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FICTION / Five Things Big Girls Can't Do / Tai Farnsworth / Writer of the Month

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1:  Imagine you’re at a BJ’s Brewery. If you’re unfamiliar with this particularly fabulous chain of mediocrity, you can substitute any place that blasts early 2000 rock (think Linkin Park or Uncle Kracker) while serving middling food and cheap drinks – ie: Chili’s, Applebee’s, anything with an apostrophe.

While your dining companions chat away about pizza, the Beatles, and the disconcerting shade of maroon that occupies fifty percent of the restaurant’s color palette, you realize you need to go to the bathroom. The best part of the bathroom experience at this brand of restaurants is your increased ability to hear all the nostalgic rock. At this point you’re hoping for something from the Spiderman soundtrack. The original Spiderman, none of this Andrew Garfield nonsense they peddle to the youths these days. You push open the door; three rowdy girls in Technicolor leggings and barely anything else brush past you. Nickleback fills the marbled room as you head toward the back, toward the handicap stall, toward the toilet with the most room.

You can tell the stall is empty. But when you get closer, you realize – something has happened here. It’s impossible to say what, but the potential situations run the gamut from a rambunctious toddler let loose to some kind of satanic cult ritual. Regardless, it’s not great. And you certainly can’t pee in here. With a quick weighing of the pros and cons, you decide to just use another stall. You could hold it, but who knows how long your friends will be hypnotized by the low-lights and scuffed pleather of the dining room. It’s a risk you can’t take. Your hand has been forced.

Of course, headlining the con list is the lack of space in the standard stall. What the hell is standard about putting your size twenty body in a size fourteen space? Sure, you physically fit inside, but at a cost. The door swings in, so you’re forced to squish around it to become properly situated. You turn carefully, doing your best not to disrupt the toilet paper or the seat covers and as you do so the inevitable happens – your leg lightly brushes the porcelain of a toilet seat that has held countless butts. And not just butts. Given the typical clientele of such establishments, there has certainly been excessive imbibing and the associated puking. Frankly, any matter of bodily fluid could have made its way into and around this space. And now it’s all on your legs.

The rest of your bathroom experience is haunted by what you’re sure are pukey poop germs making their way down your legs and into your shoes. With a herculean effort you relax your body enough to allow the actual peeing, but as you do so your elbows bump the ice cold and obviously confrontational sides of the stall. Since the toilet paper dispenser is kissing your thigh, you have to lean hard left to access the full roll causing another body/stall run in. You start to feel like the space is getting smaller and smaller around you, crushing your big girl body. It’s all so emotional. You curse the toddler performing satanic rituals in the big beautiful stall for the moms, the handicapped, and the ladies of above average size.

While washing your hands you glance in the mirror and the face that stares back at you isn’t your own. You’re changed. You’re scarred. This could have been avoided if the public restroom architect gods didn’t allow Victoria’s Secret models to designate the stall dimensions for you everyday folks. Without the assistance of real-life Photoshop, standard bathroom stalls are a bit of a reach for you. But that’s fine – it’s just something big girls can’t do.

 

2: Imagine it’s your birthday. Recently, the famous amusement park near you opened a couple rides based on your most favorite wizard-centric book series. What better way to spend your special day than by jumping into the pages of the novels that raised you? If you like, you can substitute any roller coaster adventure land for this part, no wizards or reading required.

Your friends and you arrive early; the whole day awaits. Before the crowds swell, you rush to the most popular roller coaster, the main attraction. You can see there’s barely a line, a mere trickle of people head toward the maw of the castle. Only paces separate you from child-like joy. But suddenly you hear something: Ma’am, ma’am.

A cherubic looking man is walking toward you wearing a dimply expression and pitying eyes. His nametag says “I’m Pablo. Let’s make your day!” Ma’am. Hello ma’am. Have you tried our test chairs today, ma’am? He gestures to replicas of the ride’s chairs sitting in a little cubby to the side of the line. He smiles, he gestures, and you know what this is. He can call them “test chairs” all he wants. Hell, he can call them heavenly ride samples, for how much it matters to you. Okay Pablo, okay, it’s the big people purgatory. Pablo, keep your pity eyes.

You get in the seats and you pull the bar toward you. Pull tighter, Ma’am, Pablo says. You pull tighter. Just a little more, Pablo says. You pull tighter and tighter and you feel the rush of relief as you hear the latch take. You pass! You’re out of purgatory! You’re fat but not “too” fat! Pablo smiles wide and his dimples tell you this is his favorite part of the day. All he wants is for fat people to be happy.

