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  • Dana Webster

Fat & Ugly

Updated: Apr 17, 2022

My beautiful, bright, thoughtful, resilient, honest, forthright, funny, and loving daughter called me in tears because she "feels fat." This from a woman who can back squat 100 pounds and, other than her Type 1 Diabetes, is the strongest, healthiest and most nutrition conscious person I know.

Apparently, it is still a thing - making dynamic young women feel badly about their bodies. When tall, willowy, blonde, and white is the beauty ideal, a lot of us get left behind. Pilar is half Latina which means she's got the curves, baby, the curves. Or, as my father used to say, meat on her bones.

My teenage interminably "fat and ugly" phase

In writing class, a sixty-plus woman shared her personal story of a lifetime of serial dieting, starving herself, overeating, and hating her body/self every step of the way. I wasn't the only woman in the class reduced to tears remembering my own journey of body shame and self-hatred, feeling unlovable, unattractive, and undeserving because my stomach wasn't flat, and my thighs jiggled. I look back on photos of myself as a teen and young woman, the years through which my mother insisted I was fat, and I feel a gaping disconnect.

My brilliant mother came from that generation of women who had nothing as valuable to offer as their looks. When patriarchy was still king and women competed with each other and themselves to be skinny and delicate, taking up as little space in the world as possible. I grew up believing that my mother was naturally thin and that somehow my desire to eat food was my weakness, my downfall. In actuality, my mom subsisted on cigarettes, black coffee and one meal a day. So, not so natural after all.

Mom in her 40s

Of course, I can't lay it all at my mother's feet. She was simply echoing the expectations of society at large and, in some warped way, she may have been trying to protect me from a life of humiliation and spinsterhood (oh god, that's so true it hurts). It was the 70s, women's liberation was at hand, all of that female objectification was supposed to go away. But it hasn't, has it?

Shaming us for bodies that take up too much space in a world that, for all intents, exists for the male gaze, is still the most powerful and insidious way of keeping us quiet and controlled. Smaller and smaller we shrink into ourselves, refusing to eat, refusing to grow and expand, too malnourished to question motives.

I just can't help wondering where so many of us would be if only we were praised for our brilliance, our creativity, our athleticism, our courage, and our warm hearts instead of being harped on about how we look, as though our physicality has anything at all to do with our worth.

I do see that this is changing. Women of all stripes are reclaiming (or perhaps claiming for the first time) our right to exist as is, fully realized, fully formed and not a work in progress - "If only I could lose 10 pounds, I'd finally be happy/able to enjoy life/ be brave enough to wear shorts/ask for the promotion I deserve/have a sexy sex life ...

When Pilar called, all I could do was listen and commiserate and remind her of how beautiful she is simply because she is she. I tried not to let my growing fury at a world that is still punishing women for being women creep into my voice. And yet, my blood boils.


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