Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Spreading the message, one confused teenager at a time

For the past ten years I have worked at a haunted theme park every October.  I love doing it, though it is physically one of the most demanding jobs I've ever had.  It can also be emotionally demanding as one of the goals of a haunted house is to create a world where the actors inside the house are no longer people to the patrons.  The goal is to have the patrons lose that natural connection of human to human, and to consider the actors to really be zombies, cannibals, werewolves or whatever.  Unfortunately, that can be a double-edged sword.  When the patrons lose that connection, they believe for that short time that the creatures chasing them ARE real and they get the adrenaline rush of danger and the accompanying release.  However, they also tend to treat the people working at the haunted house poorly at times, saying things and doing things they would never do to another "real person".

I learned that lesson during my first season, when people would regularly make comments about how fat I was.  The Manager of my house was also a good friend, and the night that he found me outside my exit door, sitting on a railroad tie, curled into a ball and sobbing in the midst of a light rain, he just held me and told me what jerks people are and how great I was and that everything would be all right.  I will always hold him dearly in my heart for that.

Over time I found that the best way to combat the unusually aggressive tendencies that patrons have at the haunt was to beat them to the punch.  I was moved out to a greeter position, where I wasn't scaring people but rather giving them the rules of the house and a feel for what was waiting for them inside.  I created a clown character named Miss Chiff, The Fat Lady.  By introducing myself that way, I cut the people who wanted to insult me with fat comments off at the knees.  It still hurt a bit, though, but it was better to take away their weapon than to let them use it.

Now, nine years later, I am a House Manager.  I am the one to comfort, scold, encourage, and otherwise mother my actors.  I still deal with the public as I have to keep a close eye on the line in front of my House to try and keep it from becoming a seething ball of hate as people wait for an hour to get inside.  To do this, I have to move around within the line.  This means asking people to move aside.  I generally do this by loudly repeating, "Excuse me folks!  Short, fat lady with a radio coming through!"

I am short.  I am fat.  These two words carry the same level of (pardon the pun) weight with me now.  They are descriptives and nothing more.  I amuse myself by saying it this way, AND I give people notice that they're going to have to give me a bit more room to get by than if someone skinnier were asking to get through.  I now believe that while it serves the secondary purpose of disarming those who would try to use my size as a weapon, putting it this way mainly serves the purpose of creating an opportunity to spread the message one confused teenager at a time.

And currently someone somewhere is asking, "Um....Lys?  What do you mean by that?"

Quite simply, I can let them know by example that words only have power when we give them that power over us.  Inevitably some kind-hearted soul will blurt out, "But you're not fat." because they think I'm putting myself down.  This lets me stop and say, "But I AM fat, and that's okay.  It's just a word, and it describes my physical shape.  It doesn't describe anything else about me.  I'm fat, and I'm smart, beautiful, confident, and worthwhile.  Being fat doesn't take any of those other things away from me."

Sometimes they try to still console me, but after a few repetitions they either get it or they don't.  Some will just look confused, because this is a concept that they have heard denied for so long by The Weight Loss Industry and mass media, that it is just too much to wrap their heads around.  I hope that the confused ones think about it and eventually get it.

Every once in a while, though, I see a gleam come from someone's eye.  They get it.  Sometimes it is a fat person who is nearby, who has never heard those sentiments expressed before, and who has never realized that they can BE fat, smart, beautiful, confident and worthwhile all at the same time.  Sometimes it is a teenager who may not be fat, but maybe has something else that they feel ashamed about, and I can see the startlement in their eyes, the wonder that someone whom society says should be ashamed is standing up and taking ownership of the very thing society dislikes, then throwing that dislike aside and accepting themselves for who and what they are.

It may not be a huge thing that I'm doing, it may only be one pebble thrown into the pond of fat hate, body shaming, and bullying, but every pebble creates ripples.  I hope that my ripples spread far and wide, and help someone somewhere the next time that someone tries to use words as a weapon against them.

So world, look out!  There's a short, fat lady with a radio coming through!


  1. Great post Lys!

    I had a similar discussion with my niece a few weeks ago, and when I said, "I'm fat, and that's okay" she was so dumbfounded by the concept. She kept saying "Don't say that, you're not fat" until I finally moved on.

    What she failed to realize is that can I see myself for all that I am and still love myself unconditionally- shape, size, flaws, and all. I wish more people could do the same.

  2. Omgosh, Lys! This is beautiful!

    Why can't more Christians be like this? Living by example is what we are called to do. You are a great encouragement to me. Even if we walk different religious paths, I am glad your footsteps are walking near mine.

    Also, you may see it as one pebble at a time, but for me, you are spreading hope in a world that needs hope... lighting one light at a time.


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