It’s not until later that day, as you slurp your way through your second non-alcoholic caramel-root beer nonsense, that you notice the purple and blue constellations on your arms, the bruises from the bar slamming against your skin over and over, something you missed in your exhilaration. Your friends sip their drinks and chatter. They are ebullient, oblivious to the tiny injustices you must constantly face, the ways in which the world judges you. Is it so absurd to ride a ride without being abused? But that’s fine – it’s just something big girls can’t do.

 

3: Imagine you’re in an airport. In your hasty last-minute packing job you somehow left your book on top of the cat bed. You can see it there now, cradling that dumb cat butt. Not much good to you, crammed into the stiff terminal seats, thigh-to-thigh with the kindly older lady embroidering “eff off” onto a dish towel, waiting on your delayed flight to Chicago. With hours to kill you decide a coffee and a tour of the limited, best-seller heavy airport bookstore is in order. Triple caramel macchiato in hand, your scour the racks for anything that isn’t John Grisham or James Patterson. These shelves are old white dude heaven, huh, you whisper conspiratorially to the young Latina behind the counter. She pops a gummy bear into her mouth and shrugs.

Desperate to free yourself from this awkward encounter you’ve created, you grab at random for a few items, pay, and exit the store quickly. This is how you come to be in possession of the most recent “Super Famous Lady Magazine” (and also one bag of Fritos, a giant Evian bottle, and three Milky Ways). Panic does not wise decisions make.

After you squish yourself back into the terminal seat and check on the embroidering lady’s progress, you peruse the magazine. On the front is the super famous lady dressed head-to-toe in flowers. “Spring into Spring!” is situated around her knees in a font upsettingly similar to comic sans. You feel very confident there wasn’t a magazine on that shelf you’d like less, but know there’s no way you’re braving that too-bright store again. You lean in to the disaster, sip your coffee, and find a decent amount of enjoyment in an article detailing the different organizational methods to employ in your bedroom depending on your zodiac sign.  You’ve read your way through articles on baby and me yoga, the nuances of every kind of cooking oil, and professional tips for perfect eyeliner in one swipe, when you reach the reader letters.

One of the letters is directed at the in-house fashion expert and can be summarized as such – “I don’t have a completely flat stomach. Can I still wear a crop top?” The in-house fashion expert’s answer is succinct and leaves no room for interpretation – “Nope.” Suddenly, in your mind’s eye, your most recent purchase from the popular teenager-geared clothing store looms. A tribal print crop top with thick, crisscrossing straps. Though you hadn’t worn a crop top since high school, there was something so wonderful about the feeling of a breeze on your bare stomach. You loved the way your stretch marks peeked over the top of your jeans, showing your body’s strength, the way it’s grown and evolved to take care of you. Sure, you’d been a little self-conscious at first, but the truth was, except one lone (and probably miserable) bitch who lived down the hall from you, no one seemed to mind. The more you’d thought about it, the more you’d understood, there’s no reason to mind you wearing a crop top. It’s a crop top for fuck’s sake. It’s not like you’re clubbing baby seals.

And yet, here it is, no sugar-coating, no padding of any sort, stripped to its mean core – “no.” Maybe it wasn’t just the bitch down the hall. Maybe it really was everyone. Maybe they all looked at you with scorn and thought no crop tops for anyone but the super fit. No breeze on your stomach, no power in your body, no way to love your stretch marks. No. But, I guess, that’s fine – it’s just something big girls can’t do.

 

4: Imagine you’re online dating. It’s fun and surprising and you like answering the quiz questions and watching your compatibility ratings change. It’s been a long time since you dated anyone (save your ex), but you’re ready to jump right in to that very salty and tumultuous sea.

Not one to mince words, you choose “curvy” on the body type descriptors and follow that up with some straight-forward prose on how you’re a “big bi girl who’s looking for someone as exciting as a book” or whatever cheesy self-promoting catch phrase you’d like to insert here. You upload five different pictures to fit into many different moods. While the main profile pic is from last year when you toured the street art of San Francisco, it’s still a decently accurate full body representation. There’s also the goofy paper mustache picture, the fancy gown and hair for your friend’s wedding picture (with others cropped out to avoid confusion), the shocked face of you petting a goat while on vacation in Cambria picture, and the cake picture (you know which one). All in all, you feel like you’re online profile is fairly spot-on. Sure, the pictures are from the upper echelon of what your collection offers, but come on, of course they are.

