Life Inside a Fat Suit:  One Person’s Story
By Kathryn H. Kidd

Like most Americans, I was raised with a definite opinion of fat people. Fat people were put on earth for the comic relief of everyone else. The jolly fat person could always keep everyone else entertained, but he didn’t have much else to commend him. We all knew that fat people didn’t have any self-control or they wouldn’t have eaten all that food. They were probably not very smart, either. If they were smart, they’d know how ugly they looked and would just go on a diet and lose the weight.

I thought all these things even though I, myself, was fat. When I was twelve, my measurements were the same as Marilyn Monroe’s. This is not the way a sixth-grader is supposed to look – at least, not if she wants any self-esteem. I had that same voluptuous figure all through high school, which meant that I wore girdles every day just like an old woman.

After spending my high school years dateless and on a perpetual diet, I was determined not to go to college as a fat person. The day after graduation I went on a 21-day total fast, where I ate absolutely nothing and drank only artificially sweetened tea. (I was not LDS at the time, and had never heard of the Word of Wisdom.) I went from a size 18 to a size 9, and I looked terrific. With my stunning personality, I anticipated that I’d be fighting off the boys at Brigham Young University when I started attending there the next fall (why a non-LDS girl from New Orleans would attend BYU is a story for another day).

But I had not counted on the boys at Brigham Young University. As a size nine who was surrounded by a population of size twos, I was a behemoth in herd of gazelles. After I joined the Church and became officially datable, I had boys tell me confidentially all the time that I was exactly the person they were looking for to be a wife and mother, but they couldn’t marry someone who was so fat. One stellar week, I had three different men tell me they’d marry me in a heartbeat if I were only I were thinner.

If they could only see me now!

It was apparent I was not going to get married in college, but I found a husband in my mid-twenties. Clark had never attended BYU, and had never been surrounded by the gazelles. He was happy to marry me even though I was a size 13 at the time. I was less happy with my size, but I learned to my distress that a 21-day fast is something you can only do once your life – and that you probably shouldn’t even do it then. (I still occasionally have flare-ups of gout from that first fasting experience.)

There was a fat couple in our first ward. I couldn’t imagine why they just didn’t go on a diet. They both eventually had their stomachs stapled, but it didn’t help. They were round people, and I was glad I was only as fat as I was. I vowed that if I ever felt my jeans getting tight on me, I’d just diet again until they were loose. It was such an easy concept. There was no need to let yourself go like that.

The Unthinkable

In January 1982, when I was 31 years old, I had my tonsils out. I lost about ten pounds after the surgery, and thought this might be a good time to lose the other fifteen pounds I’d gained since college so I could be a size 9 again. I started exercising for the first time in my life – running in place, and jumping rope, and going up and down our basement stairs to the accompaniment of peppy music. I knew I’d be skinny in no time.

But then the unthinkable happened. Instead of losing weight, I started to gain it. And once the gaining started, I was gaining literally pounds of weight every day. Clark and I went mountain-climbing on the Fourth of July. We reached three mountain peaks, expecting to cook out at the final summit. Then our cookout was rained out, so we went without dinner. By the time we returned home the next morning, Clark had lost four pounds – and I had gained four pounds. In the course of twenty-four hours, there was an eight-pound difference between us.

I was under a doctor’s care from the beginning. He sent me to Nautilus, hoping I’d lose weight. Instead I gained muscle. I got so strong that men would stand there watching me bench press 282 pounds. I was doing the exercise, but I looked as though I were on steroids. I felt like a circus freak.

By the time the weight gain ended, I had gained 140 pounds in six months. I would not have known something like that was possible, but my doctor had another patient at the same time who was experiencing exactly the same thing. He didn’t know how to treat either one of us, so he sent us to specialists.

Not only were the specialists not helpful, but they were actually vicious. One of them said, “If I were a fly on your wall, I’d see you porking out all day when you thought nobody could see you.” (How much porking out do you have to do to double your body weight in a six-month period?)

Getting an Education

When you gain 140 pounds in six months, you learn something that few people in the world understand. Even fat people usually gain their weight over a period of years, so they don’t see it. All I know is that one day I was a person, and the next day I was not a person anymore.

