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.