"Beauty isn't between a size zero and a size eight. It is not a number at all. It is not physical," Ellen DeGeneres said recently in response to Abercrombie & Fitch's refusal to sell clothing for plus-size women. We agree wholeheartedly, but unfortunately, the messages many women get on a day-to-day basis communicate the opposite.
In response to the A&F debacle, people began to speak out about being those "uncool" consumers that CEO Mike Jeffries saw as brand ruiners. We wanted to give women who have experienced fat prejudice a chance to share their stories and the insight they've gained over the years. And as the below stories show, "fat" is quite a relative term, and can encompass many types of bodies depending on the situation. No woman should have to deal with negative, cruel comments about her body, but nothing will get better until we start acknowledging that these things happen and working to change the way we think about "fat."
(Note: This collection of stories is not exhaustive, and we recognize that women of other sizes experience judgment based on their weight and looks. If you would like to share a story about another type of size discrimination please email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
LOOK: 14 Women Share Their Stories Of Size Prejudice
"Boobs aren't really supposed to be that big"
Last summer I walked into Victoria's Secret in search of a new bra or two. It was the summer after my sophomore year in college, and I was working seven days a week between a job and an internship, so my diet was not the healthiest and the pounds were packing on. I discovered that my bra size had moved up to a 38 DD (which is sort of large, I'll admit) and I was browsing the selections in my size, which mainly consisted of just plain black bras. When a sales associate approached me and asked if I needed help, I told her I was looking for something in a color other than black. After hearing my size, she said: "Well we don't really have much in that size because boobs aren't really supposed to be that big."
I want to tell this girl that there is nothing wrong with my bra size, and quite frankly [her comments] pissed me off. I'm not denying that I want to lose weight and be healthy (and look smokin' hot too), but there is no reason for other people to make me feel ashamed of myself until I do so.
--Lea, 21 years old, Pittsburgh
"Teachers laughed while I executed my routine"
There was this instance when I was very eager to join the cheering squad of my school back in high school. But since petite bodies became a requirement, teachers (who acted as judges) saw me on audition day and laughed while I executed my routine ... Nothing's wrong with being fat. What's wrong is the way [some people] judge someone based on appearances.
--Serine, 20 years old, Phillipines
"My personality has not changed. Everyone else has changed"
I was always the "big girl" the last one to be picked -- even though I was a great softball player, and had a great personality. None of that mattered in high school. All that mattered then was that I was "fat" (160 lbs). When I got married in 1999, I was about 200 pounds. In 2004, when I gave birth to my third child, I weighed in at 300 lbs! I still don't know how I got there and how I gained that much weight ... It wasn't until a few years later, when i knew I couldn't keep up with my little ones and was considered the "fat mom" that I was ready to make a change. At that point in my life, people were nice to me, but now when I reflect on that time in my life, I realize the amount of pity that was put into the kindness. In 2000, I had lap band surgery. I have lost over 100 pounds. I am exactly who I was the day prior to surgery as I am today. My level of confidence may have increased a bit, but my outgoing, happy, carefree personality has not changed. Everyone else has changed.
People hold the door for me when I enter or exit a building. More people say hi to me. When I randomly chat with people while waiting on a line, they are more likely to engage in a full conversation instead of giving a quick answer. Men approach me, despite me telling them I am married an[d] uninterested. Life as the "thick girl" vs. the "fat girl" is huge. Every day, I see how differently I am treated. Every day I know how people react to people who are severely overweight ... But no matter what people are, they all react to fat people the same -- as lazy, unwilling, ugly members of society. I was never lazy, never unwilling and always productive.
I am and always will be thankful that I am outgoing, that people are naturally drawn to me, and that I am easily liked -- no matter what size I am. Most big girls don't get that chance ... Anyone and almost everyone who judged me before: know that I am no different today then I was on my heaviest day.
--Kristina, 38 years old, New York
"From the time I was a small child, my mother and grandmother told me I was fat"
From the time I was a small child, my moderately overweight mother and grandmother told me I was fat. Not just fat, but hugely, horribly fat. Since they were the most important women in my life, I believed them. Why would they lie? But the reality was that I was just an average size child. Not thin, not fat, just healthy and average. But once that endless loop of, "I'm so fat" started playing in my head, it eventually took over and I did become fat. At the age of 51, I was pushing up against 400 lbs. Today at 55, I am about twelve weeks away from dropping below 200 lbs. My goal is "something in the 150s", which will still be considered fat by most people.
