From Radiance Spring 1999
Just as Radiance
invites women of all sizes into its pages, we invite women of all
ages, also. We put out a call to teens for essays about their
lives: their feelings, ideas, and experiences with body image and
size discrimination. We wanted to give them the opportunity
to express their opinions and share their stories: we wanted to
hear their young voices.
Seven young women responded
with writing that will make you nod your head in recognition of
common experiences and rejoice in the freshness and hope that the
younger generation is bringing to its evolving definition of
beauty and self.
fat, not stupid
By Blythe Nelson
All through my childhood, I was taunted about my
weight. Classmates would yell things, like, "Wide load!"
or "Cow!," or they would make mooing or oinking sounds
as I passed. I wonder if they knew how much it hurt me.
I learned at a very young age not to judge
people by how they look but by their hearts. I come from a long
line of big women with large busts, waists, and hips. I just
happened to carry on the tradition. When these children poked fun
at me, I felt that they were also hurting my family.
My mother has never had a Barbie doll figure.
Along with her big body, she has the biggest heart I've ever
known. My little sister and I (I have two sisters; I'm the middle
one) have always needed more support and encouragement in the area
of self-esteem than our older sister, who is smaller. Whenever we
have a problem, we can always go to Mom. I feel that our society,
and my generation in particular, is obsessed with being thin. At
my high school, you can go into the rest rooms at any hour and
find a young woman with her finger down her throat, trying to get
thin. Just look at all the magazine models, cover girls, and movie
stars: how many of them are anorexic or bulimic?
One of my friends once said, "I am proud of
who I am and how I am, and if anybody says anything, who
cares?" I'm so grateful to her; her self-esteem helped me to
build my own.
By Michelle Areton
Me? I am the world.
I am not, nor am I going to be,
straight and small
like a shooting star;
for they only last a second.
Everyone may marvel
at their beauty,
but after they are gone,
they are forgotten
like all the others.
I am earth.
I bring life and joy.
I only take up
a small part of space,
but you can't
walk around me in a day.
MICHELLE ARETON loves to
sing all kinds of music and hopes someday to be a singer who
writes her own lyrics. She is now fifteen years old and attends
San Anselmo High School in San Anselmo, California.
|My mother said to me,
"You can live your life laughing, crying, smiling, and having
fun-or you can live your life worrying about the next bite you put
in your mouth."
One of my best summers was spent at camp with a
kind, sweet, and caring camp director who was
"overweight." I still remember how she would wrap her
big, soft, warm arms around us kids and tell us how special we
With the help and support of my mother, that
camp director, and some friends, I finally started to accept how I
I don't think it is fair that people
discriminate against others just because of their race, their
gender, or their weight. If this society is so up for freedom of
expression, then let us express ourselves as big women with big
values! That is why I like Radiance magazine:
it shows that big is beautiful and lets people express themselves.
One woman whom I really admire is Delta Burke.
She is a successful actress and designer. I have my own dream of
owning and running a classy shop where I can sell really nice
clothes and help people choose what they look good in. I know that
it is hard to find nice but sensible clothes for reasonable prices
in plus sizes.
My message is this: Don't let others get you
down. Accept who you really are. You can either let things happen
or you can make them happen. Fulfill your dreams and don't let
others discourage you because you're different.
I have learned to accept myself for who I am and
how I am, regardless of all the models, cover girls, and movie
stars who want everyone to be thin and beautiful. You know what?
Big women can be just as beautiful as thin women.
BLYTHE NELSON is fifteen
years old and is in the tenth grade at Willits High School in
By Jessica Yager
|"Did you see how
much she ate at dinner? No wonder that girl is so fat," Erin
I was lying in bed, completely awake, with my
eyes still open. The "big girls," daughters of close
family friends, were sleeping over. I knew that Erin and Jenn were
going to talk only after they knew I was asleep. Long before Jenn
ever arrived, I assured Erin that I often slept with my eyes
half-open (or so I had been told). I knew I would never be able to
keep my eyes shut, and I didn't want to miss out on any juicy
secrets or giddy gossip. Instead, I was hearing two girls talk
about me! This was not at all what I'd had in mind. Erin, who
said, "That girl is so cute" about me when my mother and
I could hear her, was saying, "That girl is so fat" in a
disgusted, cruel tone. It was an insult and I wasn't even able to
defend myself, because I was "asleep."
