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Shame

January 11, 2008

When I was 11 years old and spending a week at sleepaway camp, I got a wicked heat/friction rash on my inner thighs. Hiking all around in shorts during a Houston summer, you couldn’t really avoid it. It had gotten worse and worse each day and after our first hike out to the ropes course (a fat kid’s nightmare) and back (well over 6 miles) it was very very painful. I remember touching the bumpy sticky rash and feeling so disgusted at the evidence of my fat. I hadn’t told anyone of the increasingly painful problem and I didn’t even consider going to the nurse. Unsure of what to do, I sat in the little changing cubicle after my shower and thought it through. The rash was very hot so it needed something cool and soothing, right?

Following my flawless ‘tween logic, I slathered the rash with some cheap, scented lotion I had.

Ow. Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow

It was excrutiating. Ratcheting up the burn by a billion degrees and bringing tears to my eyes. I sat quietly riding out the pain until my bathroom buddy called for me. I pulled on my pajama pants, took a deep breath and pretended that nothing was wrong. I remember trying to act natural and chat with my friends on the walk back to the cabins when each brush of my thighs threatened to rob me of my voice.

The next summer, at the very same camp, I twisted my ankle. It wasn’t terribly painful, but I decided to go to the nurse just to be sure. She gave me some advil and told me to be careful.

The difference between the two situations, obvivously, was fat. Anything that might bring attention to my body and the awful state of it was to be avoided at all costs. Admitting that I was in pain because my thighs rubbed together was on par with getting naked, writing my weight in sharpie on my ass and going around the camp on a pogo stick.

For years I devoted an intense amount of energy to trying to avoid doing anything that might bring attention to my fat. As if holding my breath steady (and making myself sick and lightheaded) when running up stairs with my friends or refusing to ever be seen red-faced and sweaty might make my body invisible. So funny in retrospect since people generally don’t see someone who’s “morbidly obese” and think “I thought she might be fat, but she really isn’t breathing very hard going up those stairs so she must be quite thin.”

The shame that fat people are taught to feel about our bodies is immense. The shame we then feel about any of those sticky, embarassing, completely NORMAL issues we might have is unimaginable. I’ve talked to women who wore pantyhose under their skirts even when the friction on their thighs caused them to bleed because they couldn’t imagine asking someone about the problem.

It is one of the fantastic things about the internet that we finally have a place where we can find this information. But we need more. We need to start treating our bodies as normal and part of that means being open about issues that could bring attention to our fat.

So I’ll start.

Several years ago, I went camping for almost a week. There were no showers and after I got back, I noticed that I was having some itching and irritation under my belly (I carry my weight here so I have what I once heard someone refer to as a “pcos belly flap.”) Even after lots of showers and some baby powder (hey it works for the thigh thing) the problem wasn’t going away. It itched like fucking crazy and then I would scratch until it bled.

Too embarassed to tell a doctor about it – I mean, omg sweaty itching red belly flap!!! – even though I went to doctors for other issues during this time, I lived with it for two years. Two years of daily itching and irritation. Two years of trying anti-fungal creams and sprays, of spraying my broken skin with first aid products that made it burn like hell. Two years of disgust and shame and fear of discovery before I finally asked my aunt (who is a nurse and also fat.)

“Oh, that’s really common. Happens under breasts a lot too. Anything with hydrocortizone seems to clear it right up.”

And it did. In less than a week.

I know it’s hard sometimes to address issues that bring direct attention to our fat. I’m starting at a new school next week and I’d been worrying myself silly about the kind of desks they had. I can fit into those desk/chair curvy combo things (that’s the scientific name) but it’s not comfortable and I have to do a little slide to get in and out. What if they had those desks? Could I request a separate chair? I would just cry if I showed up on Moday and didn’t fit.

But you know, when I finally did call the school to ask, I didn’t act embarassed or apologetic because I have no need to be. I’m paying my tuition and I deserve to be comfortable so I can pay attention. That’s all there is to it.

We deserve as much health, as much comfort and as much consideration as anyone else. We certainly don’t need to apologize for ourselves.

It’s not always easy, I know, but I do believe that the more we act entitled to the same everyday consideration as everyone else, the less power others will have to shame us.

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12 Comments
  1. Susan permalink
    January 11, 2008 6:38 pm

    ‘So funny in retrospect since people generally don’t see someone who’s “morbidly obese” and think “I thought she might be fat, but she really isn’t breathing very hard going up those stairs so she must be quite thin.’

    LOL! That’s so funny!

