a.m. It was 7:45 a.m. Damn! Screw it, I’ll be late. When I decide to bike to work without packing my bag the night before my wardrobe choices border on the cartoonish. I have to take everything I’m going to wear pack it in a bag and hope I remember my undies and bra. I don’t have time to match, grab jewelry and all that other crap women pack onto their bodies. It’s strictly a minimalist exercise. Which usually means jeans and a t-shirt or a summer dress with a wrap. Those are easy to grab and pack.

I grabbed a dress I hadn’t worn in awhile, a strapless number. I remembered to grab my strapless bra but also a regular bra for some reason.

Slung the backpack on hopped on the bike and I was off. Some 28-minutes later I was on Monroe and Lake Shore Drive on my way to the Cycling Center. I locked up Blue Betty and walked the short stint to LA Fitness to change and walk to work. Showered, shaved and savoring the ride I snuck in, I slipped into the dress and went to the mirror to don the hair.

As I was doing my hair my dress kept slipping. Apparently I’ve lost so much weight that my ta-tas can’t hold the strapless dress in place anymore. This, of course, is news to me. Because despite losing 70 pounds I still think of myself as fat girl. After pulling up the dress three times it occurred to me there was a Lane Bryant around the corner.

“I’ll just go in and grab a tank top and turn the dress into a skirt.” Cool beans. Covered the dipping strapless with a sweater and out the door I went.

Minutes later I was wooshing through a store door. “Tank Tops, “a sign screamed, “$10!”

BRILLIANT!

I find a pile of black ones. Perfect. The top shirt says “XS.”

I’m like “XS?”

Since when does Lane Bryant carry XS sizes?

Mmm…that’s weird, I thought, but I rifle through the pile and immediately grab the XL.

I go up to the counter where this thin, beautiful black girl smiles and compliments me on my hair.

“Thanks, um what’s up with these sizes? Do they run large or something?”

“Yes,” she said, holding up the XL shirt I had picked up. “You probably should get a Large this shirt is too big for you.”

I look at her frowning. Seriously woman, can you see me? I mean XL is what I wear. I’ve never known anything else. But hey, it’s Lane Bryant so you know how they play with the sizes to trick women into thinking that they’re skinnier than they really are.

So I go back, grab a large. Now, in my 40 years on this earth I cannot remember ever purposefully buying a large shirt. Maybe I got one by accident or because that was the largest size they had but I always, always grabbed a 2X first and then an XL.

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This is how I see myself still

This is the fat girl in me. She has always been with me and she rules my thoughts. When I sit down to eat it’s the fat girl who dictates what I want. I have to wrestle that bitch to the ground and strangle her voice that wants to order fried whatever in order to get what I really like, spinach or veggies, or whatever. When I go out to a club it’s the fat girl who tells me no one will ever talk to me, or dance with me because of how I look. When I get dressed in the morning it’s the fat girl who tells me that nothing in my wardrobe can make up for my fatness. That I won’t look good in ANYTHING so I might as well not care.

And when I was at the triathlon on Sunday it was the fat girl that told me I didn’t belong there. Despite being a triathlete for 10 years, that freakin’ bitch rears her ugly attitude at every race. Where I see women of all sizes, colors, ethnicities and abilities, she sees only the fit, the skinny and the hard bodies the ones she calls “the real triathletes.” She constantly berates me, “What the hell are you doing here? You don’t belong.”

And it was the fat girl who pushed my hand and made me select the XL tank top. And it was the fat girl who looked at the sales clerk strangely when she said the shirt was too big.

Back with the shirt I hesitantly handed it to the sales clerk.

“Ha,” I laughed. “Since when did Lane Bryant start carrying XS shirts?”

She looked puzzled.

“Did you want to go to Lane Bryant?” she asked politely.

“Yeah, isn’t this Lane Byrant?” The fat girl replied.

“No,” the sales clerk said. “This is the Loft.”

The fat girl was silent.

Finally, I looked around. The other women in the store, the clothes, the sales clerk, they were all average-sized women. Some were skinny. Others were big, but they were average. I wasn’t in Lane Bryant. I was in an average-sized women’s clothing store. And I belonged there. And I wasn’t buying earrings, or necklaces or any of the other stuff that I thought would only fit me at a normal women’s clothing store. I was buying a shirt. One that was too big for me, mind you.

This is how I really look!

This is how I really look!

photoI went into the dressing room put on the tank top and stared. Holy crapballs! Where they hell did my body go? For the first time I really looked at myself. And for the first time the fat girl was mum. That bitch had nothing to say. For my eyes had been opened and she knew the jig was up.

I have lost 70 pounds, a freakin’ Backstreet Boy and I didn’t even realize it until today. I no longer will always be the biggest thing in the room. I will not crush men when they hug me. I won’t break chairs. Or desks, or have no one want to sit next to me on the CTA train because they think I’m too fat to squeeze next too. I won’t have to feel guilty anymore about eating pie, or eating at all. That’s what it feels like when you’re too fat. You feel like the freakin’ world is judging you. That every little move you make has a ripple effect in the world around you and it ain’t a positive one. At least that’s what the fat girl told me.

