By Michelle Renee Hoppe
I didn’t grow up fat. I grew up thin, thinking I was a giant, which was very different from what I read and heard about actually being obese. Growing up athletic and lanky and muscular blinded me completely to what being fat meant.
I weighed myself compulsively as a swimmer/dancer/runner/diver.
It was a terror: FAT.
It was a sin: EATING.
It was a shame: EXISTENCE.
So, when I was diagnosed with major depression and put on life-saving antidepressants and gained twice my weight, I could say, “I’m fat and beautiful.” I could OWN myself, and in this, way I conquered the fear of being fat. It wasn’t so bad to exist.
The best thing about the stores I shopped at for plus-size clothing was that they celebrated life. Big. Small. They didn’t care. Although, they generally only made big clothes.
I felt bad for skinny, lanky me who went to 5.7.9. as a teenager. This store was designed to humiliate me. The 9’s always fit like 8’s, and really, they carried sizes 0 to 8, not 9. But I’d go every time, thinking I had just made it into the cool store by making myself smaller.
I towered over my peers at age 14, clocking in at 5’9”, and I envied women who could flirt with tall guys by pretending to be helpless. I could never get away with the “can you reach that for me” line. Even when it came to restarting my beat up car, I was always better at it than the guys who insisted on trying first. I was an athlete. I was a problem solver. I edited an 80K magazine when I was a teenager, and I was a singer and dancer for Disney. I was known for being able to do things. I could never play the helpless card.
So, on antidepressants, I moved to NYC, a size 18. I was curvy, and I started to date. It didn’t occur to me to say “I’M FAT NOW” online. I had gained the weight rapidly over the course of 6 months and posted some recent pictures, but I also had one thin photo up. A man named Michael (or Mathew?) who had been in a Natalie Portman movie contacted me and bragged about how he went to the Hamptons. The Hamptons? Isn’t that the cold beach for white rich people? I thought. He was great with words, so I agreed to meet him.
He took me to a restaurant, and, when I went to the restroom, he left before the waiter could greet us. I was in shock. I had never been abandoned before, and I was thirty-four. Michael texted me and said, “If you want to date a guy like me, you’re going to have to lose weight.” It hit me like a wave of guilt, shame, and abuse all at once:
YOU ARE NOT GOOD ENOUGH FOR A DOUCHEBAG.
My other boyfriends included a professional athlete, an Ivy lawyer, a Brad Pitt look-alike, and even an engineer who was buddy-buddy with Bill Gates. They all had two things in common: they were drop dead gorgeous, and they were very into me. I had even gone out on a date with a Navy SEAL, and he liked me.
What I saw as a disadvantage in dating in middle school became a bonus in adulthood: Men who could do things wanted women like them, and I could do almost anything. Michael, on the other hand, was renting his apartment to Airbnb to make rent. It seemed like I was more capable than he was, but he was rejecting me.
I left and I cried. I called my friend/ex, who said, “First, is he still there? Okay, good. Don’t take the subway home. I’ll pay for a cab. Let me do this. You are beautiful.” He talked to me as I cried for half an hour.
When I hung up, I assured him I was okay, that I wouldn’t do anything stupid and that I’d text him when I got inside. The cab driver turned around and in a thick Russian accent boomed, “He called you FAT?!”
I sniffled timidly, “Yes.”
“This is New York City,” he said. “You do not cry here. Stop crying. Stop that now. Here, you kick his ass.” I laughed, went inside, and texted my ex.
He said, “I’ll be out there, you know.” He was a scout for the Dodgers. “We’ll get dinner.” When he came out, the first thing he said was, “You look good.” But he was the sort of man who was ready to date. He didn’t need me to be less or more for him. He didn’t need me to be anything. He was enough himself.
Now, I have one rule for dating. I only date men at the tops of their fields, because I’m at the top of mine. I want someone who has nothing to prove to other men.
After I hung up, I texted Michael to say, “You’re not a catch, sweetie.” I left it at that.
Michelle Renee Hoppe is dating a Principal Software Architect out of Mexico, and the first thing he did when they started dating was buy her a whole line of beautiful plus-size dresses. She couldn’t be happier.