05/14/2015 07:19 EDT | Updated 05/14/2016 05:59 EDT

When You're Fat It's Everyone's Business

Sian Kennedy via Getty Images

Aaaarrrrgghhh... It's DBSS! (dreaded-bathing-suit-season) Everywhere I look I am blasted with images of sun-bronzed bodies barely covered with neon bits of fabric. I can't get away from them: posters on the subway, unwanted mailers through my door, shop windows filled with bikini-wearing playful, plastic mannequins, and every other TV commercial invading the sanctity of my home seems to be filled with cavorting tanned and toned models shoving my face further into my bowl of fat-free, taste-free yogurt.

I have often fantasized how my life would be different had I been blessed with the genetic gift of a long-limbed, sleek panther-esque kind of body. Firstly, I would probably be an exhibitionist, wearing little more than a gold waist chain and very high heels. This rumination is, of course, coming from a woman who derives absolutely no pleasure from wearing a bathing suit or any other flesh-revealing apparel, given that I am more than simply curvy -- I am fat and well over 50. Yet, I'm a woman who truly believes we should embrace the body we have and wear it with pride. This is what I believe, this is what I advocate, and this is what I struggle with...walking the plank wearing a bathing suit! (forget the neon bits and bobs.) There ain't enough bobs out there to cover what I want covered.

Wearing little more than your birthday suit is difficult for most women; for me, it's a terrifying and often challenging walk along a very thin wire without a pole to provide me with the necessary psychological balance, which is dependent on so may things. Am I having a good hair day? Have I had enough sleep to bolster the courage to bare my body to public scrutiny without an emotional or literal cover up? Let's say those hurdles have been crossed -- will I then have the confidence to handle the perp-walk from the change room to the long perimeter of a pool or beach?

Let's really fantasize and say yes. But then what happens if I am the only large woman in the map-able vicinity, laying on my towel surrounded by a field of gazelles who think nothing of wearing only strings and things as they toss a ball or jog along the beach or frolic in the water. Will a panic attack set in?

I have far too many memories that flash across my mind-screen: the fat kid being taunted and teased any time I stood out. I learned to perfect the art of wearing an imaginary invisibility cloak as I hid my body within a crowd in order to get from one place to another without being noticed. This act was the antithesis of my adult persona, the one who became an actress (which is all about being seen). But those very public acts are cloaked in a role-playing fantasy that somehow Teflon coats me from the sticks and stones. It's definitely a perverse way of personality splitting. I'm a work in progress but then again aren't we all?

This excerpt from my book, Getting Waisted: A Survival Guide to Being Fat in A Society That Loves Thin is a true story.

I was in Jamaica on a paid holiday just because I did backbends on TV. I was amazed by this unexpected gift of good fortune. That was the upside. The downside -- and there were a few -- was being on a yacht with a group of mostly beautiful, bikini-wearing creatures. Dave had neglected to mention that the girls who were coming along were mostly product models. They were all lovely people but they were gorgeous. I realized I was there to be comic relief; every moment of this adventure was being filmed by the tourist board for future airings and a guaranteed humiliation for me.

Why did I set myself up? Somewhere in the blind spot of my brain, I had deluded myself into believing I would look just as gorgeous: my long blonde hair blowing back from my face as I sat long-legged on the prow of the rented sailboat. Instead, I watched the skin on my short, somewhat stumpy legs turn from white to fire red to dangerously blotchy as I sat huddled in a corner near the back of the boat. Yes, I was wearing sunscreen!

I was becoming overwhelmingly queasy, but it didn't matter because the gorgeous ones -- all the others -- had moved up onto the prow and were sipping pastel-colored cocktails with hibiscus flowers in them. I heard the tinkling of glasses and tinkling of laughter. But I was face down on a bench, desperate to be ignored -- no problem there. I was seasick, my matted hair plastered to my clammy face. I felt the camera swooping in for a close-up. I was in no condition to render the cameraman unconscious. I simply succumbed to the embarrassment.

For me it seemed like days later, not hours, when we glided into a slip and everyone hopped off the boat. I hauled myself to my feet and prayed that a rogue wave would sweep me out to sea. No such luck. They had all gone off to cliff dive or ride some G-4 rapids. I was on the beach, happy to be alone and off that damn boat. I was minding my own business, which is not allowed when one is fat. It's everyone's business. A beautiful redhead jogged past me wearing a pink string-thing just as I knocked back a slurp from an equally pink Pepto-Bismol bottle and admitted through my queasiness to having the fleeting, okay lingering, thought that if I looked like her, I'd just be wearing earrings.

She turned around and began running back towards me. Had I just created a fantasy moment, where she and I would body bump, then split apart and both our bodies would be perfect? I knew it was a fantasy but she stopped right in front of me and her big blue eyes gazed into mine... No way! Was she hitting on me? Don't go there, there's no way, but then her hand gently touched mine. I was really confused.

In a soft voice, she introduced herself as Melissa, and then said she hoped I wouldn't be offended. Immediately I tensed up, knowing that somehow I was going to be.

"You have a really pretty face and I like to help people." Oh Jesus -- here it comes: "I work for a diet company and we have these amazing appetite suppressants. They come in chocolate, chocolate-mint, and yummy butterscotch. They will absolutely kill your appetite. Awesome huh? I'll give you some samples..."

In that instant my sea-sickness vanished, replaced by a wave of rage, "What makes you think my body is any of your business?" Her face crumpled into confusion. "Don't you want to be thin and beautiful?" Yes, but I wasn't going to tell her that. I did my best to gather up my shattered dignity as I walked away and prayed for quicksand.



Body Image Heroes