I was in the second grade, and I didn't know
that I was round. I was just my mother's beautiful little girl,
and that was all that mattered. We never had a lot of money, so I
wore hand-me-down clothes: Jenn's hand-me-downs. By the time I saw
them, though, my mother had altered them with the sewing machine,
hemming the pants and dresses, taking up the sleeves of
long-sleeved shirts. I knew that I was different from some of my
classmates: they were popular and I wasn't. It took years for me
to think that it might be because I was "too big."
By fourth grade, I had become acutely aware that
I was not like some of "the other girls": the ones who
were mean, who made fun of me because I was round or because I
still sucked my thumb. The other girls had new clothes and
spending money, and, most of all, were considered pretty because
they were skinny and wore makeup. I had none of these, but it
didn't keep me from being happy-or smart or loyal or creative.
When I was in sixth grade, I had to stop playing
sports because of an injury. For about a year, I was on crutches
and, mainly confined to couches and chairs, I gained even more
weight. With the frequent doctors' appointments,I could see myself
move quickly up the weight chart, closer and closer to being out
of the "healthy-but-large" range for my height and into
the "danger zone." My mom saw this, too, but never once
said anything about it. I could see her wince when she glanced at
the dot in the pale pink region, above the darker curve. I could
see the numbers increasing by as much as ten pounds in two weeks,
and after a while it hurt. It hurt so much that when she offered
to go buy new clothes for once, I refused. I didn't want them. I
knew that I needed them because I was "too big." I saw
the other girls in my grade getting skinnier as they grew taller,
and myself getting rounder. I hated my body for what it was doing.
All my life I'd been chubby. Now I was getting truly fat. At
eleven years of age, I wore a women's size 16.
I was hard on myself then. I didn't like making
my parents unhappy or worried. I hated not being able to play
sports with the other kids. I justified sitting around by working
on homework and art. During those months when I missed so much
school for medical reasons, I made my already honor-role grades go
up. It was an attempt to make my mom proud of me, and an attempt
to like myself for who I was. Gradually, I was able to accept
being big and started to develop my own styles of dress because I
didn't fit into popular clothing. Accepting your size and enjoying
your size are two different things. I knew that I was
"overweight" and that was just something I was going to
have to deal with. I looked around at the skinny girls and
wondered why they thought they were fat. Couldn't they look at me
and see that they were twigs? That they were about to blow away in
the wind? I just wanted to be normal, to fit in. I was terrified
of eating disorders and was not able to stick to any diet I set
for myself. But I was also afraid that dieting would turn me into
"one of those stupid anorexic bitches" as my best friend
and I used to call "the other girls."
By the summer of eighth grade, I was still curvy
and round. With the biggest hips and thighs in school and a few
belly rolls, I went on my first summer trip without my family. I
was finally able to say that I was proud to be who I was, proud to
be big. I stopped trying to lose weight and started trying to be
me. It was somewhere during this time that I stopped seeing myself
as Jesi the fat girl and started seeing Jesi the artist, the
writer, the musician. Jesi the good student, the student leader,
the good friend. Jesi the big big beautiful.
Now I attend a girls' boarding school. Here,
too, sizeism is alive and well. I find myself looking around
occasionally and wondering why I don't look like "them."
But then I shrug and smile and tell myself, If I looked like them,
I wouldn't be me. I'll just have to stay an individual and make
the world a better place. Then I go on my way, enjoying my size.
JESSICA YAGER is sixteen
years old and attends Westtown School, a Quaker boarding school,
in Pennsylvania. Her special interests include the visual and
performing arts. She participates in the ongoing relief efforts
for Central Americans affected by Hurricane Mitch.
By Katie Moran
stereotypes. I hate all stereotypes, I really do. I don't hate
much. I believe in love, peace, and harmony. But I do hate it when
people generalize about others.