What I would say to those who point fingers and shout, "Fat!", including my late mother and grandmother, is, "Shut up. Stop putting your own body image issues onto others. We know if we weigh more than 120 lbs. We get it that you think we're fat. Fat is not the worst thing that can happen to a person. Your bullying isn't acceptable. We'll lose weight when and if we are ready."
--Karen, 55 years old, Denver
"Guys tell me that if I lost 50-75+ pounds, maybe they would consider liking me"
Since I can remember, I have always been one of the bigger girls out of my friends and classmates. Honestly, I don't have one specific story where I was discriminated against because of my weight. It's been a constant thing. I'm the last person to be picked during gym class; someone says they don't want me to sit in their chair out of fear that I would break it; guys tell me that If I lost anywhere from 50-75+ lbs, maybe, and just maybe, they would consider liking/dating me. Basically, I've heard it all.
What would I like to say to those people who have ever done or said anything prejudice[d] or discriminating towards me? Thank you. Thank you for showing me that there are so many different [body types] in this world, and we all are not meant to look like the latest supermodel. Thank you for making me love my size 22 self more each day. For each time anyone treats me in a negative way because of my weight, I just smile and simply think: "you can't handle all my awesomeness." Look and see if they have this "perfect" body that they judge me for not having. And if they don't, which they probably don't, they should think about how it would make them feel if someone consistently pointed out their imperfections.
--Leslieann, 21 years old, Illinois
"Your size is intimidating"
I graduated from grad school in 2011 and had lots of interviews following that monumental event. I had the schooling, the experience, and I was not getting hired. I would ask for feedback and it would come across vague or filtered. Finally, a close mentor told me the truth: You are tall and statuesque -- your size is intimidating. That is why you are not getting hired.
I am 5'9 and a plus size woman who believes she is beautiful. It's sad that I am thought to be aggressive and angry based on my size; actually, I am very nice and fun-loving. If I could say one thing it would be what my father (RIP) would always say to me: "It's what's on the inside that counts."
--Traci, 32 years old, Chicago
"He told me I couldn't ride the ponies because I was too heavy"
At the age of eight my aunt took me and my two cousins to a fair. There were pony rides at the fair and we excitedly went over to ride the ponies. When it was my turn, the guy who ran the pony rides gave me a weird look and asked me how much I weighed. He told me I couldn't ride the ponies because I was too heavy. I could tell he felt bad saying it, but I felt so awful.
My other story was when I was 6 months pregnant, I attended a family get together. My grandpa asked me how many babies I had in me. I joked "probably a litter" to him but then my aunt said "you're obviously gaining too much weight. You need to slow down." I didn't have smart comeback for that one. [If I had responded,] I think I would have told her that its none of her business and that my doctor (who is the only doctor I've ever had who said my body is normal and healthy) told me that I was fine and the baby was fine.
The really weird thing is that I'm not really fat ... At 5'7" and 185 pounds, I think I look fine.
--Victoria, 21 years old, Seattle
"There is a HUGE difference in how I am treated"
I grew up a large girl, and continued to gain weight up until my 2nd year in college. It wasn't until I was sick of the comments made by family, men, people I thought were my friends, and even by nurses at my doctors appointments, that, "I should slow down on the McDonalds," that I decided to take charge of my weight. When I decided to go though the process of losing weight, I was 190 pounds. I'm now proud to say I weigh 145 ... But I will say there is a HUGE difference in how I am treated. Once ignored in stores, I'm immediately taken care of now when I shop. Once laughed at in school and even bullied by my peers, I'm now a person people want to be friends with. Once completely dogged out by men, dating isn't as nearly as challenging, but the crazy thing is, I'M STILL THE SAME PERSON!!! Nothing has changed about me except my weight.
It's a bit overwhelming at times because I'm still not used to being treated differently and I really resent the fact that it all stems from me being thinner. I believe in treating people the same no matter what size they are. Weight, to me, seems like such a small element when judging an individual after you throw character in to the mix. That's how we should really be judging people, by their character. I think society forgets that no matter how big a person may be, there's still a person inside with feelings. We have to be more understanding of people who are overweight. There are so many reasons why someone could be overweight, not just that they eat all day ... The day people open up their minds to this, I think we will be closer to a weight prejudice-free society.