A couple months later, at lunch, a friend asks you for an update on the online dating shenanigans. You give her all the details; you spare no juicy tidbit. First you tell her about the heavily tatted Laundromat tycoon who was very boring and very into the underground punk scene, two things that seem mutually exclusive but apparently are not. Though the tacos you ate for dinner were fabulous. 

Then there’s the South African transplant working on an undergraduate degree in veterinary sciences. He took you to a Himalayan restaurant and rubbed your leg under the eggplant strewn table while wooing you with an absurd amount of data on cats. Aside from some frottering by the door of your building, that wasn’t worth much. You’ve stopped returning his texts. After that you moved on to a photographer who took you to the observatory and kissed you under the stars. You saw her a few times, ate spaghetti, and drank far too much bourbon. On three or four occasions you hazarded an hour drive up the coast for a not super smart redhead who made up for his dopiness with his enthusiasm and his desire to slow dance to folk music in his living room. 

Some other highlights include the comedian who took you to a book store and then home to her apartment where you spent the evening laying in her lap and watching slam poetry, the actor who asked you to his play and then bought you a veggie burger at a shitty chain diner, the baby-faced math major who looked like a B-list celebrity and skinny dipped with you in your pool, the insanely self-absorbed guitar craftsman who answered the phone when things were getting heavy, and the sound engineer who wanted to take you hunting.

Your friend listens intently, nodding and oohing and aahing in all the right places. Lunch flies by, you order drinks (margaritas are totally reasonable afternoon beverages), and you laugh at this bizarre and wondrous place that is the internet dating world. And then your friend leans in conspiratorially and whispers but do they know you’re fat before the date? And you remember.

 Big girls can’t get dates. Big girls can’t slow dance to folk music or kiss under the stars. They can’t lay their head in their date’s lap or skinny dip. And they certainly can’t fuck or love or be desired. Certainly not. So what the hell ever – it’s just something big girls can’t do.

 

5: Imagine you’re not on a diet. You’re not restricting calories or cutting carbs or ditching fat. You’re not counting points or following fads. You’re living your life and enjoying the foods you want to enjoy. Sometimes you want roasted veggies in a barley bowl with hummus. Sometimes you want pizza and ice cream with caramel sauce. But it doesn’t much matter to you.

Until it does. Until a client at your work offers to buy you a gift card for her doctor who she promises can freeze that fat right off. Until a literal stranger passes you in the street and asks if you’ve heard of the Southern Massachusetts Diet or the Madagascar Diet or the McConaughey Movie Diet. Have you heard of the new trick, the new way to make you a better/more worthwhile person? Everyone thinks this isn’t something you experience in your very core, that the fat isn’t actually some part of who you are. You ignore them, you smile, you wave, you walk on, but it doesn’t go away.

Imagine it picks at the fabric of your being. Imagine it makes you feel small even though you’re big. How it makes you feel less than. In some isolated part of the back of your brain you wonder if they’re right, if you would be better, your thoughts more interesting, your smile wider, if you weren’t so big. So you work out a little, cut back on the pizza, and shed some pounds. You look great! Have you lost weight? You smile, you wave, you’ve done it. Your jokes will pack a harder punch and everyone will love your ideas at the staff meetings. You’re worthwhile now.

But then, imagine you notice some cellulite. Or maybe a tiny roll on your back. Or you get sick and have to miss a few gym days. You gain a little weight and people stop complimenting you. Their talk turns to whispers when you enter the room. You feel small, again, but not in the way you’d hoped. More diet advice. Articles from your family show up in your inbox. You’re flooded with tips and tricks, all of it designed to tear you down and not build you up. All of it designed to punish you for being a big girl. And that’s just it, isn’t it? You can’t be big. You can’t exist. You can’t hold worth. You can’t be strong, or valued, or smart while also being big. Of fucking course not – it’s just something big girls can’t do.

previously published in CutBank Literary


Tai Farnsworth is a mixed-race, queer writer based in Los Angeles who earned her MFA in writing from Antioch University. Her work can be found in 'The Quotable,' 'CutBank Literary,' 'The Evansville Review,' 'Homology Lit,' and 'Sinister Wisdom.' She's presently shopping around her young adult book about a girl discovering her bisexuality in the wake of her boyfriend's death. She was also a 2018 YA Mentee through We Need Diverse Books.