I'm fat, Vancouver. Get over it.
There are many reasons to fall out of love with you, Vancouver-- high rent, rain, traffic, asinine liquor laws. My reason for falling out of love with you lurks in your shadows, never mentioned, and that is— what seems to be an institutional dislike of women in this city who are plus-sized, or more plainly, young fat women.
In 2004, while preparing to come to Vancouver from Portland to study at UBC, I wish someone had warned me about the tears I would shed in this city. Tears shed because I would not be able to find clothes that fit me, or people who would accept me for who I am, fat body and all. If someone had given me the warning, I would have seriously thought twice about moving here.
My first year in Vancouver was a major shock. While my friends strolled down Robson buying dresses for our dormitory formal, I would reach to the back of every rack in every store and see the tags max out at size 8, sometimes 10, very rarely size 12.
I usually wear an 18 in pants and an XL in shirts. I went underdressed to our formal, in a black cotton skirt I brought from Portland and the largest blouse I could find downtown that did fit me-a large. In summer, my friends went swimsuit shopping and swimming in English Bay.
I knew better by then to even think I would be able to do that. I finally did go swimming later that summer in my friend’s parent’s pool in Maple Ridge. My friend had to loan me his brother’s swim trunks and shirt.
During my first week of graduate school two years ago, another plus-sized girl who was from the States cornered me at a party when she heard I had also done my undergrad here. “Where do you buy your clothes up here?” she whispered. I felt awful, because I was going to break her heart.
I told her the truth. I returned home to Portland often, with an empty suitcase and would pack it full of new clothes for three to six months until I could get back down to the States again.
Only in the last few years have I been able to find Canadian versions of American stores (Old Navy and Forever 21, namely) who will ship plus size clothing to me here in Vancouver. But, I have to wonder exactly how much money I’ve spent on shipping fees for clothes that I could have picked up off a rack in many other cities for less.
I have to say things have gotten a little better on the clothing front in Vancouver, thanks in part to a thriving burlesque scene here that does not ask for acceptance of all body types, it demands it. As a result, there are stores now where I can actually buy pants or a dress that are stylish and age appropriate, but only in East Van. They’re also expensive and spending $150 on a dress is probably not wise when you’re a grad student, yet I’ve been forced to do it to have age appropriate clothing that will fit.
And then there’s my dating life in this city. I’ve basically become as celibate as Mother Teresa. After seeing exactly how dismal my sex life was, a roommate of mine convinced me to join a dating site.
In six months of being on the site, with a full body shot on my profile page, I received not a single message from anyone in the Vancouver area. The place I received the most requests for dates? Bellingham.
In the time since I’ve moved to Vancouver, I’ve managed to partake in a few nights out in other cities: Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, and every major Scandinavian city brimming with beautiful blondes, including Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Oslo. In none of those places did anyone feel the need to go out of their way and verbally berate me about my weight as they have here in Vancouver.
One night, I was drinking at a bar near my house waiting for friends, when a guy in his mid-30’s sat down and offered me a drink. We got to talking and for some reason this guy decided to bring up the fact that he was barely over 5’7’’.
He told me he was feeling a bit emasculated lately because his 11-year-old son that he had with his ex-wife had just hit a major growth spurt and was now 5’8’’. He told me I could probably relate because “you aren’t as feminine as other girls because you’re bigger, but see you probably make up for it because you have a pretty face.”
The backhanded compliment seems to be a regular feature of my experience with the opposite sex in Vancouver. In one of my prouder moments, I shot gunned the drink, slammed it down, and walked out.
I have many stories like this. Just last month, I was walking with my fellow fat girl friend from out of town past a pub, and someone yelled out something at us on the edge of Gastown. A group of men in their mid-twenties of varying ethnicities started yelling racist slurs at my friend-- who is black -- to get her attention and then turned to the fat comments:
“I could take them out for breakfast, lunch and dinner and I’d go broke!”
When we began to shout back to defend ourselves, they seemed genuinely shocked that we didn’t find this an acceptable form of flirting, like we were the ones in the wrong for being offended.
Maybe constant encounters like this can explain the following. I went to Portland recently and was out partying with friends. A few men started dancing with me at a dance club and I immediately shrugged them off.
A friend of mine pulled me aside, asking, “Why are you being like that? These guys like you!” But I couldn’t help but be suspicious of them.
Later that weekend, I walked into a bar to meet up with some friends when they started complimenting my dress. My first instinct was to ask, “Wow, how drunk are you guys already?”
I look at some of my other plus sized friends who live elsewhere and they don’t have this need to self-stigmatize; they have great dating lives, and don’t feel suspicious of any positive attention directed their way. Part of this is my problem -- I recognize that. But, I can’t help but think some of my lowering self-esteem is at least partially environmental, too.
There are many reasons someone might be fat besides eating too much and not enough exercise: medication, depression, chronic injuries, childhood abuse, or a bad card in the genetic deck. Whatever my reasons are for being fat, it’s really none of your business, so please stop asking.
This is my declaration: I know I’m fat, Vancouver.
You can feel free to stop pointing it out and punishing me for it every time you get a chance. This includes the mothers walking in Kits who point at me and think I can’t hear them when they tell their kids they’ll look like me if they keep playing their Xbox all day.
And don’t bother offering me your seat on the bus, thanks, I’m not pregnant.
To the retailers in this town, I’d like to buy some jeans in this city without looking like a mom in the 80’s. Sorry to shock you, but XS is not the norm.
And to those men in this city who find it hilarious to ironically ask for my number while their friends snicker in the corner: if I lost 80 pounds and you were actually interested in me, I still wouldn’t be interested in you.
I’m tired of feeling like a second-class citizen in a city I’ve grown to love in spite of everything. You promise me that things will be different and then just when I think you might have really changed, you kick me in the teeth again.
Well, this is it. I’m done with being made to feel bad about my body when I know just a short drive away in any direction, I'm treated with the same respect everyone else receives.
One day, very soon, I’m going to leave you, Vancouver, and it will be bittersweet. I’ll miss your mountains, your beaches, the eastside, your yoga teachers, your amazing food, your hockey and all the great friends I’ve made here.
Wherever I end up next, people will ask me about you. They will have heard about your beauty, your culture, your diversity, and your acceptance of all who wash up on your shores.
And I’m afraid I’m going to have to tell them the truth about my time here, Vancouver—all of it.