The Punishment for Being Fat

In elementary school, I was able to eat merienda with my Lola (grandma) after school, and every day it was the same type of snack which was fried eggplant with rice. The most exciting thing to ever happen 9-year-old me was that I got to eat after a long, hard day of being called the Fat Jackie Chan on the playground during recess for 5 days a week.

When my Lola was too tired to put the dishes away, my mom would see them and scold her for twenty minutes about letting me eat because she told my Lola that if I kept eating, I would get fat and then people wouldn’t like me. I never believed her until I got to middle school because it just seemed like a reach to say that if you were fat no one would like you.

By the time I was 11 in sixth grade, I was in the depths of adolescence and pre-teen hierarchy of popularity. We had a girl who, for privacy reasons, I will name Claire. Claire was at the top of the pyramid, and anyone in the lower tiers was considered not popular and uncool. Claire had her own circle of friends that obeyed her and all that she said.

It didn’t take long for me to stop thinking that I belonged anywhere within the top layer, but I was too oblivious to see the actual reason until Claire had a birthday party. Now, I wasn’t invited, but Kate, who was my friend and Claire’s friend, asked if I wanted to come out of pity. I wanted so badly to prove to Claire I wasn’t as bad as she thought I was. I was so oblivious as to why she didn’t like me. I didn’t like it when people didn’t like me because I believed that being kind was the best thing you could ever be in life.

Claire was having a pool party and she invited almost everybody in her top tier, but when the day came, Kate all of a sudden could not go to the party, resulting in me going alone.

I was determined to still go and showed up wearing a tank top swimsuit that had purple and green flowers on it. I felt cute and happy to be in the warm, California sun and jump into the pool. As I made my way up to the surface, I heard laughing in the background and when I turned my head around, I saw Claire’s friends looking at me, pointing, and laughing. Claire was walking like a penguin around with her arms holding an imaginary beach ball around her waist. I realized that Claire didn’t like me because I was mean, rude, or anything in between. She didn’t like me because I was fat.

I ran into the bathroom to wait out the party. I was so embarrassed to be there and more importantly so angry that my mom was right. What was the point in being the kindest person you could? It didn’t matter in the end; if you were fat, then people won’t like you.

As I waited, I heard two moms come into the bathroom, and they said something that I’ll never forget:

“Did you see the girl in the pool?”

Yeah she’s a lot bigger than the other girls! I don’t know why she is here.”

“I agree, walang yaka. She looks like someone they wouldn’t hang out with.”

Walang Yaka means “without shame”, but it comes with so much more than its denotative meaning. It’s what parents say to their kids when they have done the worst thing they could possibly do. It’s said when you do something so shameful that you have no shame. What I am was so shameful that who I am was done without shame, without regard for others. And what I am is fat.

In their eyes, I deserved to be punished because I was fat. The punishment for being fat isn’t that no one will like you; it’s that there are always going to be people who tell you that you’re not worth relationships of kindness and wholesomeness. They were all wrong because I have friends; I have amazing and fulfilling relationships. And I’m still fat, and there’s nothing shameful about it.