by Kristine Maitland <firstname.lastname@example.org>
In my first year of high school, grade 9, there was a girl in my class named Natasha. Not that anyone at school ever called her by her given name. At 5' 4" and 200 pounds, Natasha would earn a new name from her so-called peers: Fats.
Natasha was a character with a personality that at first glance seemed worn down by the daily grind of high school living. She wasn't "in". She did not do as well as the others academically. Her hair was lanky and dull.
In grade 10, Natasha and I were in the same gym class. All the girls had to wear a uniform to gym class: a white T-shirt and gray or "garnet" shorts (garnet, gray, and white being our school's colors).
But Natasha insisted on wearing bright purple track pants for gym. Of course, she was scorned and unmercifully teased for it by the other girls in class.
"Here comes Fats, the resident fashion plate," giggling teenage girls would whisper [loudly!] as she marched past. "Definitely haute couture!"
I objected to the teasing: it felt cruel and unnecessary. Yet, at the same time, I did not like to see her in those things either. So after four months of seeing her in them, I broke my silence. In the changing room, I slipped over to Natasha and asked (in a whisper), "Why the hell do you always wear those damn things".
Fats looked at me and without missing a beat replied, "Because I like them."
Served me right for having a self-righteous sense of style.
Years later, and now far from being a lightweight myself, I've come to understand the realities of being a large woman, realities that Natasha had to learn early in life. In hindsight, I realize that those track pants were probably the only gym clothes that she could both fit in and afford. Still she exercised her right to wear whatever color she liked.
As it is, I find myself relegated to the status of second-class citizen every time I visit the mall. Instead of the back of the bus, often I find myself at the back of the store.
Last month I went shopping at the local S&M-gear-shop-for-posers, an exercise in futility for women over a size 4. I took the obligatory look at "merchandise:" the Xena corsets, the neon garter belts. The saleswoman watched me like a hawk, just waiting for me to try and steal something.
"Do you have this in an extra-large?" I asked the hawk, pointing to the rubber garment on the rack.
"No. We only carry Small/Medium/Large. Anything larger wouldn't sell."
There was a long pause as I crossed my arms and created a dent in the floor with my incessant foot-tapping.
The sales girl, realizing that she'd just pissed off a 200-pound black woman who could break her bones between her thumb and forefinger, asked "Are you busty?"
I, of course, am forced to raise my eyebrows.
"No, dear. I'm fat," I replied.
Oblivious, the woman nodded. "That can be a problem," she said.
For whom? I wear what I want -- and I look damned good too. Leather and lace, satin and silk: all are within MY fashion purview. Like Natasha, I refuse to be a victim to fashion dictates.
Fifteen years have passed since that high-school gym class. I happened to see Natasha in my local supermarket. She's as big as she was when I knew her in school. I'm even bigger. There was strength in her step, showing her pride in who she is. And, unlike many of her "pretty girl" classmates of so long ago, she had a smile for everyone she met.
Not surprisingly, she's still wearing purple track pants. And guess what?
She STILL likes them.
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