Last December, I submitted a story for xoJane’s popular column, It Happened To Me. At the time, I’d only been reading xoJane for two months, and I naively considered the site a “safe space.” I had no idea my article would receive such a negative response. Commenters tore me apart. (And I, in turn, gave them a piece of my mind. I know now I should have let their comments roll off my back.) I received a flurry of cruel comments via e-mail, including a threat to “watch my fat ass.” My return flight information was cut and paste into the e-mail. I contacted one of xoJane’s editors and requested she take down my IHTM. I believed the commenters who said I couldn’t write, I suffered from a victim complex, I was entitled and rude, etc.
Now, I’m glad my IHTM wasn’t taken down. I received several kind, supportive comments here. On my return flight, one of the gate agents approached me and said I looked familiar. She was super-nice. I felt shy around her, so I mumbled something in response. I wish I hadn’t felt raw from my article’s backlash. The fact this Delta employee treated me like a human being served in stark contrast to the Delta employees who have not. I realized that, while I may come across like a victim in my article, feeling sorry for myself doesn’t negate the fact people can be cruel.
Last month, I opened the inbox for Rose Red Review, only to discover someone had sent me a hate note and a link to an old Reddit thread. (Side note: I’ve rejected several “fat girl on a plane” poems since January. I suspect my form rejections weren’t dramatic enough for this person, who then sent me a link to the Reddit thread.) I couldn’t resist its pull.
What I read stung.
Although it hurt to read a stranger on the internet no longer considered me “exceptionally pretty,” I’ve thought worse things looking into the mirror after I’ve washed my face. It hurt more to see strangers on the internet question whether or not I was telling the truth. I threw myself a little pity party. I cried on my roommate’s shoulder, then I comforted myself with the knowledge several people in the thread lacked reading comprehension (never did I claim I’d been thrown from a flight). I pushed it from my mind.
A week later, I had the opportunity to listen to the poet Vievee Francis. She stressed we should look hard at the people who tell us to self-erase–the people who tell us we shouldn’t talk about being women, about battling depression, about the experiences of people of color, about sexuality. For several weeks, I considered her words. I quietly observed certain commenters on xoJane silence other women, the way I had been silenced. Now, I can’t believe I wanted to self-erase my article–to see it stripped from the site. Confessional writing is important.
A few days ago, I read an article, At 31, I’m Finally Old Enough That People Can Accuse Me Of “Aging Badly” On The Internet. In it, xoJane editor-in-chief Emily McCombs details her reaction to a thread about her looks. Several commenters were incensed she chose to discuss her hurt feelings (which I think are valid) over their criticisms of the site. These commenters then mentioned The Site That Must Not Be Named, where they discuss their so-called valid criticisms. I sought out The Site That Must Not Be Named, only to discover a thread in which posters tear down the editors of xoJane, its writers, and certain commenters. Any valid criticisms of the site (and there are a few) are buried beneath pages and pages of mean girl bitching. Further, the claim xoJane exploits vulnerable, mentally ill women is absurd. While I agree women like me should consider whether we are strong enough to gracefully endure backlash, xoJane didn’t seek out my story. I haven’t been exploited.
From now on, I refuse to self-erase. No woman who writes for xoJane or edits it should feel pressured to self-erase or apologize for sharing an experience. In the future, I will exercise caution before I share a certain thought, opinion, or experience, but I’m proud of the woman I’m becoming. I wouldn’t have reached this point without sharing my story and reflecting on it.
If commenters were truly concerned about those of us who bare our souls, they wouldn’t tear us apart in the comments and elsewhere. These commenters know stories on xoJane often come from a raw, insecure place. They aren’t interested in protecting us. They’re interested in tearing down the site itself–in silencing our voices.
Sometimes, I let people talk me into believing I’m not very talented. Perhaps I’m not. I tend to abuse the em dash, the colon, and the semicolon. I can’t even read some of my poems without cringing (though I do have an ear for strange rhyme; e.g., “ether” and “tether”). Still, I’m bummed out: Flutter Poetry Journal is no more. Its editor nominated one of my poems, “The Lady in Red,” for the 2013 Best of the Net. It seems unlikely I will ever receive another nomination (unless my style drastically improves).
I was proud of the poem and its nomination. Now, it’s as though the nomination never happened.
For me, January seldom means soul-searching. I make New Year’s resolutions, but I never intend to keep them. The ritual of goal-setting is as much a comfort as eating black-eyed peas for good luck. When I draw a Tarot card on New Year’s Eve, I know it won’t it offer any real guidance. It’s just fun to down champagne and drunkenly read my own fortune.
This card means I’ll overcome adversity in 2014. I should also avoid strange beds with swords in them.
This year, however, I have a specific goal in mind: weight loss. Although I spent 2013 as an advocate for fat acceptance, the experience left me raw and vulnerable. I no longer have an identity outside She Who Has Been Bullied. I still believe in the body positive movement, but I seldom feel comfortable in my own skin. When I’m alone in front of a mirror in a public restroom, I see someone who could be beautiful: a well-dressed chick with pale green eyes, porcelain skin, full lips. So, I do what most of us do when we feel pretty: I snap several selfies. I upload the photos to MyCeleb, where I am compared to Monica Bellucci, Aishwarya Rai, Angelina Jolie. Suck it, world! I think. I’m fucking pretty.
Just look at that super-sexy nametag!
Then, someone opens the door to the restroom. It doesn’t matter what she looks like. The restroom mirror becomes a funhouse mirror, and an immensely fat person is reflected back at me. I worry I betray other fat girls when I nitpick my own body, but my reflection repulses me. I look bloated and sick. I push the flab on my chin toward my ears and wonder what it’d be like to be pretty.
I may never know. Losing weight isn’t the answer. I only know I’m uncomfortable in my skin. Other fat girls are cute. Perhaps confidence does have something to do with it… I want to find out. I need to lose the weight before I turn thirty-five. (I’m thirty-three now.) I feel young, but I know I’m “old.” I wasted my twenties. I didn’t have any boyfriends. Nobody called me beautiful.
Should it matter? Of course. When I was in elementary school, we learned human beings need four things to survive: water, food, shelter, and love. I can romanticize my life as The Hermit, and in truth, I don’t really need anyone, but I feel sad and empty. My depression and moods have cost me a lot of friends. Not many people like me these days. I can understand why: people are drawn to inspiring, uplifting people. Nobody likes a lone wolf (unless said lone wolf is a sexy dude on a TV show or something).
I’ll start small. I’ll eat carrots instead of chips. I’ll drink more water than soda. I’ll only eat out once a week. I’ll work out every day, via DVD. I’ll clean the house. I’ll read more. I’m only in Austin for a few more months, so I might as well spend my time wisely and reprogram my mind. By March 1st, I want to feel confident enough to brave the gym.
Change takes time. I’m especially hard on myself when it comes to social interaction, but if I feel good about myself, I think it’ll be easier for me to interact with people. I think they’ll like me more. I’m tired of feeling damaged.
Larissa Nash grew up in the Everglades and spent many summers in Ohio and Hawaii. She holds a B.A. from Loyola University New Orleans and an M.F.A. from Pacific University of Oregon. Her hobbies include rain-dancing and soothsaying. Larissa has participated in several of Francesca Lia Block's online workshops, and she is the founding editor of Rose Red Review. Her work has appeared in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, December Magazine, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, The Toast, and xoJane. She currently lives in Georgia with her cats, one of which is part Florida bobcat.