How do I say this without sounding contrived?

My mother would argue this point to the teeth, but I am confident in saying that I have been fat all my life. Even when I wasn't terribly fat, I was a big kid. I've lived my life according to the fat code, if there even is one. Suffice it to say that if there's a pejorative word for a fat person, I've heard it. If there's a stumbling, unnerving rejection from a potential lover, I've heard it. If there are kids around in their labeling and naming phase, I've been called fat "judgment free". If there's any scorn or derision available to be doled out by a relative, I've managed it. Or if I have appeared to have lost weight, people will forcefully and uncomfortably (like a really painful fart, honestly) share a compliment with me that is on it's face insincere; they perceive it as some sort of motivational tool so that I continue my road to true beauty. At this point, I have experienced just about every negative experience one can have as a fat person. This does, in fact, sculpt who you are as a person.

The one thing I have not been the recipient of, as a result of my fatness for whatever reason, is a bevy of compliments about my beauty condition-free. It is very rare indeed for someone to say to me, "you have a gorgeous ________" without saying "you'd" instead of "you" and adding the caveat "if you lost weight". I also am never plainly beautiful, from head to toe. I'm always full of potential, but never quite fulfilling. It is disheartening, to say the least. Strangely, I have worked through this and am mostly a confident person. What I lack in perceived classical beauty (in the eyes of others) I make up with a quick wit and biting intellect, right? That's what fat kids do; they get smart and sassy.

Last week I received an e-mail from my mother that rendered me speechless. "Janet said she loved meeting you and what a beautiful young lady you are," she wrote at the end of her message. I met my mom's friend Janet at the pool, in my bathing suit with my mother and my aunts, as vulnerable and exposed as a fat person can get. My hair was a mess, my face bombarded by floating pool noodles, and my legs less than expertly shaved. But still, this woman who doesn't really even know my name managed to squeak out a compliment in my direction, whether sincere or not, without qualifying it with a comment about my weight. I can not tell you how infrequently this happens. Yes, people are that bold.

So it occurred to me, that strangers don't really take it upon themselves to compliment me; in fact, with the exception of Em, Angela and Joel, I don't hear it at all. I'm confident that this is the same for most fat people; I'm even confident that this is the case for most women, regardless of our size. And whether the compliment is sincere or not, actually hearing the word "beautiful" from someone who does not desire to have sex with us, is a very important thing. These are the folks who deserve to hear it the most, and perhaps it's worth our while to tell people in our lives that they are indeed beautiful. We all are.

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All content © Meaghan O'Malley, 2009-2012. Header image by Rebekka Seale.