Stores where I had previously shopped no longer seemed to want my money. I stood at the counter at a department store. one day, watching the saleslady wait on person after person – all of whom had come to the counter after I had. Not only did she not see me, but the customers were just as oblivious as she was because not one of them said, “She was here first.” Even though I took up more room at the counter than anyone else, I was invisible as a person as far as the saleslady and the customers were concerned.

A second instance occurred during this period of education, also at a store. A sales clerk in the silverware department would not sell me some pieces of stainless steel flatware I wanted to buy to round out our place settings. She kept telling me I couldn’t afford them, even though the price was clearly marked and I was standing there with my charge card in hand. She had no idea that Clark and I had just bought our service for twelve in sterling silver a month before – and that Clark had paid cash for that purchase. All she saw was that I was fat, and that I was obviously not the kind of person who used nice things. Even the possibility of a commission did not give her the incentive to treat me with decency.

What galled me about the second instance was that although the sales clerk didn’t recognize me, I recognized her. She was the daughter of a man who had been my bishop in the singles’ ward just a few years before. If she had been forced to interact with me at church she would have called me “sister,” but I was not even a human being in her eyes.

I have now been morbidly obese for more than twenty years, and I have seen it all. I have been insulted by more doctors than I can count. One of them refused to treat me until I went to a nutritionist of her choosing. The nutritionist of her choosing informed her that not only was I not overeating – I was actually undereating, and she recommended that I eat something like 20 percent more food than I was already consuming so I wouldn’t starve my organs. That same nutritionist told me that anyone who tried to put me on a diet did not have my best interests at heart. The doctor, after hearing that, still wanted to put me on Optifast.

I have seen the look of horror on people’s faces when they have to sit next to me on airplanes – even though I always sit on the aisle and take care to not intrude on the space of the person sitting next to me, even if it means great physical discomfort for the duration of the trip.

On one occasion, a woman who was trapped between Clark and me on a flight to London loudly pleaded with her husband before the trip to offer money to someone to trade places with her. When that failed, she demanded to be taken off the flight. When she was informed that if she did not take this particular flight she would miss her connection to Ireland, she cried all the way across the ocean, refusing food or even water in her martyrdom, and not watching the television in her seat or reading her magazines. What was so totally bizarre about her behavior was that I was not using the armrest between us or even intruding on the space above it. Just the thought of sitting next to me was so repugnant to her that she cried for the entire seven-hour flight.

There is a morbid curiosity about fat people – a curiosity I don’t pretend to understand. A woman who worked with me asked me repeatedly to write a book telling the world how fat people manage to perform their personal hygiene, “because everybody wants to know.” And doctors who see me unclothed almost always compliment me on how clean I am – as though fat people do not usually avail themselves of soap and water. I have a lot of friends who are overweight (although admittedly none are in my league), and none of them look dirty to me. Maybe I’m just not looking closely enough.

I once had a caring but clueless visiting teacher insist month after month that she could teach me about diet and nutrition and exercise, so I could lose some weight. It was impossible to convince her that I already knew about diet and nutrition and exercise, and that diet and exercise didn’t help. After all, she must have reasoned, if I knew what she did about diet and exercise, I wouldn’t be fat.

Apparently there’s a hierarchy of fatness, because even other fat people think nothing of insulting me. We once took a tour of Belize from a tour guide who was frankly appalled at my size. He made pointed comments throughout the trip about my weight, and asked me several times if I had ever thought about going on a diet. I refrained from mentioning his own pot belly, but only through a heroic effort of self-control.

And if fat people think it’s okay to criticize me, thin people pull out all the stops when they’re reminding me how ugly I am. Recently a tiny Korean lady in an Oriental market came right up to me and said disgustedly, “You too fat.” When I told her that yes, I am fat due to a medical condition, she replied, “You too fat because you eat like pig.”

When the dry cleaner lost my favorite blouse, she stoutly denied it, even though I had a claim check. She wanted to know how she could have a piece of clothing my size on her property and not know about it.

In these politically correct times, there are only two classes of people in America who are considered proper to ridicule – fat people and Christians. Just my luck to qualify on both counts!

