August 1st is National Girlfriends Day.
My childhood pediatrician promised my concerned mother that my baby fat would soon melt off into the softer curves of puberty, but the development of my hips and breasts only created more places for fat to settle. I didn’t mind—I had always been on the chubby side—but it worried my mother. She was bullied as a child because of her weight, and she knew better than anyone what a target my size could make me. This was also the same time in middle school when everyone seemed to be finding their own cliques, and I was an introverted fat kid who also happened to be new in school—that didn’t win me an excess of friendships. Still, between trying to blend in and regularly hiding in the bathroom during lunch, I managed to become friendly with a few girls and finally found a group to call my own.
The girls I became friends with were very different from me. More outgoing, more feminine, cuter…and thin. I had become the token fat kid of our clique. I felt self-conscious about my size in relation to their tiny figures, but it was a small price to pay for friendship.
But being the fat friend wasn’t just awkward—it also limited my role in our friend group: I was relegated to the role of sidekick, of go-fer.
When I felt comfortable enough to open up, I was bright and funny. I had a sense of humor and a knowledge of sci-fi and fantasy pop culture that interested boys in our school. I rarely had crushes on boys, but any time one seemed to have a crush on me, I’d find out that one of my friends liked him, too. There was no use competing against that.
These weren’t the only frustrating moments I experienced. As the “fat friend” in the group, I could never shop with my friends without being reminded of how different we were. While they flocked to straight-size stores like Abercrombie & Fitch and Gap, I was restricted to browsing shoes and accessories—the only things that would fit me.
On a particular trip to the mall, I grew tired of waiting around while they tried on their haul, so I went outside. One of my friends stopped me and asked if I’d take her shopping bags with me. Having no problem with my role as the group’s bag girl, I grabbed the bags and waited outside the store. It wasn’t until later, when my friend showed off the clothes that she’d hidden inside those bags—clothes she hadn’t paid for—that I realized she’d made a thief of me. The act of tricking me into stealing for her didn’t even hurt as much as the fact that she was willing to see me get in trouble so she could have a few cute tops. That was my worth to her.
A year later, when the group froze me out for no reason, I began to understand how replaceable I was.
I didn’t know why they no longer spoke to me, but passed notes went unanswered in class. I was ignored in the hall, and my seat at the lunch table was conveniently unavailable. It was a form of passive-aggressive bullying that I wasn’t prepared for. I went home and cried my eyes out to my dad. With his signature tough love attitude, he told me not to put up with their crap.
I didn’t know how to answer that.
Eventually, they broke their silent treatment. When I asked why they had stopped talking to me in the first place, I was told I was “just being annoying.”
If my life were a movie, this would be the part when I’d put those girls in their place. I’d tell them off, get the guy, ride off into the sunset, and the audience would learn a valuable lesson about not undervaluing a good person, no matter their size.
But my life isn’t a movie, so things went differently.
Middle school ended, and so did these friendships. Finding myself at another new school, I faced the same old problems.
Still fat, still shy—but now with fresh wounds from lost friends. That’s why I wasn’t expecting to find new friends so quickly. But I did:
The girl who passed me a note on my first day of high school, whose wedding I attended last year.
The proud theatre geek who would later march beside me at the Women’s March.
The energetic girl who would go on to achieve her doctorate and motherhood at the same time.
A friend’s sweet sister, who would in turn become my friend.
And later, I would meet a mom in Girl Scouts who is the truest confidant I’ve ever had.
I still have bitter feelings about middle school (and who doesn’t!), but I couldn’t allow that hurt to color my future relationships. If I had let the pain take over, I would have missed out on amazing friendships with so many incredible women. I’m still the “fat friend,” but I will never again let someone use my size as a reason to treat me as less than I am. I know my worth, and I know other women see it, too.