I think that the stereotypes that bother me the
most are those about "overweight" women. I wish that no
one would make fun of women for the size pants they wear or tease
them about the number that the scale says. I mean, it's only a
number! By the way people act, you would think that the scale
reads "good person" or "awful person" instead
of "100 pounds" or "200 pounds." Does it
really matter? I don't think it should, but unfortunately, to so
many people in this country, it does matter-a lot. If only it
didn't, we would be able to act, think, and speak the way we
really want to, instead of wondering if the person we're talking
to is thinking about how big our hips or our thighs are. Some
women are willing to starve, purge, and torture themselves, and
even risk their lives, just to be accepted by a culture with a
horribly narrow stereotype of beauty.
I am not fat myself, but that's not the point. I
have several friends and family members who are, and I know how
much it hurts to be made fun of for any reason. For example, I
used to be made fun of all the time because I have really hairy
arms. So, to please everyone else, I started shaving my arms. I
hated having prickly stubble covering my arms, but figured that it
was better than being made fun of, right? Well, one day I decided
that I was becoming just like women who starve themselves to
please others. I was doing something that I didn't really want to
At my school, many students think that it's
amusing to make fun of others. It's all one big joke, until you're
the one being made fun of. People are made fun of for the clothes
they wear, for the grades they get, and, especially if they're
girls, for their weight. This pettiness makes me sick.
I'm fifteen and in the ninth grade. I like to
spend my time playing the flute, playing soccer and basketball,
babysitting, learning sign language, writing, working for animal
rights and the environment, and spending time with my friends and
family. When I grow up, I'd like to be a teacher for the deaf or
an author. I'd also like to adopt several kids from other
A lot of things have helped to form my
worldview. For one, my parents have taught me since I was born
that everyone is important, is special, and deserves respect.
Also, my cousin Caitlin and my friend Nina helped me decide to be
a vegetarian. Being a vegetarian helps me to put my views about
respecting all living things into practice. Factory farming-where
animals live crowded together in pens and are pumped full of
antibiotics and growth hormones-is major animal abuse. Both
animals and women have been oppressed and silenced for a long,
In my opinion, acceptance of one another is the
most important thing that needs to happen in the world right now.
If all humans respected one another-regardless of size, religion,
thoughts, or whatever-we could really begin to solve some of the
deadly problems that plague the world today. But before this can
happen, we must learn to accept who we are on the inside.
Katie Moran attends Grant
High School in Portland, Oregon, where she is on the school soccer
|all about me
By Cathy Nourse
|Hi, my name
is Cathy. I am a BBT. At least, that's what I call it. BBT
means a "Big Beautiful Teen." I am a sixteen-year-old
high school student. I weigh 265 pounds, and I am five feet eleven
inches. I have blonde hair and blue eyes. I am just as comfortable
in formal attire as I am out on the football team tackling all the
People often think that I eat a lot, but I
really don't. I'm just big by nature. My mom is also big by
nature. Because of this, my family has been involved in
fat-acceptance groups. This is where you are accepted for who you
are, and nobody really cares how fat you are! I guess you would
say that my dad is an FA (fat admirer), a term that's new to me.
Personally, I have male friends who have loved me for years,
whatever my size.
Please don't think of me as a fat, lazy kid! I
was on the freshman honor roll this past year. I was also the only
girl on the Wilmot High School freshman football team. This past
summer, I went bungee jumping for the second time. I jumped 140
feet-head first! Boy, was it fun!
Recently, I had one of my most exciting
experiences. I was at the NAAFA Midwest convention, and I was
asked to model for the fashion show. I felt so beautiful and
everyone assured me that I looked great!
I strongly urge any big girls who are hiding in
the background to step forward: be proud and be yourself!
My plans for the future include exploring my
possibilities in modeling and other careers. I don't feel that my
size should hold me back. I feel sad for teens who are depressed
about being fat. Acceptance starts within yourself. I'm big. And
CATHY NOURSE is a sophomore
at Wilmot High School in Wisconsin. Her current jobs include
caring for two 10-month-old girls.
|the perfect body
By Lyla Morrison
|There is a
girl in my class who has a few problems. One, she has a serious
bladder problem, which leads to her being embarrassed, often, in
class. And she isn't obese, but she weighs more than anyone else
in our class. These two things make her the butt of jokes on a
daily basis. I am completely sure that if this young woman were
skinny or beautiful, everyone would discreetly ignore her
problems. Why? Because our society is so caught up in the image of
the perfect body being skinny that they ignore everything else,
including health. If this girl had "the perfect body,"
she would not be made fun of.
