The “F” Word

A recent conversation I had with a local middle school girl I know went exactly like this:

Middle School Girl: “Melissa, you’re getting really fat.”

Me: “Yep, this baby is starting to grow!”

Middle School Girl: “You’re pregnant?!?”

Being told I’m getting fat was not an attack from a mean, spiteful teenage girl. Oh no. Over my last ten years in the Caribbean, I’ve been told I was getting fat by teenage girls, grandmas, middle-aged women, polite men, slightly sketchy men, small children, and more grandmas. Not coincidentally, every single one of them has been of either Bahamian, Jamaican, or West Indian descent. To them, it’s a compliment. They want me to get fat. They need me to get fat. I’m pretty sure there is actually a club devoted to die-hard fans of my weight saga. They are not at all impressed by my (typically) lean physique. Even at a healthy, doctor-approved weight they find me scrawny, bony, and undesirable. White girls are too skinny is what they tell me. All of the Caribbean is cheering me on to get fat. With a capital F.

fat turtle

Now, let me be clear – I am not defending the weight-obsessed culture of the Western world. I’ve never had an eating disorder. Dieting for me usually just means cutting out sweets, wine, and unhealthy snacks after going overboard around the holidays or busy times of the year. I’ve never done a juice fast. A grapefruit fast. A cottage cheese fast. I eat well. I work out. I rarely hit the lower end of the the recommended weight spectrum for my height (because that takes far too much work and maintenance) but I rarely hang out at the top either. Yet all of that means nothing here. It’s not appreciated. My every slip is noticed and brought to light. I once had a West Indian grandmother (who, I might add, I did not even know all that well) slap my hips from behind, grab them, squeeze them, and yell gleefully “you’re getting big!” And you know what, in that case, she was right. I had put on four to five pounds due to extreme busyness at work and not being able to work out. As well meaning as she was, it did not help my over-stressed, over-worked self to have a grey-haired woman not only point out the extra pounds, but slap and grab them as she did so. I did not need it shouted out to a roomful of people. I didn’t need anyone to point it out to me at all. I was aware. And hoping it was all in my head and that no one else noticed. Sigh.

big mama

Personally, I like to taunt those who all too casually throw the F word at me. I make them pay for their unwelcome fatty compliments. How, you ask? It took a while to figure out. Not by insulting them. Or calling them fat (or skinny) in return. I don’t spread rumors behind their back or talk about how rude they are. I don’t lecture them on what it does to my fragile female psyche which is already trying to balance being comfortable with my healthy weight with the underfed airbrushed images we’re fed on a daily basis. No. When a local friend or acquaintance feels the need to tell me I’m putting on a few pounds I just smile sadly, sigh a little, and say “I know. Isn’t it awful? I actually started a diet yesterday to lose the extra weight.” (Whether I’m actually doing, or planning to do, anything about my extra pounds or not.) This KILLS them. It means their comment had the opposite effect that they meant it to have. The F-word user starts to backtrack. They tell me I look great. They start showering me with every compliment I can think of. It’s somewhat wonderful.

But they’re all getting what they want now. Well, sort of. Six months pregnant and still growing. But, sigh, it’s still not quite enough. Don’t get me wrong – locals all seem to love the extra pounds. My husband says he has to stare down far more West Indian men than he ever had to in the past, especially when I was in the stage where I definitely had a stomach pooch but it didn’t necessarily look like a baby. But it’s still not enough. It’s never enough. All I hear is, “Look how big you’re getting! How many months? Six? You’re not fat enough! You need to gain some weight!”

But don’t you worry. I’m going to get them. I’m going to get them all good. Just wait until I’m  squishier and jigglier than I’ve ever been after the baby is born this fall. They will be giddy. Ecstatic. A new baby and an extra-fat me. It’s what they have always wanted. And I plan on smiling sadly, sighing a little, and saying “I know. Isn’t it awful? I actually just started a diet yesterday to lose all this extra baby weight.”

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Melissa Rogati

About Melissa Rogati

Melissa is a St. Thomas, USVI-based 30-something and a 10 year island veteran who can’t endure even the smell of shrimp. It all stems from a childhood experience where a beloved grandfather told the once shrimp-loving four year old that shrimp was “yucky”. Her husband has requested multiple times that she undergo exposure therapy on the issue, but she refuses out of tribute to her grandfather. Melissa started her island adventures on a sparsely populated outer island in the Bahamas before moving further South to the “big city” of St. Thomas a few years later. The early island experience of dependence on a weekly mail boat to bring supplies (and the lack of Target) cultivated a realization that you can make almost anything you need. That means you can regularly find her feasting on fresh baked bread and homemade peanut butter and jam.

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