I’ve talked before about the Thin Bubble. It’s that air of civility that surrounds thin people and colors how they see the world, and how the world sees them. If you’ve been thin all your life, you’ve probably never noticed it. People accord you basic civility every day, and you believe that’s just how the world is. But if you’re fat, you know that it’s not how it works for everyone.
When I was in my late 20s, I lost a great deal of weight. I got down to what would be considered a “normal” weight for my height, and for the first time, I experienced life inside the Thin Bubble. I’m not talking about people finding me sexually attractive – that’s an entirely different thing. This is much more basic and mundane. Service workers now greeted me when I came into a shop. Strangers smiled at me and greeted me. But at that point in my life, I was married and running a daycare, so it’s not like I was out in public much.
Then I had another baby, and put on weight. And put on more weight. And before I knew it, I was back to where I had started, plus some (anyone who’s fat knows exactly how this goes). I went back to being invisible – to having service workers look right through me, to being able to walk into a crowd of people and have no one meet my eye.
Now, twenty years later, I’ve lost weight again, and things have changed dramatically. I’ve never been any great beauty – I’ve known that all my life. And now that I’m solidly average in every way, I’m a very different kind of invisible. When I was large, people looked at me and their minds said “unacceptable” and filtered me from their perception. For purposes of, say, navigating around me in a crowded room, I registered as something like a piece of furniture. The physical fact of me was undeniable.
Nowadays, I walk to work most days, and once I’m at work, I break for lunch or to go to the post office, which involved walking through downtown. And every day, people bump into me and act as though I sprang up right in front of them. I’ve had people look right at me, bump into me, and then look surprised. At least twice, I’ve nearly been hit by cars whose drivers looked at me in the crosswalk and started forward anyway. I am now so average that I am functionally invisible.
I never for a moment thought that I’d be leered at in the street or propositioned by strangers, but I never realized I’d disappear entirely. Now part of me is wondering if I need to change my demeanor. Become one of those people who greets everyone they pass in the street. Someone who waves at passing cars. Someone who calls out to people from halfway down the block. But honestly, that kind of behavior – having to engage with literally every person I encounter – would be a nightmare. I couldn’t do it. Which means that either I never leave the house, or I learn to live with being invisible.
All my life, all I wanted to be was invisible. It’s not what I thought it would be.