    The sweat rash thing brought back some very painful memories – ouchie! I used to buy a special anti-sweatrash powder; I remember once the look of utter disgust the chemist’s assistant gave me once when I bought some. Then I lost weight and took up running – then I was *proud* to buy anti-sweatrash powder because I was a runner. 😉

  2. thoughtracer permalink
    January 11, 2008 6:55 pm

    I could have written this. Yes! How many times did I go to school — even through undergraduate school — and hope to GOD that I would fit in the desks? How many times did I have chafing issues between my thighs and just put up with it? How many times did weird things happen to my body and I thought: too bad? I’m fat, it’s my punishment? I identify with what you’ve said. I blod about fat too. Check me out at http://www.thoughtracer.wordpress.com

  3. January 11, 2008 7:17 pm

    This whole post is brilliant and wonderful….but “getting naked, writing my weight in sharpie on my ass and going around the camp on a pogo stick” is exceptionally hilarious. I’m saving that for my next game of Truth or Dare, for sure.

  4. Sophia permalink
    January 11, 2008 7:23 pm

    i just wanted to tell you that this was a fantastic post. your belly rash story reminded me of this: i went for nearly three years with major, major flaky scalp on the back of my head near my hairline. it itched like CRAZY, got to the point of bleeding sometimes. i spent ridiculous money on all this organic dandruff shampoo crap, tea tree oil, got “dandruff relief” ointment that smelled like chemicals and made my scalp burn like the inner circles of hell before it subsided into blissful numbness for about an hour. i’d hide my head under my cubicle desk to apply it. i thought i was horribly dirty, but when i quit my soul-sucking job, guess what? cleared up completely in less than a month. only later did i find out that extreme stress (like that job) can cause a flaky scalp. how silly of me. should have quit that shit job before i started : )

  5. January 11, 2008 7:34 pm

    Is it wrong that the mental image of someone bopping around camp on a pogo stick naked is really funny?

    Seriously, though, I have several health issues – some of which can’t possibly be related to fat! – that I haven’t been to the doctor for because I don’t want the fat lecture. Ridiculous? Yes. And yet I can’t get past it.

  6. January 11, 2008 10:44 pm

    Good lord, when did you start spying on my childhood?!

    I was particularly susceptible to heat rashes when i was a child (even before i started gaining weight) – it was especially bad under my arms, but i didn’t start feeling ashamed of it until i started putting on weight. I stopped wearing skirts altogether because of the chafing between my thighs, and when i had to wear skirts, i had to wear bicycle shorts under them. I still won’t wear them, to this day.

    Oh, and for belly roll rashes? I find that Aveeno oatmeal diaper rash cream actually helps a great deal. It’s very gentle, especially to sensitive skin, and helps cut down on the itchybits.

  7. January 12, 2008 3:28 am

    this is such a great post. chub rub sounds like a joke, but heat rash can be really painful. No one should have to suffer like that.

    bike shorts are a godsend, I wear them under skirts and even jeans in the summer.

  8. January 13, 2008 9:10 pm

    This reminds me of a recent post (by Kate?) I read somewhere about going up the stairs and being out of breath.

    Same deal happened to me soon after reading that post – the escalators to both the first and second flight of stairs at my work subway station were off. I half-sprinted up them (with stairs I find it’s less tiring to do them fast). At the top, I did the usual ‘pretend your breathing is normal’ routine, which I’m trying to break myself of.

    As I got to the exit, I noticed a coworker behind me, and she was huffing and puffing. I probably outweigh her by a buck ten at least, and yet she was really impressed and said “Wow, how did you take those stairs so fast?” And I thought about how much practice I get – two flights of stairs in/out of the subway, two at work (up and down probably two dozen times a day), one at home. Plus I do cardio 2-3 times a week. So why the fuck should I have to hide the fact that my strong body needs more oxygen!?

    Shit like this is buried so deep, it takes posts like this to even see it at all. Ditto for chub rub.

  9. laurel permalink
    January 25, 2008 5:51 am

    The thigh rubbing thing used to happen to me when I was at school…(and I think it’s more to do with body structure than fat, because I’ve never been overweight, but my legs have almost always rubbed at the top)…I was too embarrassed to tell anyone and for some stupid reason I thought I’d put Vick’s vapo-rub (a menthol type thing for clearing the sinus, don’t know if you have it in the States) on it. Boy was that a mistake! It hurt so much that I ran to the shower and jumped in so fast that I actually forgot to take all my clothes off…

  10. Denny permalink
    January 30, 2008 6:05 am

    I am a college student, and I am paranoid about fitting into the desks. I can get into a curvy chair/desk, but can’t use a laptop on the desk portion. Not fitting into a desk is my sick fear every day I go to school and every time I register for a new class. I seriously have considered dropping out over it.

  11. Jay permalink
    May 20, 2008 3:52 am

    OMG – welcome to my world. I am at the moment suffering with the ol’ sweat rash under the boobies and in the tummy flap area and literally cry myself to sleep because of it. Thanks for the Hydrocortisone thing – off out to buy some now.

  12. misha permalink
    May 26, 2008 7:00 pm

    I almost never ever wear shorts because I hate the feeling of my thighs rubbing together. I am basically an endomorph although a fairly small version of it. I struggle with “extra” breast tissue also, i.e., I have lumps where most people have armpits; the doctor said it is just mammary tissue. I love the internet though, I have actually been able to find a bra in size 34-E which is helpful

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