Generally, I’m a fairly private person. Not private in the sense that I don’t share anything with anyone, but private in the sense that my major life issues are just that.
But recently, after some eye-opening events, I decided that one of the more personal struggles during my life might benefit someone, someday. And also how I dealt (and continue to deal) with it.
For anyone who knows me in my personal life, there is only one way to describe my physique.
It’s a harsh word, one that our society cringes away from today, as if just uttering the syllable means that they might catch its effects. But, in my case, it’s the truth.
Even from an early age, I struggled with the way I looked and the way others looked at me. And in high school it only got worse. I listened to the jokes made by people I, at the time, considered friends. I stood idly by while parents of the girls I played softball with pointed and made comments while I ran and jiggled. I ignored whispered teases in hallways and piercing jabs while my back was turned.
During all of this, there was one item that made everything else tolerable. And that was a simple 308-page novel written by Susan Vaught titled Big Fat Manifesto.
The novel centers around Jamie Carcaterra, an overweight senior in high school who writes a weekly column in her school’s newspaper detailing what she feels are her rights as a fat girl in a world demanding skinny. And eventually, her column starts raising questions that even Jaime herself must face.
Vaught could not have created a character that I connected more with while I was in high school if she had personally taken notes on my life. Jamie was this no nonsense girl who dreamed of being a world-changing journalist, and dreamed of getting into her perfect college and wanted those around her to just accept her for who she was. She was surrounded by skinny friends who didn’t really understand what it was like to be fat. She was the girl who was so sure of herself, and the girl I wanted to be.
Jaime was, ultimately, my hero.
But the Jaime that begins the book isn’t the same character that ends the book. And it was the end Jaime that really changed my life, and made me realize that the character and I were less alike through things like her college and journalism aspirations, and more alike through the thoughts and feelings she didn’t share until the end of the novel.
An ending passage from the book reads as follows:
Like I said, I’m scared. I’m dreading all the little things. That’s part of the real, deep truth about being fat. Being scared. Being tired before battles even start. Dreading the weight of the weight.
But I can do this. I will do this. (304)
Even today, I still read that paragraph over and over when I’m feeling particularly scared or intimidated. When I’m afraid to meet someone because of the judgement I know that will immediately be passed. Or when I can’t make myself go shopping at the mall because I understand how not right it feels to be in one of those stores. I just try and remember that somewhere, someone knew what it was like when Big Fat Manifesto was written. And that I’m still me, with or without the weight.
With Vaught’s novel, I don’t know what I would have turned out like. I don’t know if I would have had the courage to tell people enough was enough, or if I would have even had enough courage to get out of bed and face high school. What I do know is that Big Fat Manifesto changed my life, and maybe it could change (or has changed) another person’s life as well.