By Sarah Tedesco
After six stores of screaming matches, tears, a few thrown flip-flops, my grandmother, mom and I walked in to the seventh and final store to find my Bat Mitzvah dress. I prayed it would be the last since I wasn’t sure that I could handle my mother asking me to suck in my stomach one more time. “Just stand up a little more straight,” she said, as I tried on yet another dress that was a few sizes too small.
My grandmother lagged behind, eyeing every inch of my body and always getting stuck on my thighs. “Maybe we should try the plus size department,” she said holding back a chuckle and again staring at my legs. I was 12. My Bat Mitzvah was three weeks away, and I still didn’t know what I was wearing. It was panic time.
We finally found a dress I liked in store and ordered it online in the “extended sizes,” department. We had it tailored, which was equally as nightmarish, considering the looks I got from the petite Korean woman who owned the dry cleaners. She went on and on about how large my hips were. “You’re so young, too young.” I stood still on the pedestal wearing a dress I was proud of, holding in comments, because she was right, my body to the standard human eye was gross, unnatural.
She split one of the seams of the black sparkle dress and untied the satin gold bow I loved, taking it in an inch. I promised I wouldn’t move, so I stood tight keeping each pin in their assigned place.
After getting over the trauma of finding a dress, I focused on the gifts I would get. My brother Tyler, who was three years older than me, got a PlayStation and a new bike. I wanted things like new shoes and purses. I hoped for gift cards for a shopping spree, or maybe even tickets to see Britney Spears. My grandparents gave him a trip to Disney with his best friend and a huge installment in to his college bank account.
Tyler never had to worry about the struggle of finding something to wear. He didn’t understand the depression that came with me coming home empty-handed after 12 hours of pulling clothes on and off my big body, or the rocky relationship that built between my grandmother and myself due to her sometimes “unfiltered comments.”
My grandparents lived with my family and me from the time I was 10 until the summer before my freshman year in college. They both required 24/7 care and it became obvious quickly that their days with us were limited.
I sat for hours with my grandmother watching the home shopping channel, her favorite station. I didn’t sit with her because I liked it, but because there was a comfort in the smell of her powdered makeup and lipstick. I learned to dismiss the occasional comments about the extra layer of fat on my legs, or how my stomach was at least three times the size of the other girls’ my age.
My grandma took the role of sometimes friend, other times grandma, and even on occasion stand-in mother. She never meant harm, but when you’re standing in a dressing room wearing just a bra, and your grandmother forces you to walk out to show her how it looks, and the first words out of her mouth are “look at those stretch marks,” you begin to feel a little self-conscious.
On the day of my Bat Mitzvah, I felt pretty for the first time in a while. I liked how my dress twirled and sparkled in the light. I knew the struggle it was getting to wear that dress, but as a 12 year old, I ignored my thoughts and focused on the party in front of me. For gifts, I got a Coach bag from my aunt, a collection of headbands from a friend, a lot of checks that I knew I would never see after that day, for my college fund. The last gift was from my grandparents. Knowing what Tyler had got, I had high expectations.
I opened the envelope, surprised it was so small because I expected something much larger. I had saved their present for the end because I knew it would be the best. But what it was, was far from what a young me wanted. It was far from the best, but absolutely the most memorable. My fingers tore open paper envelope and found a pamphlet for the New Image Weight Loss Camp in Lakeland, Florida.
There are no feelings to describe what I thought when I realized that my own grandmother felt my weight was such a problem that fat camp was the only option. I stuffed the pamphlet that had kids pictured far more overweight than myself, sitting in canoes, back in the envelope and felt a tear hit my cheek.
I wasn’t sad but embarrassed. Embarrassed by my body, and embarrassed that instead of going to YMCA camp or engaging in a normal summer activity, I was going to spending it running laps, doing aerobics, and eating sugar-free Jell-O.
I ended up enjoying camp and voluntarily decided to go back the next summer. I liked being able to not focus on judgments from my peers, and being able to talk about what it felt like to be the fat kid in class. I met friends there who I still talk to and can still count on to bring my body-shaming thoughts back to reality.
I hope to be a counselor at camp soon, so I can help campers who remind me of myself: a fearful young girl taught to be ashamed of and disgusted by her body.
After graduating high school and moving to Boston for college, I have thought less and less about my weight. When I look in the mirror now I pay attention to what I like: my eyes, smile, and curly hair. It may be that I am no longer surrounded by the stairs of my late grandmother and weight-obsessed mother, or that I have begun to realize that my beauty is measured not just from the size of my body but the size of what I bring to the world.
I watched a video of a young woman named Beck Cooper, who just graduated from Occidental College, performing a slam poem about the struggles of accepting and loving her body. I was amazed at how she stood up in front of a crowd and held the fat on her skin proudly. For as long as I can remember I was not supposed to love my body. At home, fat is the same as ugly. I can’t possibly love this body.
In the poem, Beck says,
“Ignore the voices that sing sweetly of shrinking,
I know what you’re thinking
Body heavy, body hideous, will never be loved.”
I can’t say that I love my body yet; I don’t believe that any young woman my age would say that. But I do believe that this body can be loved, and that loving it makes the shame of it start to go away.
Sarah Tedesco is a junior journalism student at Emerson College, in Boston, Massachusetts. She has previously written for Isis Magazine – a feminist publication, the Berkeley Beacon, and the Jewish News. She is an anti-sexual violence activist, and hopes to earn her M.A. in Public Policy so that she can better support survivors of rape through policy initiatives. In her spare time she enjoys writing, photography, and snuggling with cats.