Her Story: My Life as the DUFF

The DUFF: the Designated Ugly Fat Friend.  I didn’t even know that term existed until after I started college, but it didn’t take long to realize that I had been exactly that in grade school. No matter how much you grow and change, it’s an image of yourself that’s hard to get rid of, and even harder to accept.

Back in elementary and middle school, I was what you could describe as the runt of the litter. Despite being the oldest, I was typically the friend left out if everyone else was busy. Just like no one wants the smallest pup, no one really wanted to hang out with me unless other friends were coming. I was gawky, awkward, and chubby when none of my other friends were, and I honestly just wanted to be liked. I was never called fat to my face, but from the way people looked at me it was obvious that behind my back I was.  (Although I do remember being told that my thighs shouldn’t be touching so much. I was in fifth grade.)  The girls I called my friends took advantage of my obvious low self-esteem, manipulating me and teasing me with the promise of being let into the group. I came home crying multiple times, whether it was because I didn’t look like them, dress like them, or just wasn’t accepted by them. By the time I graduated middle school, I’d either smoothed things over with them or found better friends, but high school came with a different set of obstacles.

Until my junior year of high school, I was a cheerleader. My teammates were all gorgeous, tan, and lean, but then you had me – short, kind of unconventional looking, still some extra fat, and so pale that Snow White would be jealous. Bonding trips to the beach and pool parties made me incredibly conscious to be in a bikini, but not wearing one made me stick out even more. As I gained it, muscle made me look heavier instead of slimmer, and in pictures you couldn’t even tell unless I was flexing. Under my skirt, you could still see my thighs touching, and wearing my uniform at school made me feel exposed instead of pretty. Boys would flirt with my friends and I would awkwardly third wheel, clearly being ignored even if I was standing right there. I learned that wit and sarcastic humor was the way to get people to like me, and that intelligence paired with a decent makeup application could pick up my genetics’ slack.

Today, after years of struggling, I’ve learned to appreciate myself a little more. Having no one else recognize your worth forces you to learn it for yourself. I’ve started to eat better, work out more, and wear what I want. I’m smart, my friends think I’m funny, and I got a full ride to my first choice university. I love my muscles and how powerful they make my legs look, but it’s still hard to shake that image of myself as the DUFF. I can’t let someone pick me up or use one of my friends as a chair (as you do) without warning them that I’m heavy, and then worrying the whole time that I’m hurting them. Muscle jiggles like fat does, but I’m still self-conscious about waving to someone and having my arms shake. 

I still hate bathing suit shopping, and fitting rooms are touch-and-go. Flirting, as always, is difficult, because my gosh, there’s a cute boy looking at my face and body, what is he thinking? When I’m with my friends, I still have to keep myself from worrying. I don’t have a pretty face going for me, so if I don’t say something witty or smart to make them laugh, why would they bother to keep me around? What’s to keep them from realizing that I’m not that valuable and toss me aside like my friends in middle and high school often did?

But what’s different now is that I do have these friends. I have a support system of incredible women and faith like I’ve never had it before. Even though it’s hard to remember sometimes, I know who I am outside of others’ opinions. I’ve always been independent, but college has forced my hand – I’ve had to get over myself and my past in order to branch out, make the amazing friends I have now, and succeed. Just because you may have been the DUFF once doesn’t mean you have to let it rule you.  ust like other people grow and change, you do too, and you grow into an absolutely wonderful, strong woman.  Who needs labels like DUFF anyway?