What I learned when I was fat-shamed at 5-years-old
They didn’t have my size. And no, the woman couldn’t check the back for extras.
“We don’t have clothes for fat girls like you,” the saleswoman told me. “Don’t you want to be thin like your mommy?”
Later, my mom would blame herself for not doing anything. She should have spoken to the manager, she should have written a formal complaint, she should have slapped the woman. (Okay, maybe not that last one — although I imagine the temptation was strong.) Instead, she picked me up, and got the hell out of Dodge. Who could blame her? The piece of chocolate she gave me on the way home helped, though. (I still like chocolate — so this story has a happy ending.)
Don’t you want to be thin like your mommy? The girl on the magazine cover? Your best friend that the cute guys circle like flies?
Teenage Laura would have never even dared to dream that, one day, women in the media would publicly fight fat-shaming. The fact that we now have gorgeous women like Melissa McCarthy and Tess Holliday kicking butt while refusing to be defined by their bodies? I’d have preferred to hear that fairytale nightly, rather than be convinced by The Little Mermaid that I had to fit into a clamshell bra.
While this war against fat-shaming is incredible, when it comes to ways we try to “help” women feel comfortable in their own skin, friendly fire is still all too real. Too often, after admitting to a bout of dressing room tears, an awkward tango with Spanx, or a skipped dessert in favor of maintaining my “girlish figure” (a phrase always accompanied by air quotes), responses from my friends and family have been well-intentioned — but painful.
Now don’t get me wrong, these are friends and family — not belligerent sales women. I suspect they all have my best interest at heart. But what I’m hearing, wedged between their good intentions is this:
(Not to mention the subtle shaming of another woman’s body).
Arbitrarily labeling someone as “acceptable” on the spectrum of attractiveness by labeling another person as “less acceptable” isn’t going to start the body-positive revolution. Loving your body takes time and work, and those kinds of “positive” remarks don’t help — but they easily hurt.
Watching Game of Thrones to see if the prostitutes’ thighs spread like mine do when they sit down wasn’t helping, nor was cruising Facebook to determine which of my childhood friends had gained or lost weight.
The facts: I like kale and cupcakes. I like spin class and lazy Netflix marathons. I wear cute dresses and Converse…you know, just in case I need to spring into action at a moment’s notice. These facts govern my quality of life much more than insecurities about whether I look good living it.
Assure me that beauty comes in many different packages, and then end the conversation. Help shove me back toward reality. I promise I’ll reciprocate.
But things are changing, both for pop culture and for me. I didn’t realize how far I had come until recently, when I rounded up a pack of pals and headed to a Korean spa for the day. A few years ago, the mere idea of dropping my towel, even in a gender-segregated environment, would be enough to send me into a cold sweat.
After 5 seconds of awkwardness, I was too busy giggling with my girlfriends to even consider the idea that my body might somehow be less valuable than those around me.
It’s been a long ride. But two decades later, I’ve stopped crying long enough to answer that mean-spirited saleswoman for myself.