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It?s mid-June. I graduated a few days earlier and here I am sitting nervously on a bench outside Lane Bryant, staring at the gate It?s my first job interview ever. I?m nervous as hell. I must have dried my hands fifty times on my dress but they?re still sticky with sweat. A woman comes to the front and opens the gate. She asks my name, I tell her. She nods, smiles, shakes my hand, introduces herself as Fran and tells me how cute I look. I beam and thank her. I?m not used to compliments. One of the questions she asks me is what my best shopping experience was like. I rack my brain. What kind of question is that? I think. Taking a deep breath I reply that it would have to be the first time I ever shopped there, at Lane Bryant. She looks at me skeptically. I explain how my mom guided me there after a long discouraging day of school clothes shopping. To pacify her, I follow and try on jeans and a t-shirt. I leave the dressing room to model for Mom and the sales lady squeals over how good I look. I?m taken aback. Somewhere in the back of my mind I know that she does this to make the sale but it?s the first time I?ve ever been complimented by a salesperson. I feel welcome here. I don?t get the ?You? You think you?ll be able to buy anything here?? look. By the end of my story I?m nearly in tears. I smile sheepishly. I get the job. As I leave, Tess, another woman who works at the store, tells me I look great. I do. I am beautiful.

Early July. Mel invites twenty of her closest friends to swim in her pool after a barbecue at the beach. I?m standing on the deck, beach towel wrapped around me. Everyone else is in the pool. I?m trying to think of the least conspicuous way to slip into the warm inviting pool. Amanda notices I?m just standing there and calls for me to join them, also calling everyone’s attention to me. I swallow the huge lump in my throat, throw my towel over the rail and jump in the water, praying no one saw the jiggling of my thighs as I leapt. Later they?re having chicken fights and I?m floating alone in the deep end. My only friend the pink Noodle that?s keeping me afloat. Sara pulls herself over to me. She asks if I too feel like some form of sea cow. I nod. She nods sympathetically. Sara?s not fat. I maneuver the Noodle behind me and float on my back. The water distorts my image and each of my milky white legs looks the size of Sara. I close my eyes and sigh. Then there are arms underneath me. Travis, who?s six feet tall and weighs about twenty pounds has picked me up. Please God, I silently beg, Don?t let him go to the shallow end. I?ll snap him like a twig. I?m a manatee and he?s a guppy.

I?m at work. My current task is to rehang the intimate apparel. I?m working my way through a pile of blue lace thongs. My cheeks have been scarlet since I?ve begun. Not for myself but the women that actually wear them. I could wrap the size 28 ones around my waist a few times. I hear someone clear their throat. I look up and there?s a boy. He asks if we have a restroom. I shake my head and mumble something incoherent. He asks my name. I tell him. He introduces himself as Mark He asks when I get off. I tell him. He asks me to lunch with him. I accept. We sit in the food court and talk for hours, about everything and anything. I?ve never met anyone like him, we have the same interests, he?s a huge fan of Vivaldi and thinks that Brian Setzer may be Satan incarnate. I give him my number. He promises to call. I?m radiant and happy.

Mark doesn?t call. I buy a pint of Ben and Jerry?s Phish Food and a magazine. By the end of the night the magazine is thoroughly stained with my tears and in a pile with the empty ice cream carton. Also joining the pile is an empty package of donuts, the plate from my peanut butter sandwich and an carton of chocolate milk. I curl around my stomach and cry some more. I?m disgusting and pitiful.

In late August I meet Tom. We meet at some random party. He?s all wrong for me. We have nothing in common but for some reason we?re together. The first time he asks me for a date I think it?s a joke. He gets angry to pacify him I say yes. We?re walking in the mall, holding hands, window shopping. Wet Seal has a new sign in the store. ?Now Carrying Size 00? it proudly proclaims. Well at least they?re not discriminating to the anorexics, I say, my voice is dripping scorn. Tom hugs me around the waist, his hands are on my belly, reminding me it?s there. I pull away. Starving myself would be more socially acceptable then the weight I?m at now. I?m an outcast.

Another day, another dollar. Hannah informs me the FedEx guy just checked me out. I grin, I look good in my new ponte pants and three quarter sleeve blouse. Tom brought me flowers the night before.

A couple walks into the store. A short woman, size twenty-eight if she?s lucky, and a tall skinny man. He?s not what I would define as attractive, he?s tall skinny with buck teeth and thick glasses. He grabs the woman?s butt and tells her he?ll meet her next door at Big Five. She buys a bra without trying it on. Hannah comes over to me and we watch her leave. The woman is wearing an old Disney t-shirt and shorts that are starting to ride. Hannah asks if I think this is sexy. I smile and shake my head. She asks if I?m sure because if weighing 400 pounds and wearing shorts that are stuck up her crack is sexy because she can do that. She sighs and confesses that her real problem is that the woman is getting laid and she?s not. I laugh and go back to straightening sweaters.

Tom meets my friends. I realize how much I?ve been settling. We can?t carry on a conversation, the sex isn?t that good and I think if Anna had to sit five more minutes with him, there would have been bloodshed. But he?s a body that wants me. A situation I only imagined for myself after I lost a few pounds, but for his sake and mine, I break up with him.

The next day at work the same couple walks in. The woman is dressed similarly. An old worn out t-shirt, shorts even further up her crack. She?s returning the bra. The man explains ?They were just too big!? and slaps her butt. Behind me I hear a loud snap as Hannah breaks a hanger. A few minutes later the FedEx guy is back and asks me out. I smile and politely decline. I?ve made the mistake of dating someone I wasn?t attracted to before. Mike, Mark, Travis, Wet Seal, the swimming pool are all out of my mind. I am here, at work, doing my job. I don?t have time to think about boys or my dress size. Just like most of the time. I?m more than that, I know that what I look like doesn?t define who I am, at least not to anyone that matters. Most of the time I just forget about what I look like and go on living my life.

I am fat. I am obese, chubby, pudgy, pot bellied, portly, stout, plump, full figured, lumpish, corpulent. But I am also beautiful. Voluptuous, curvy, pretty, a gorgeous creature of the night, alluring, sexy. I am all of these things and none of these things. Like nearly every other woman in America I have a distorted view on my body. I can?t honestly say that I realistically know what my body looks like, except that it?s a little rounder than most. But that?s ok. I don?t spend the majority of my time thinking about what I look like. There?s always going to be someone that prefers blondes to brunettes. Curves to bones. Humor to seriousness. There are going to be moments when I feel like a heifer. There are going to be people who think I?m a heifer. But there are also going to be moments when I feel stupid, moments when I feel inferior to most everyone. And there are people that think those things of me. But there those who see me as pretty, smart, and superior. None of those people matter. What matters is me and the fact that I know I am beautiful. I know I am intelligent. And I know that I am equal to any size 00 girl.


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