I myself am below the average weight for my
height, but because only the anorexic look is acceptable, I am not
considered skinny. I find it very sad that because a girl is not
unhealthily skinny, society shuns her. Why this is, I am not sure.
There was a time when people thought of the heavier look as the
most beautiful. This makes more sense to me. If people are
supposedly attracted to healthy people, how did the anorexic look
become attractive? Something, somewhere, must have gone wrong.
I have known many large people. All of them are
just like people who weigh less. Setting large people apart and
treating them differently is just as bad as racism. If you think
about it, racism and having something against large people are
really quite similar.
I think all people-large, skinny, black, and
white-should be judged by their attitude, not their appearance.
LYLA MORRISON is fourteen
and in the ninth grade. She attends St. Paul School and enjoys
writing and drawing.
|a different viewpoint
By Heidi Schmaltz
seventh grade, I learned that you could insult someone by calling
him or her an endormorph. My entire health class learned this with
me, and so began another generation of fat haters.
Most of the fat people I knew were quiet, wore
clothes that didn't fit them, and had no friends. Their names
weren't Lisa or Joe or Mary. They went by Shamu or Willy or
whatever diet company was popular at the time. From every
direction-home, doctors, peers, teachers, and the media-these kids
were getting the message that they were not decent people. They
were disrespected and unsupported, and as a result felt like
unworthy people. They were seen solely as fat kids: not smart
kids, not creative kids, and not athletic kids.
Perhaps the greatest injustice large children
face is the medical care they receive. Once I had to go on a diet
because it was assumed that bad habits were creating my size. I
was nine or ten years old! I ate what the rest of my family ate,
and they weren't fat. We rarely had sweets around the house. (My
mom is a health food fanatic.) We didn't eat much red meat, and
did eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. My mom was always making
sure we got "complete proteins" and not too much sugar
or fat. We never had soda pop.
Of course, the diet didn't work. Most people,
including doctors, freak at the obesity rate as if it were
something to be ashamed of.
Our society's definition of healthy is wrong. We
are so obsessed with thinness that we worry
more aboutlosing weight than about feeding the
hungry. It is as if the media has created an artificial tragedy
that is distracting us from real concerns. Thinness should worry
us, but, because of stereotypes about fatness, it does not.
My size rarely keeps me from doing anything I
want. This throws people off. How can this girl be happy,
well-adjusted, active, healthy-and fat?
I took dance for a long time and was very good.
I could do everything the others could and wore the same
tight-fitting clothes. Yes, I have a body, and it has gone away
under sweatpants and baggy T-shirts. I don't take dance anymore,
but I am still a very active person. For the past year and a half,
I have been practicing yoga, which has helped me gain confidence
in my body. I have learned that true beauty does not always
emanate from the skinny, but it does always come from the truly
As a high school student, my size has also
become less and less important to the people around me. My friends
accept my appearance all the way. Other large people I know are
experiencing the same kind of change. People stop teasing, just as
they stop teasing the kids with glasses, braces, or orthopedic
It takes some time to adjust and be comfortable
with your growing body. Almost every girl thinks that her body is
funny looking: maybe it's her hair, maybe it's her nose, or maybe
it's her knees. For the fat girl, it is always her size. But
getting rid of fat will never make the insecurities go away. It
doesn't work like Jenny Craig says. It is very important to be
comfortable with yourself. For the people who aren't, the
awkwardness doesn't go. It really is a choice to make: to accept
yourself or not.
I hope that through our efforts to live more
wisely, the next generation of children-our children-will not be
afflicted with fat hatred and that all children will have an
easier time recognizing their own potential.
HEIDI SCHMALTZ is a
seventeen-year-old from Portland, Oregon. She enjoys writing and
has contributed a chapter on depression in the book Girls Know
Best: Advice for Girls from Girls on Just About Everything (Beyond
Words Publishing: 1997). A feminist and member of the girls'
movement, she is an active volunteer helping her community.
Check out our Radiance
Kids Project page for more information ,
essays, articles by and about children, teens, and young adults.
Remember, this is only a taste of what's inside
the printed version of the magazine!