No one should have to feel this way. No matter what they weigh. No one should have to feel like they’re ostracized, oogled at and judged constantly because they weigh more than the average bear. And even though I’m slimming down I still feel that way. I still feel abnormal and I shouldn’t because I’m oh so normal. ┬áNO wait, fuck that, I’m more than normal. I’m extraordinary. And whatever I look like, and however I chose to handle my weight I can NEVER ever let that fat girl make me forget it.

And yeah there are fat girls who are trying to reclaim their fatness. To change the vision of what it means to be a big woman. To embrace their largess with all the confidence and joy they can muster and I applaud them for that. But I am not one of them. I don’t want to be fat. Never did. It hampers my ability to swim, bike and run and I don’t like that. I don’t want to be thin and I’m sure not trying to be a super model. But I want to be as fit as I can to make my time goals and cross the finish line at Ironman Cozumel. And I can’t do that being really fat. So I am still trying to lose weight. And that’s okay. And if I stopped losing weight, that would be okay too.

But finally after years of struggling I realize that fat or skinny I’m no longer that self-hating, self-deprecating, self-loathing fat girl who put a mind meld on me making me believe that I was worthless just because I didn’t weigh the same as everyone else. Fuck her. And fuck that.

So to all the women out there who hate their bodies. Screw that. Hate terrorists instead. Love yourself. Today I finally fell in love with me. Whew. Took 40 years but it’s never too late.

  • I left Chicago in the dust when I was 17, determined never to come back if I could help it. But God and fate colluded and I ended up back in this fateful town in 2010, divorced, broke, jobless, homeless and nearly 280 pounds. Yeah, not a pretty sight. But me, being me, I was determined to ride the horror out. To take that curve ball life threw at me and knock that crap out of the park. You know, do what I do and that's be me, all positive and light and Polly sunshine and stuff. But I no longer had the innocence (blind, stupid faith) of youth. I was nearing 40 and my life which I had so carefully built, planned and orchestrated was falling apart like a sweater with a loose thread--slowly and painfully. None of my old happy tricks worked. Not praying, not crying, not drinking, not meaningless relationships nothing. Not even my mother could get me out of my perpetual funk. Thankfully, I had a mother to move in with. Otherwise, I would have been one of those unique odorous denizens traveling the journey of life with a CTA bus card and no last stop. When I think about it I was totally crazy. I moved to one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the city and on a wing and a prayer was determined to get back what I thought I'd lost. Money, prestige, title and position. I jumped head first into trying to revive the old Ovetta Sampson that I didn't stop to think why I God put me in the Land of the Valley Lows in the first, cursed to roam the streets of disappointment, broken-heartedness and loneliness. At first I thought I'd lost a bet with God and this was my punishment. Or that I had treated someone horribly wrong and this was her voodoo revenge. It all seemed so strange and woefully wrong that it could happen to me. I had been so careful. So utterly obsessive about every detail of my life. So calculating, going to college, graduating debt free, getting that first job at a small town newspaper, being recruited to a bigger newspaper, leaving to go manage an editorial department, run a magazine, travel the world, each step adding to what I believed was my invincibility. I even beat the odds that's against every black woman, getting and accepting a marriage proposal at age 36. I was on my way and all the while I was losing myself. I was so far away from happiness that I didn't even realize I was miserable. It's so funny now, but I think I delusional. What was it? Was it a momentary lapse in judgement? Did I just make a mistake? Or did I freakin' go plum crazy. Who knows? But I was making all the wrong decisions, doing all the wrong things, getting farther and farther away from my essence that I didn't even know I had lost my way because the path had disappeared. But as I reflect over the three life-altering years I finally realized why I went through what I went through. God wasn't trying to hurt me, punish me or make me suffer. I did that all on my own. But what he did was taught me that I can never go through this world without backup. My experience made me realize my true friends, met new ones and get closer to my family. I was able to spend time with my grandmother before she died. I reconnected with my younger cousins who are now grown and married with babies. I've developed a deeper, less abrasive relationship with my mother and I've learned that no matter how great I am I cannot do what I need to do, fulfill my purpose on this Earth alone. I am no longer saddened that I lost everything. I am glad. Because I learned two valuable lessons: how to ask for help and how to get off my ass and work for what I want. The two are not mutually exclusive. Instead they are forged together in some sort of loop of strength. No one, not even Jesus, did it alone. When I got married I thought this is it, this is what it feels like to not be alone. Yet that wasn't it. It wasn't until I was utterly broken that I realized how much of my life wasn't me but was the work of others. Wow, I know that seems so obvious. But to me it wasn't. Thank you. Words cannot express how I feel about the women who came to my side to hold me up, who picked me up on their shoulders and sheltered me, listened when I cried and told the strong one that it was okay to ask for help. You women know who you are. Cookie, Denise, Kila, Tasha, Angel, Sarah, Kelley the list goes on. You will always have my love and admiration. And for the guys--oh the guys. The men who wouldn't let me curl up in a cave and disappear. Who shared my burden as only guys can with laughter, drinks and sports. Wow, you guys were amazing and I thank you. And so as I embark upon the journey to fit back into my wedding dress I suddenly realize I am not trying to claim a past glory. But for the first time I am fitting comfortably into who God wants me to be, failures and successes and all. I am chasing new glories, new triumphs and new horizons. And I am finally joyous that I will not have to continue this journey alone.

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