“I wish I had your confidence.”
We can and have pulled apart this phrase before, at least in fat-positive spaces. It is a layered experience when another woman witnesses you celebrating, embracing, or blatantly flaunting your body (which I prefer to do in crop top form because that’s my jam) and her responding in kind with this expression of longing. These layers are frustration, suspicion, justified defensiveness, genuine appreciation (because, yes, I am brave not to hide my fat body in the shadows our fatphobic culture, thank you), and sadness among other things.
I’d like to talk about the sadness part.
It’s been over a decade since I had my ah-hah moment around the concept of confidence. It was at the dawn of my 20s, and since then, I have navigated many wonderful and trying milestones with confidence as my co-pilot. I started my career, found a partner, became a mom, then started a new career among other things. But the first thing confidence gave me was peace with my body. My body is the vehicle in which I have done all of this amazing shit. I cannot imagine doing any of these things while weighed down with body negativity. These are the struggles many women and femmes still face. This is what breaks my heart.
I feel that sadness every time someone admits to me that they have not figured out the whole confidence racket just yet. Whether they lost it in the wake of a changing body or they never really had it in the first place, I feel for them. I was them. And I just want to shout my secret from the mountain tops.
The real test is when a person purposefully and vindictively attempts to cut me down by hurling that word “fat” at me as if it is the worst thing in the world to be called, which at one point it was.
But first, let me tell you what the secret definitely isn’t. A sure-fire way to get me to belly laugh is to tell me, “I love how you just ‘do you.’” Oh my god, no. Nope. While the product may be genuine — that style, that cutting wit, thank you — the presentation most certainly is not. There is no “just being myself.” If honesty is the best policy, what do you do when your most authentic self is sensitive to a fault? What if you truly, in your soul, hang on the opinions of others and care deeply what they think? What if a subtle jab from a friend or an outright mean comment from a stranger ruins your week?
That’s the “me doing me” you’ll never see for one important reason — I’m a big, fat liar.
Act as if. Fake it until you make it. Weirdly enough, these were phrases I learned long after the Great Confidence Epiphany of 2004. All I knew back then was that I was a miserable, self-mutilating door mat. I was fed up with playing a supporting character in my own life and centering my existence around other people. I had no emotional autonomy. I barely had a personality. And it says a lot about our toxic diet culture that I thought for a brief moment that getting thin would clear out all this baggage.
I don’t know if I have my bullshit detector or just sheer unwillingness to kill myself to “lose the weight” to thank, but I somehow knew this was not the answer. I knew this was, as they say in recovery rooms, an inside job. When it hit me like a Mack truck that it was confidence I lacked, I turned to black magic, naturally.
Sigilization or Sigil magic was something I had just learned about at the time. It’s a simple way of setting an intention and creating a symbol of power out of it. What I ended up with was more than a strange doodle on a crumpled piece of paper I carried religiously in my pocket. It was a reminder to lie.
That symbol was a question I had to answer on a daily basis. “What would a confident person do?”
The hardest part of the charade is acting unphased when faced with shaming. It’s one thing to pretend you’re not secretly scanning the beach for stares when you take off your swim cover or, if you’re particularly skilled, resisting the urge to do it at all. The real test is when a person purposefully and vindictively attempts to cut me down by hurling that word “fat” at me as if it is the worst thing in the world to be called, which at one point it was. I know I’ve spent too many precious years not being a bitch even when it was necessary because god forbid anyone ever call me a fat bitch. Laughing in someone’s face when they have done this is the biggest lie I have ever told.
I have become such a good liar that it doesn’t immediately sting every time I am shamed. That doesn’t mean it never catches up to me. The pain can manifest in some delightful and charming ways, from being snippy with my son to finding myself staring aimlessly into the fridge even though I’m not at all hungry for anything except respect and kindness.
But I lie and tell you these trolls are sick and suffering and I pity them when all I want to do is cry and punch faces.
But you know what? Lying keeps me alive because I’m pretty sure I would die if I cried and punched faces all the time.
Lying allows me to be visible and to live the way I want to live, in a skin you think is thick. I’m grateful for it. Try it out. Practice your poker face and act as if you don’t have time to give a single fuck. Before long, you will start to believe it.