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L.A. Affairs: Dating in L.A. means taming my fat-shaming demon

A woman drives past media images of body-positive women.
(Vivian Shih / For The Times)

I am stuck on the 101 Freeway and trying to text the word “Traffic” to my date.

The guy I’m on my way to meet for dinner might not know I identify as fat. He has long, thick, beautiful silver hair and a well-groomed beard. My friends and I call him Hot Gandalf. He’s maybe seen only a few of my selfies and one full-body shot in which I happen to be angled so I appear smaller than I am. Based on my Instagram, he may think I’m just a floating head with really good makeup skills.

***

Many people think a fat person is a slob. Especially in L.A. That we’re sweaty, that we eat only fried things out of buckets, that we are lazy, sloppy, disgusting and have no self-control. I’m none of these things. In fact, before the pandemic, I belonged to two gyms (one near work and one near home because of — why else? — traffic).

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There were a million flirty texts. A sexy pink mini-skirt. Plans to meet up in L.A. And a kiss. Right?

But when you’re the largest of the “straight sizes” and smallest of the “plus sizes,” it’s easy to think you don’t have a place to fit in. What’s more, this in-between, no-man’s-land is supposedly the average size of American females.

But let’s face it, most men in L.A. aren’t looking for “a little extra.”

I’ve not brought up being “a little extra” to Hot Gandalf in our text messages because I don’t want it to be a thing. All the dating advice I’ve ever heard says that you can’t appear insecure, so I’m going to do my best when I walk into this restaurant for our first date to make it look like I believe that “thick thighs save lives,” even though I don’t.

My path seeking love had been long and circuitous and took me through many L.A.-area neighborhoods. I kept looking for “The One” but kept getting stuck with “Not This One.”

I grew up skinny in a suburb of L.A. — a competitive dancer with proper ballet training. I had a doozy of a ballet instructor who would slap candy out of my hands and harp on my weight. When my non-dancer friends would go to McDonald’s for lunch, I would eat a boiled egg and half a grapefruit I brought from home. If I could get down to a size 2, my dance instructor would stop bullying me.

The boyfriend I had when I was 20 told me I shouldn’t switch my major from dance because dance was “what pretty girls do.” I had met him in his art class; I was posing, lying on a couch so he could draw me, much like that scene in “Titanic.” That was back when I thought I had this strong sense of self-confidence, which I now think was strong only because I was trying so hard to hide that I had painfully low self-esteem — thanks to a certain dance teacher.

We had been dating for three years when he finally told me he didn’t believe in the institution of marriage. “Why do women always want marriage?” he said.

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I moved on from ballet to auditioning for music videos. My agent would call to tell me about the latest singer looking for dancers: “Dress ‘body-conscious,’ please.” That usually meant the shortest shorts I could find with some knee-high boots. They’d line us all up by height and ethnicity, and then make cuts before most of us did one dance move.

This started to make me think: Could I rely on just pretty? Or was there more to me?

I didn’t think I was smart or good at anything else. It was like an invisible demon followed me around, pointing out my weight and imperfections whenever possible. The demon was always waiting to chime in about the things “pretty girls” did and didn’t do.

After every dance audition that I didn’t get, that demon would tap me on my shoulder and tell me it was because I didn’t have rock-hard abs. When I applied at Abercrombie & Fitch, where I wore the largest size offered, my demon laughed when I didn’t get the job, taunting me: “They probably thought you were too fat.”

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It had been pounded into my head: Skinny and pretty were things society and men and people and Los Angeles loved. And that was all I had, right? And if I was self-conscious at 100 pounds, you can imagine how I felt at 140, and 180.

I’ve tried so hard to accept the new curves and bumps and stretch marks that have come just from living life. I have tried to come to terms with needing a bigger bra and the next size up in pants. I tried to look at others who identified as fat, especially the ones who seemed to love their bodies, hoping somehow their confidence would rub off on me through my phone screen. There’s a whole slew of #bodypositivity influencers who post amazing photos of themselves partially nude, celebrating their big and self-proclaimed weird and imperfect bodies with back rolls and belly fat. I wanted to be part of this #bodiposi movement that promotes that all people deserve to have a positive body image.

I wanted to use the mantra, “I am not fat, I have fat,” and be able to believe it.

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Only I could never post a photo of myself like that. I can barely look at myself in the mirror anymore in a crop top or shorts, let alone a bikini. The whole point is to love and appreciate what you have — sort of an “I’ll show you mine, you show me yours, and it’s all good, baby.”

***

I wondered what Hot Gandalf would think. This traffic was making me want to turn around and go home.

Would he be the type of man who would look at an old picture of me and say, “Wow, you were so pretty back then”? Or offer “at least you have a pretty face,” like it’s some sort of consolation prize?

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Would he be OK meeting my third-wheelin’ demon?

I left my car with the valet and headed into the Front Yard in Studio City, where I saw Hot Gandalf waiting for me by the outdoor fountain. As I walked toward him, I tried to imagine what it would be like to tell off my demon. I tried to imagine what I could say that could make him go away forever. Maybe I’d say “Look, dude, whatever perfect ideal of a woman you are picturing ain’t me. In fact, you should look around and get out of your comfort zone a bit more, Mr. Demon — ’cause big asses are in.”

I’d say, “In fact, you’re now disinvited from every date I go on; you’re not allowed to attend shopping trips to pick out clothes or whisper in my ear how many calories you think I just ate.”

I nervously waved at Hot Gandalf. By now he could see my entire body, and there was no denying its shape. With every step, I turned down the volume on the demon’s voice and willed myself to stand taller — and I let my own voice drown out his with #bodiposi cliches like “You do not owe the world pretty” and “You are not a ‘before’” and “You are ‘a little extra’ but in all the most beautiful ways.”

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Hot Gandalf greeted me with a hug and kiss on the cheek and told me I looked prettier in person.

I didn’t feel like I had slayed the demon forever. But in that moment I managed to feel confident and funny and strong and smart and maybe even a little “I’ll show you mine, you show me yours, and it’s all good, baby.”

On the next date, he told me he liked curvy girls like me. After the third, he told me he liked smart girls like me. After the fourth, he told me he simply liked me.

The author is a Los Angeles-based film and TV producer, A&R consultant and music journalist. She is on Instagram @whatangiesays.

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Straight, gay, bisexual, transgender or nonbinary — L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for love in and around Los Angeles, and we want to hear your story. The story you tell has to be true, and you must allow your name to be published, We pay $300 for each essay we publish. Email us at LAAffairs@latimes.com. You can find submission guidelines here.


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