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Published November 17, 2011, 11:30 PM

Holt: Comments, stares fuel insecurities

Once you’ve been stared at for being fat, you will never again judge someone solely based on their size.

By: Meredith Holt, INFORUM

Once you’ve been stared at for being fat, you will never again judge someone solely based on their size.

I’ve experienced that kind of ridicule firsthand.

While I’m sweating away on the elliptical, I sometimes find myself thinking about how I’ve been treated differently at different sizes.

For instance, after spending a few hours at a fair in 2009, I told my friends to go ahead of me and get the car and I’d wait by the side of the road for them to come back for me. (It’s tiring carrying around an extra 150 pounds or so.)

While I relaxed in the grass, a truckload of popped-collar frat-boy types leaned out of their windows and yelled something at me that I have since blocked from my memory.

Playing the role of the “fun-loving fat girl,” I gave them a sheepish “Yeah, hi haha” wave back and then looked down, pretending to text on my phone to hide my embarrassment. I felt like a circus freak put on display for passers-by to hoot and holler at.

That demeaning experience brought to mind a different kind of catcall – the kind I used to get in 2004 when I was a svelte size 4. The kind I got when I went Rollerblading down 20th Street in Moorhead or when I got into my car wearing a short skirt.

Fast-forward to a couple months ago, when I was driving down Main Avenue in Fargo and noticed a guy in a truck on my right pacing me. I nervously glanced over, half expecting to see someone making a rude face (or hand gesture) at me, but instead got a friendly smile and wave.

“Um, me? Are you sure?”

It was a welcome surprise after growing used to being treated like a social outcast.

Like when I would go into stores like Abercrombie & Fitch or Hollister with my size-0 best friend, and get looks from salesgirls that said, “What are YOU doing here?” I felt like I should be wearing a blinking neon sign on my head that said, “I’m with her!” or, “I’m just here for the accessories!”

Some were more vocal about their disapproval.

In 2005, while standing at the server station of the restaurant where I worked – in my size-18 bar shorts – one of the more obnoxious regular customers who’d witnessed my weight gain said loudly (and drunkenly), “What happened to YOU?”

With extra fat cells comes shame, whether it’s manifested from yourself or those around you. It lodges itself into your brain and causes you to question even those who are supposed to love you unconditionally.

After I’d gained about 100 pounds, I emailed my family in Maine ahead of a 2007 visit to warn them of the change. I included a couple photos of myself to lessen the shock I knew they’d experience upon first seeing me at the airport. I added, “Please, please, please love me no matter what I look like.”

Even though they didn’t make a big deal of it, I felt I’d “disgraced” them by gaining so much weight so quickly, especially after losing weight a couple times in the past.

The guilt can also make you hyper-aware of your surroundings.

When you’re large, you try to make yourself smaller. You carefully maneuver between tables and chairs so as not to bump anyone or knock anything over. You feel bad for the person who has to sit next to you. You want to apologize to everyone. “Hey, I’m sorry I’m fat.”

The comments and stares fueled my insecurities.

I longed for my weight to no longer be the first thing people noticed about me. I still do. At times I felt like I was wearing a “fat suit” and would imagine unzipping it and stepping out as the “real me.”

While there may be no zipper, I’m slowly but surely making that happen.

Forum copy editor Meredith Holt will share stories of her weight-loss journey in her column, which will run the third Friday of each month in SheSays.