--Jillian, 22 years old, Cleveland
"I ended up locking myself in the bathroom, crying myself to sleep"
I was born in Indonesia, where most girls were petite and unbelievably skinny. They see 50 kg as a nightmare. Meanwhile I'm living my life as a 75 kg teenager ... Accustomed to skinny girls, everyone would make fun of my huge frame by saying that I "took too much space" or "might as well try joining sumo competition." What hurts me the most is the fact that the verbal bullying happened mostly during my family gatherings, and they didn't seem to care or be aware of the pain it brought to me. I ended up locking myself in the bathroom, crying myself to sleep and constantly avoiding the family gatherings.
Making fun of others' appearance isn't funny; it's mean, intolerant and cruel. We are living a hard enough life not getting the dresses that would fit (and crying in the fitting room), receiving cynical stares filled with one-sided judgment whenever we buy food as if we don't need to eat ever again, and not to mention [experiencing] the endless peer pressure of getting thigh gaps and flat stomachs. We already suffer enough, please at least be kind with words for they stab deeper than swords.
--Carrisa, 17 years old, Indonesia
"You know, we have VERY small hallways here"
I have been waiting 30 years to tell my story! I applied for a clerical job fresh out of college at a local optometrist's office that had advertised an opening. I had a stellar interview, as far as the line of questioning went. As we were wrapping up, the optometrist's wife, who was conducting my interview, gazed past me and said "You know, we have VERY small hallways here." My naïveté prevented a good comeback, although I've thought of many since then! Mind you, I was probably a size 18 (while she was likely size 2).
--Patti, 52 years old, Indiana
"My teacher told me I wasn't good enough for dancing because I was fat"
When I was 13, my ballet teacher told me I wasn't good enough for dancing because I was fat. I cried my eyes out -- I didn't understand why she was saying that to me. I was a good dancer, I was able to memorize all the choreography and even "teach" it to the other girls. I left the class and one month later I discovered she was planning a festival and she simply didn't want to give a "fat girl" a spot. I never talked to her (or my fellow classmates again), but if I had the chance, I would say: I'm capable of anything. I'm a great girl and my weight does not define if I'm good or not on something.
--Umáyra, 20 years old, Brazil
"There was her first impression: BIG GIRL"
In 1980, I was 26 years old and had just completed my bachelor's degree, having delayed going to college for working, marriage and a baby. I am five feet seven inches tall, and when I graduated, I weighed 145 pounds. I have an athletic build, so that's a good, healthy weight at which I was comfortable. I was incredibly proud of myself and excited about beginning a real career. My first appointment was at a small employment agency. After filling out the paperwork, I was interviewed by a woman who had to leave the room briefly. Of course I had to lean over to see what she had written in large letters at the top of my application form. There was her first impression: BIG GIRL
I was stunned. Yes, I knew I was a big girl (woman), but it honestly hadn't occurred to me that [that] would be the thing that prospective employers would need to know about me, or that the employment people would consider it pertinent. I have learned a lot since then. What would I say to her now? What I say to anyone: get over it. People come in all sizes and everyone deserves to be judged on their character. Appearance is a liar.
--Robin, 58 years old, Arkansas
"He would not look into my health issue because he said I needed to lose weight"
In 1998 I was very ill and going to a local physician. He said my fatigue and anemia were caused by my being fat (he used the word fat). He would not look further into my health issue because he said I needed to lose weight. I ended up in the ER then hospitalized near death for sleep apnea. My oxygen level was so low I was on constant oxygen for months. All because the doctor thought I was just fat.
--Donna, 44 years old, West Virginia
"I felt my entire life's happiness depended on my weight"
Up until recently I felt my entire life's happiness depended on my weight. Growing up as an extremely obese child, I was bullied into believing I was ugly, wouldn't be able to succeed, was less of a person [and] that I was unloveable because I was fat. Once I became a pre-teen I developed a fear of food that followed me into my adult years. I took extremely unhealthy measures to become thin, believing every job interview I didn't nail was only because I wasn't thin enough, or that a guy didn't ask me on a second date because he thought I was too fat. This cycle of any happiness in my life resting on my weight needs to end.
I am a loveable, intelligent and beautiful woman. Although I still have issues with food, I refuse to believe any longer that my weight holds any bearing on my happiness. It is terrifying to think there are people that exist like Mike Jeffries. People like him are single handedly enforcing the hate and intolerance in today's youth that has caused children -- obese children like me -- to be bullied to the point of developing eating disorders, or worse, committing suicide. Reading similar experiences from other people like me has helped me on my journey to happiness and freedom from weight prejudices.
--Sara, 24 years old, Oregon