I had just finished Christmas dinner with my family when I got the call: “A picture of you is on the front page of r/funny,” my friend told me. I’m not a regular Reddit user, but I know about r/funny—it’s a popular subpage, a place with a lot of cat pictures. Funny? Had I been funny? I traced back through the past week, wondering if I had finally made one of my 119 Twitter followers laugh, but then my stomach clenched as my friend explained my stardom wasn’t because I had been funny. It was because I had gotten fat.
Entitled “Empowered Feminist,” the post on Imgur (a photo-sharing site that serves as unofficial Reddit companion) went up 10 months ago and now has over 750,000 views, a number that goes up by the thousands each day. The picture on the left—me, as a skinny girl—is taken from my high school yearbook. It doesn’t exist on social media, or it didn’t until someone I went to school with took a grainy, washed-out cell phone pic to post on Imgur. It’s labeled “2009,” but it was actually taken in 2007. I had just turned 16 and was entering my junior year.
On the right, my hair is shorter, I now have glasses, and I am fat. Get the joke? I was skinny, and now I’m not. The likely cause of my weight gain, says the internet, is Tumblr and my (not actually) recent flirtation with social justice.
After a few apologies from my friend and some quiet thank yous from me, I hung up. My family rushed to my defense when I told them what had happened; they were livid, with raised voices and tears in their eyes. For a moment I was furious, too. I clicked the link my friend had texted me to Reddit. I looked at the image. I read the comments. And then, I laughed.
“Well, they’re not wrong?” I said, shrugging on that last word, my inflection suggesting a question. They’re not wrong that I was skinny, and now I’m not anymore. So what?
I think I look pretty good in that “after” picture, the one on the right where I am very fat. It’s from when my now-husband and I announced our engagement in June 2014, and it was taken on a MacBook near the best source of light in our shitty Chicago apartment. I think of my lipstick, dark red and painstakingly painted, as a moment of perfection frozen in time. If my husband’s face hadn’t been cropped out of the meme, you would see his bushy, red beard and thoughtfully closed eyes. We had spent all day calling our families, telling them the news, and then we took a round of pictures to send to our friends. This is the same picture that’s sitting on my husband’s dresser, printed and framed by my mother-in-law. This is us, happy and cute and in love.
Of course, 750,000 of my closest friends do not agree. Cross-posted between MRA sites and Reddit boards aimed at humor and fat-shaming, my 16-year-old self smiles on the left while my 23-year-old self smiles on the right. The comments debate my fuckability, posing inquiries like: How many dicks would I have gotten had I stayed thin? Didn’t I know the dangers of being obese and the medical conditions that could arise? And, was that really even the same person?
The thousands of comments were as repetitive as if the people writing them had just hit copy-paste. The same sentiments appeared over and over again, yet everyone felt equally compelled to write them. She’s fat, she’s gross, how can this happen? And so on.
It makes me wonder what they’re like to their friends, to their families, to their coworkers. If they met me at a party, would they laugh in my face? Based on the good time I generally have at parties, my instinct says no. But just to be safe, maybe I should start carrying my junior year ID around so we can get this out of the way: I used to be thin, and now I’m as fat as what’s in front of you. Me, then. Me, now. Get it?
The odd thing is that I post plenty of fodder for Reddit ridicule, a lot of ideas these same commenters must find hilarious. I run a blog with a friend of mine, and we write about women in media as creators and characters. I wrote about Gamergate, about sexism in Doctor Who, about Fake Geek Girls. They could link to any of these pieces and highlight the hilarious nonsense parts where I talk about equal rights or whatever, but none of the pages link to or quote anything I’ve written. It’s just my fat face over and over again, the views overshadowing my blog hits by hundreds of thousands of views.
Because the original poster who went trawling through our yearbook is very inconsiderate towards my needs, they didn’t post their own high school photo so that I could also recognize them. I’ve tried to figure out who the culprit is, but from as far back as I could find, the first appearance of my picture was on a politically-driven site with the word “Feminazi” above it—a word, as you know, that very serious and politically-driven people often say. Following it was the suggestion that I looked hotter as a fat girl (met with adamant protest), jokes about me eating my former self (cool, but impossible), and then the scientific claim that this is why mistresses were “invented.”
The dead end was frustrating, because, as a fat feminist, I was hungry to find out who the original poster could be so I could then eat them. When repeated dives led me nowhere, I tried to understand “who” the original poster was by seeing their point of view. I drew out the argument: they saw a picture of me when I got engaged, noticed that I had a double chin, and decided to pull out their 2008-2009 Muscatine Muskies yearbook.
“Ah,” the OP presumably noted, “she is fatter than she was then.” They then decided this must be due to my experience on Tumblr, merged the two images together into one .jpeg, and then posted it with bold, white text (a meme!) for...?
And that’s where I get lost. Why? Why was somebody so interested in my weight gain? If I was skinny in high school and stayed skinny through college, would my feminism look inconsequential? What if I’d been fat in high school and stayed fat through college? What would have been the perfect formula to stay off this radar?
No matter the answers, my desire to find the offending party faded within a few hours. I figured, 1) If they want to look at pictures of me and feel like they were done a disservice, then that’s what they were going to do; and 2) it was just so boring to page through pages with the same old rhetoric plastered throughout. I must believe in rape culture, said one. (I do). Fat people don’t know they’re fat because the chemicals in their brain make them think they’re attractive. (Is this a peer-reviewed study, and can I see?)
“Just, like, wanna destroy whoever made that,” said a friend, followed by the bubbled “...” as I waited for her to elaborate. “Like, I want them wiped from this earth.”
With the knowledge gained from a bachelor’s in writing at my disposal, I wrote back, “LOL.”
I couldn’t get in touch with the anger my friends and family felt. A year ago, I might have popped on Reddit to defend myself to the people who shamed me, but it just seems so pointless now. What’s the argument? What am I supposed to be defending?
A lot of people in the feminist community encourage you to love your body no matter what, but I don’t. The love for my body is the same it’s always been: a little mark on the scale between annoyance and acceptance. I’ve lost 30 pounds since the picture on the right, and I’ll probably lose more, and then maybe I’ll gain some back. Bodies sag and they droop and they tighten and stretch. My body is a part of me, I give it a lot of vegetables and a lot of water, and I use sugar scrubs and coconut oil to make my skin soft. Sometimes I look in the mirror, stand to the side, and push out my belly to get a better look. Weird, I think. Bodies are weird.
To me, being fat is just another bullet point on my list of attributes, something factual but not all that interesting, like how I’m 5’6” or that I dye my hair. But thousands of pictures like the one I found of me exist; I saw them stacked up in piles with my own. What is it about us that makes people so mad? Maybe someday being a fat woman won’t feel like a political statement, but for now, I’m happy to exist in accidental defiance: I am happy and I am fat. Let’s eat.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby.
Hale Goetz is a 20-something Chicago suburbanite and D&D enthusiast. As a newbie freelancer and blogger, she writes about feminism, identity, and guilty pleasures.