Eternal Lessons of Fatness

Although the lessons I have learned from the world have been bitter, there are other lessons that being fat has taught me. Indeed, I’m a different person today than I was before I became fat – and a better one.

Before I was fat, I had a simplistic view of life. If you paid your tithing, you’d be rich. If you kept the commandments, good things would happen to you. If you followed the Word of Wisdom, you’d be healthy. If you exercised and ate right, you would not be overweight. But there isn’t always a simple cause-and-effect relationship; sometimes you get a taste of Job’s life, where nothing seems to make sense but you still have to trust in the Lord. I hope that I would have learned otherwise without having all those beliefs proven wrong in my own life, but maybe I wouldn’t have. There are a whole lot of people in the Church today who believe all those things, simply because they haven’t had to live through the trials I have experienced.

I am not a naturally compassionate person, but being in the position I’ve been in has taught me to look at the world through different eyes. I empathize with the underdog and seek out the disenfranchised – and if I had not been the object of ridicule I might never have learned empathy or compassion.

I have learned to expand my viewpoint in other areas because of my own situation. I used to think that doctors were the final authority in telling me how to take care of my body. Now I understand that doctors only know what they remember of what they were taught in medical school – and that there’s a whole wide world of things that are not taught in medical school. My body is unique, and nobody can understand it the way I do. It is my responsibility to care for it to the best of my ability, and to seek out ways to care for myself when the traditional methods fall short.

It was only after I learned that I had to study things out for myself in a medical sense that I was able to open my mind in many other areas, making me more open to spiritual insights than I otherwise would have been. I’m still not to the point of having “many revelations daily,” as Nephi and his brother Lehi did (Helaman 11:23) – and I may never get to that place. But I am keenly aware that I have received many heavenly communications in my lifetime, and I believe my receptiveness to those insights is a direct consequence of the experiences I have had.

One of the biggest gifts that has come to me as a result of the way I look is that I have been stripped of pride. When I was confirmed a member of the Church, I was told several times in the confirmation blessing that I needed to be vigilant against pride, because I was particularly susceptible to it. Now, more than thirty years later, I can vouch that there is nothing that strips a person of pride more quickly than to be an object of shame. I didn’t realize how thoroughly I had been stripped of pride until one Saturday night at stake conference, when I walked the entire length of a crowded hallway with my dress and slip firmly tucked into my pantyhose. The friend who rescued me was sure I was mortified. I was more mortified that I wasn’t mortified. Not until that moment did I realize that I felt such a great amount of shame just walking down the hall fully clothed that I was saturated with it. I couldn’t feel any more ashamed than I already felt.

Once you have lost your sense of pride, it is a whole lot easier not to take yourself too seriously. I’ve learned to deflect people’s reactions upon seeing me with a sense of humor. One flight attendant recently told me he admired my attitude after I asked him for a “fat belt” instead of a seat belt extension. Once you can make people laugh, or notice that they’re tired when they’re standing behind the grocery store cash register at the end of a long shift, they think of you as being a person like they are, rather than some other, subhuman entity.

I still long for the day when I will look like a real person again. I still pray, hopefully, for the ability to lose the weight I carry with me every day. “Haven’t I learned the lessons I need to learn?” I ask. Apparently not. It may be that I still have lessons to learn – or that other people have lessons in compassion to learn as they react to and interact with me. I sometimes wonder if my former bishop’s daughter has learned compassion in the years since she treated me so badly in the silverware department. I hope she has – and for her sake, I hope she didn’t have to suffer as much as I did in order to learn it.

I do know that I have no fear of death, and that when I do die I’m going to reclaim the body that was supposed to be mine all along. (I’m going to claim Ingrid Bergman’s 20-year-old body, so if you see her up there be sure to say hi.)

Meanwhile, as much as I want to look like a normal person, I know that Kathy as a fat person is far more richly blessed than she ever was as a normal human being. In my moments of greatest understanding, I know that this burden is one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. Despite the sorrows that accompany my physical appearance, I am aware that God gave me this body out of love – and that although I may not remember it now, He did it with my wholehearted consent.