“People who are overweight don’t want unsolicited advice. Guess what. We know we’re fat. We live in homes with mirrors.” –Al Roker, BrainyQuotes.com
And we participate in extracurricular activities; we sit in seats made for someone half our size; we walk through doors built in the 20’s sideways; we go into stores to try to find cute clothing. Let’s face it, we have a constant reminder that we’re bigger, heavier, or “pudgier” than other people.
I went kayaking this Saturday with the Women in the Park program through Friends of the Willow and Kinni. It’s a non-profit group that does most of the programming in the two local state parks. They got a grant to offer this group, so it makes this fun experience accessible to many more people.
The program offers all of the events free to participants under the grant. If not for that, we’d have to pay for our own kayak rental, archery lessons, etc. I decided to participate because I’m trying to get out and do more active things. I figure I can meet more active people to be my friends if I do more active things. I love you all, but I’m tired of just going to dinner, drinking, and talking. Even a short walk after dinner makes it more interesting.
Anyway, I signed up for this class knowing that I’d know no one in attendance. I was just excited to get some real training on kayaking. I had done it a few times with the kayaks that my in-laws have and it was pretty fun, although I kept falling over and getting water in the boat. I found out that I was missing a key element of kayaking, so now I don’t tip as much.
Now, many are asking “what does being fat have to do with it?” I am reminded regularly by a co-worker that anyone being called “fat” is inaccurate and a trigger for some people. We have fat just like we have finger nails. I am heavier than I look. Many are larger than they would like to be. This is what I’m talking about.
Even the leaders of the class were surprised. At the beginning, we got in the water to practice certain necessary moves. I guess my kayak was sitting fairly low because, when we came out, the instructor replaced my boat with a deeper one that had been in the truck. He said it would help me stay higher in the water. This one didn’t have a strap on the back to hold my coat or my shoes (I prefer barefoot everything, if you didn’t know.) So, I left my coat behind and put my shoes in the bottom of the boat.
This deeper kayak did not keep me out of the water by any means, though. I am heavy, as I said. Apparently, I still weighted it down enough to get water in the kayak. Thankfully, it was less than I would have in the shallower boats. I was reminded as we went, me in my larger kayak, that I am significantly stronger than many people smaller than me. I have to be. Pulling my 266 lbs through the water is a lot harder than pulling Cathy’s 125 lbs. My strength is a positive in many situations. My strength comes from pushing around my fat.
As the day went on, I started to notice more of the water that was building up on the bottom of my boat. On top of what was coming off of my oars, it started raining. My larger kayak had a larger hole as well. It caught more water. When we returned to shore, others were able to easily get out of their kayak and quickly pull them up to the trailer.
Here’s where another hard part came: Getting up. When you’re thin or light, it isn’t that hard to push yourself only partially onto your legs and press yourself to standing. When you’re someone like me, whose weight plays a significant role in the health of their joints, you don’t want to try to just spring that extra person off of the ground. You need to make sure that your hips are over your knees are over your ankles before you straighten said legs. It’s better for everyone involved. That’s hard to do in a kayak.
On land, if your legs are straight out in front of you, it’s possible to roll to the side to get your legs underneath you before standing. Not so in an aquatic vessel. On top of the not-rolling part, you can’t just put your feet down like in a canoe. The seats in a kayak are very close to the bottom of the vessel and usually do not move backward so that you can get your footing. I still haven’t found the key to standing up easily. What I did was push straight up, get my feet on the bottom of the boat, then grab the front of the gunwale to tip my weight forward over them. This is a hilarious sight if you can’t imagine it yourself. I learned it from the cows in my life… farmers know what I’m talking about.
Ok, after the funny tipping standing motion, I was able to get out of the kayak and started trying to drag it up the beach. The problem was that there’s now 10 gallons of water in the bottom of the boat. Someone tried to help me carry the other end of the kayak and failed miserably. There I stood, waiting for the tiny hole in the back of the boat to drain it enough that we could tip the boat over to drain out the big hole where I’d been sitting.
My adventure was not over. The park where we were at does not have parking right next to the beach. You park at the top of the hill, then walk down a very steep hill to the waterside. I knew on the way down that the way back up was not going to be fun. I was right. These other woman took the hill with ease. 125 lbs is not hard to get to the top of the hill. The momentum holding her back with gravity was so easily overcome that I was in awe. She hardly was breathing hard when we got to the top. I, on the other hand, was drenched in both sweat and river water, along with huffing and puffing like I was trying to blow down a house.
A good friend of mine told me once “My life is not worse because I’m fat. It’s just different.” Worse, maybe not. But I propose that it is harder, and that’s what makes us stronger. We have to work harder to get what we want, like making our own clothing, writing the manufacturer, or going to a different store (or 5). We have to go farther to make people understand, like the extremely unnecessary convincing of our doctors that it’s not because of my fat that I am depressed; it’s the other way around, or going to those 5 stores for a cute outfit, or taking the stairs because the elevator only has room for a skinny girl left. We meet far more people even if against our will, like dating 15 first dates but no second dates, trainers and nutritionists and endocrinologists that can’t figure out how to make us thin, and everyone we bump into in any kind of line.
Life is harder and that’s ok. What’s not ok is when there’s judgement because of it. I was lucky this weekend; no one openly judged my abilities to kayak but myself. I was grateful that no one offered to help me up the hill or suggested that I sit down half way up on the bench. I just wanted to keep going. But there are times when we can’t avoid the feeling of judgment.
Imagine being told you need to buy the seat next to you on a flight, that you are too large for a ride at a theme park, or that your company didn’t get your size of the company shirt that EVERYONE ELSE got. Now also think about the looks you get when you go out with the one you love. Instead of a tiny salad, you order a beer, burger and fries. The girl down the bar snickers and points your way and you can’t help but wonder if it’s about the food you got. The attendant at a clothing store looks you up and down and says “I’m sorry. I don’t think we carry your size. You’d be better off at Lane Bryant.” I do love Lane Bryant, but I wanted to try on that cute, flowy floral you had in the front window. Ordering bras from a catalog because they don’t carry your size, then having to send them back multiple times because the store attendant sized you wrong.
Self-judgment is the biggest risk we face. We try to blend in; to talk quieter so no one notices the fat girl. I won’t do that anymore. When I feel that bug in my brain start to attack, I get louder. If you don’t like the loud fat girl, you probably shouldn’t hang out with me. My husband says I could make friends in Antarctica, and I probably could. I like people and I do think that no one means to be mean. A lot of that judgment is self-preservation or self-hatred. They work so hard to be skinny that they’re terrified that the carrot cake they ate might make them look like me. Fine, let them be terrified. Looking like me is not the worst thing that could happen, but they don’t know that. I do. I have a good life, albeit harder than theirs. But I don’t battle with that fear. I’m happy to be me and to have my fat. I’m happy to be strong and loud and blunt. And all of these things because being the fat girl is harder.
Enjoy your cake and we’ll see you on the road.