Erica’s Story: “I am allowed to feel like I have value.”

For people in very large bodies, who are most affected by the physical and infrastructural inequalities built into a world that is designed to exclude fat people, moving through the world looks very different. In this guest post, Erica talks about the considerations that make up her everyday life, and how speaking out is gradually making a difference in her self-confidence.

by Erica Erfman

I’m going to do something scary and I’m going to speak my truth. This is a glimpse of who I really am.
This is long, but I feel it needs to be said. See, I’m fat. I’m very fat- what some folks in the body positive community refer to as a superfat and for once I’d like to share what that means for me everyday because I am CERTAIN my straight sized friends do not understand.

An average work day pre-Covid:

My alarm goes off and I hit snooze since I don’t want to get out of bed yet. I’ll force myself to get up though since I need enough time to make myself “acceptable” enough for the office.

I pick out what to wear to work, always choosing a dress so that no one could see exactly how large my thighs are. It has to be a dress that is knee-length or longer so none of the fat around my knees can be seen. Pants or shorter dresses/skirts I can only wear at home alone. I also won’t wear short sleeves without a long sleeved sweater over it to hide the fat on my upper arms even if it’s 90 degrees outside.

I spend around 20 minutes doing my makeup to try to make myself seem more attractive in the hopes of counterbalancing the ugliness I’ve been told comes with my body size. One reason I dyed my hair purple was so that people would focus more on my face than my body.

I head downstairs and walk to my car, hoping I don’t run into another person. People have said fat slurs to me as they pass by so if there is another person around, I usually drop my head and won’t make eye contact hoping that will be less provoking.

I am usually a tiny bit relieved to get to my car without incident and I almost feel a bit normal. Until I have to buckle myself in with my seat belt extender.

I get to work and I once again keep my head down so I don’t have to make eye contact with any strangers on the way up to my office. Most people don’t usually say cruel things at their workplace, but it’s happened before.

I walk to my desk and if someone else is in the hallway, I immediately try to scrunch myself up smaller and hug the wall so they won’t think my body is blocking their path. I always say “sorry” simply because my fat body is sharing a hallway with them. I’ve been taught that my body requires an apology.

There are a number of things in our work kitchen for breakfast or snacks but I try not to go into the kitchen if there is anyone else there. I never eat breakfast before my commute but I’ll wait until the kitchen is empty to hurriedly grab a granola bar and go back to my desk. If someone is walking towards me, I frequently hide the granola bar in my sleeve since I don’t want to be judged as a glutton.

Actual work is pretty uneventful except for the work chair I don’t fit into very well and it generally makes a clicking sound if I move which embarrasses me. I assume it only makes that noise because of my weight and everyone around me knows that.

If I bring my lunch, which I do most of the time, I don’t use the lunchroom. I’ve been told multiple times that seeing fat people eat is nauseating so I will usually eat at my desk by myself. Sometimes a co-worker will invite me to lunch and that has been difficult. If they want to go somewhere within walking distance, I’ll usually decline since I hate walking behind everyone with my slower moving body and I’m embarrassed by being a bit out of breath. If it’s a drive, I am very hesitant to go in another person’s car since it’s humiliating to try to fasten a seat belt that frequently won’t fit around me. I am also leery of driving others since I’d be embarrassed if they noticed my seat belt extender.

Once we arrive at the restaurant, I dread looking at the seating options. If it’s a booth, I can rarely fit without some kind of painful gouging into my stomach the whole time. If it’s a table, I try to get a seat on the periphery so I don’t crowd any of my lunchmates with my large body. Throughout the meal I worry how I might cope if the chair breaks underneath me. It’s never happened to me, but I fear it nonetheless. When I order, I try to choose meals that are easy to take home since I never finish my meal. It might seem ironic but I eat very slowly, something most people don’t expect from a fat woman. I’ve always been a slow eater, but I am also aware that since seeing a fat person eat in public is considered disgusting, I try to make it less offensive by eating as slowly and as delicately as I can.

Image description: A fat white woman is shown from the chest up. She is wearing glasses and has bright purple hair that is blowing in a breeze, partly obscuring her face.

Once lunch is over, I grab my doggy bag and wait. I wait until everyone else is heading away from the table so hopefully no one can see me struggling to get out of the booth I barely fit in or see that I might have to brace my arm on the table edge to rise from the chair. Almost always there is pain, sometimes bruises from the back of the chair or the edge of the booth table dug in my stomach, but I’ve learned to ignore them since it’s so common.

By now it’s around 1pm. It’s only the first half of my work day and I’m already demoralized and a little exhausted. It can be so hard to constantly fight to exist in a world that has taught me I’m unacceptable. Decades of fat hatred and diet culture particularly from my own family have left a stain on me I’m scared I’ll never be able to erase.

Those are the bad days.

But then, that small voice inside me who wanted purple hair because she refused to be invisible, because she wanted to be noticed, to be different, will speak up. That voice will say everyone else can fuck off and I don’t need to give a shit about what anyone else thinks of me. I don’t live my life on their terms, my life is my own. I am allowed to feel like I have value. I don’t need to constantly apologize for my size, to essentially ask for everyone’s forgiveness for simply existing in a larger body.

Unfortunately, at the age of 45 that voice is still way too small. I’m hoping by sharing this that the people who care about me will understand me better and help me make that voice much bigger. Big enough to match the big body that contains all of my flawed awesomeness.

Let’s dig deep.

Every Monday, I send out my Body Liberation Guide, a thoughtful email jam-packed with resources for changing the way you see your own body and the bodies you see around you. And it’s free. Let’s change the world together.

Hi there! I'm Lindley (she/her, pronounced LIN-lee). I create artwork that celebrates the unique beauty of bodies that fall outside conventional "beauty" standards at Body Liberation Photography. I'm also the creator of Body Liberation Stock, which provides body-positive stock photos for commercial use, and the Body Love Shop, a curated central resource for body-friendly artwork and products. Find all my work at http://www.bodyliberationphotos.com.