21, Overweight, Balding and Acne Prone




For my part-time job, I listen. Technically, I bag groceries as I do it, but mainly I listen. I listen and I smile and I nod. I smile and I nod and I nod and I nod and I listen and I smile. I smile as proud mothers tell me about their children’s weddings in the Hamptons and I laugh as gentle-mannered septuagenarians tell jokes about the weather. Mainly the exchanges are airy, quick, and upbeat.

But I have to smile, even through not-so-lighthearted exchanges. Upper West Side mothers scolding at me that they were waiting in line for a whole ten minutes or sweater-clad hipsters complaining that they couldn’t find their seven sprouted grain kale quinoa crisps. The horror.

But then there’s a different kind of interaction that occasionally happens, where the customer will look at me as if I’m not even there, even when I ask them questions like, “Did you bring a reusable bag today?” Nothing. They won’t even look at me half the time; and even if they do, and even if they smile, their eyes are glazed with a certain brand of disgust that reads all too clearly; their smile on the brink of a curling, condescending snarl, their teeth are clenching with disdain. I smile, too, in a chagrin-like manner as I hand them their bags and say “Have a good night!” An interaction that I must say, as an overweight woman living in New York City, I am certainly no stranger to.

“It’s the kind of interaction that reminds me that I am a leper in a world that glorifies a certain standard of beauty and perpetuates a belief system that health and “being in shape” only suits a limited spectrum of size.”

It’s the kind of interaction that reminds me that I am a leper in a world that glorifies a certain standard of beauty and perpetuates a belief system that health and “being in shape” only suits a limited spectrum of size. I’m reminded of this on my way to work as I pass billboards and bus station ads especially ones for publications such as Women’s Health or Shape magazine where the covers always seem to be donned by the same lightly bronzed size-two physique. Their perfectly manipulated abdomens blown up to such a gargantuan proportion that it almost seems on the verge of mockery especially when they’re strategically surrounded by headlines like “YOUR BEST BUTT”, “BIKINI BODY IN 2 WEEKS”, or “LEAN LEGS WITH THIS SIMPLE TRICK.” All essentially feeding into the idea that I could be better. That if my legs aren’t sculpted like a Victoria’s Secret model or I don’t have the abs of a Pilates instructor, I am failing. A key component in a cultural dialogue that is not only ridiculous but also severely damaging, especially to young women, because it lacks to acknowledge one vital evident truth – the definition of what it means to be healthy and beautiful is not a single sized template.

This past spring, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS for short. This ravenous beast of a condition is not only responsible for my weight gain, but also for my once thick, voluminous mane of hair thinning and my skin resembling an acne-riddled middle-schooler’s.  You could imagine what adding these traits to my already perceptively awkward personality has done for my dating life! But beyond that, it has created a physical manifestation of a person that I do not know. I stare into the mirror, gaze at photographs of myself and have faint recognition of the person I see. It’s like a ghostly etching of a person I saw once in a dream, a memory buried beneath disillusionment. I do not know her and I don’t know if I want to.

Recently, I had to get my picture taken for my ID card at my internship and after the picture developed what should have been a moment of joy to see my face next to the CBS logo, was actually a moment of sheer terror. Who is this sad, fat mound of flesh? I thought. I looked into her eyes, and they were the only things that seemed vaguely familiar, everything else surrounding them was just completely and utterly foreign.

My weight has prevented me from doing a lot of things. The idea of going out on a date seems laughable. I will bear a hundred block subway ride standing up because the concept of sitting between two people makes my heart tense up. I avoid clothes shopping trips like the plague, because it will inevitably turn into me quietly crying in the dressing room while a Selena Gomez song plays in the background. Well, truthfully, I should say I’ve allowed my weight to prevent me from doing a lot of things. I may be large, but I’m not half-ton mum or one of those individuals from My 600lb. Life who are literally unable to leave their beds without the heft strength of construction equipment. The entrapment has all been within my mind, buzzing with a paralyzing kind of electricity – What will people think? Ugh, this shirt shows my back fat, burn it, burn it now! How can I contour my face or wear my hair in order to slenderize my cheeks? What if someone makes a comment… again? Why can’t I just be proud and confident?

Why can’t I be like Lena Dunham? Heralded patron saint of overweight or “real-sized” female writers and artists everywhere, but especially in New York, where I imagine her frolicking the cobblestone streets of Brooklyn wearing a vintage romper, eating rice pudding and not giving a damn. She has somehow navigated her way through the treachery and the loud cultural static, and has been able to embody a confidence that I can only wish to emulate in my own life someday. But why is it so difficult?

“She has somehow navigated her way through the treachery and the loud cultural static, and has been able to embody a confidence that I can only wish to emulate in my own life someday. But why is it so difficult?”

Short Answer: because I am immersed in a culture that holds the predisposed belief that I am not healthy, despite the fact that I workout nearly everyday and eat a healthy**, balanced diet (**most of the time – we’ve all ordered The Flame in the young, dark hours of the morning at some point). It is a culture that serves to shame individuals of my size, and I mercilessly get lost in it.

There is a certain kind of hyper-awareness that comes with being overweight, not only are you aware of your own appearance at all times. But also, you’re aware of how the public reacts to your presence, particularly when it comes eating. When I was thin and probably a lot unhealthier than I am now, I could eat an entire hot fudge brownie sundae and not have a second thought about it, but now that I am overweight even the occasional slice of pizza produces a social anxiety that parallels wearing unflattering jeans that accentuate my muffin top. Low cut jeans are not my friends. Even though that one measly piece of pizza is not going to truly affect my weight or health in any way, people will stare at me as if I’ve ordered five full pies and decided to gorge on all of them in one cheesy gluttonous feast.

Of course, as I write this I shove a warm vegan chocolate chip cookie from Whole Foods down my gullet. Well, I shouldn’t say shove, I’m gingerly picking at it as if in an applied effort to convince myself that I’m not going to devour the entire thing. Five minutes later I know I’ll have chocolate around my mouth and my sweat pants will be littered with crumbs. I can’t take my medication on an empty stomach, okay?

Plus, it’s vegan, so I’m sure the lack of dairy will somehow make up for all of the sugar and added sweeteners… right? Typically this type of behavior is followed by an unmarked period of self-loathing and regret for having such feeble willpower (as they say). But you know what? It’s a damn cookie.