Now that the new year is upon us, I’ve noticed the “New year, New Me” self talk starting. I guess it’s not self talk if you are sharing it with social media but you know the deal, people (women mostly) sharing goals about how what they want to change about themselves in the new year. Most of it is weight or size related. Most of it is masked under this “I want to feel healthy” but what they are really saying is that they are unhappy with themselves and need to change. Here’s where I get my stomach into some knots. I’m fat, in case you don’t know me IRL. I am overweight. Medically obese. My BMI is too high. However you want to measure it, I am overweight and have been literally all of my life. Literally here is used literally, not figuratively. I wasn’t a skinny kid who put on weight in puberty. I was a chubby kid who put on weight during puberty, which was coincidently when I was put on my first diet too. But that’s not the story I am here to share with you today, the story I want to share with you came much later.
I worked for Ruby Tuesday. They are a family-style, casual dining restaurant throughout the country. You might know them from their extensive salad bar. I worked for a franchise in Southern Missouri owned by a man named John. Now John had some unchecked mental health issues, and can be best described as a “Mini Trump.” That is to say he was a big fish in a weird pond. Or at least he thought he was. People didn’t like to tell him no because he flipped the fuck out if he was told no. People didn’t like to tell him yes because then he’d abuse them in some way, you get my drift.
He owned several, maybe 10, Ruby Tuesday restaurants. Now owned is a stretch. You know how it is. He was a franchisee, but he rented most buildings, the company itself had control over most of his dealings, etc, etc. And he owned two of the restaurants in Branson, Missouri. First he owned a free-standing one that was open for a decade and did very well before he opened a second location in a strip mall sandwiched between Walmart and a grocery store. Why he decided to open a second one a half mile away from an already popular one is beyond me. Beyond any business class you might take. And as you can imagine it isn’t open anymore. It closed down less than a decade after opening considering it didn’t make enough money. That’s not hard to figure out, but I digress.
I started there as a server, then quickly became a bartender, then a shift leader. A shift leader is paid hourly ($13/hr back in 2005-ish) and is expected to do all the things a manager does, but obviously make a lot less doing it. I’m not sure what the hell that position was supposed to look like, but it seemed to be this thing where they said, “Oh we like you, and you are a great worker, we will give you keys and official sounding title and let you do all the dirty work for nothing for awhile so you feel important.” And I bought it. I was like 23 years old, that should be noted.
It was also a pipeline to management, obviously. You had to be a shift leader to be a manager and while I was there (about five years) I saw many a shift leader and managers come and go. There is high turnover in the restaurant business. It’s a shitty, thankless job and it gets even worse the higher up you go. Add to that the maniac I worked for, and well, there you have it.
Now don’t get me wrong, there were good things about the job, especially for a 20-something. I met a lot of great people, people who became my best friends and still are my best friends. I made it through some wack-a-doodle experiences, and I learned an enormous amount about people and myself. One does that when they tend bar, cook on the line, and watch employees smoke cigarettes in the cooler. It’s a smorgasbord of bad decisions, unruly employees, and fun. I could never, ever work in the restaurant business again, but I am glad for the experiences I had. Even the one I am here to talk about.
One day, around year three I sat down in the back room of the store with the District Manager. I was a shift leader, had been for about a year, and was doing really well. The employees liked me, the managers couldn’t function without me (there was one who routinely forgot where he parked his car), and the Spanish-speaking cooks respected me enough to allow me on the line with them. I was a good, nay great, employee and I was ready to be promoted and they were ready to promote, only one problem: I was fat.
Now I don’t need to remind you that I have always been fat. I had been the same size the day I was hired there as I was the day I was sat down and told that they would love to promote me, but they couldn’t on account of my fatness. That’s a thing that was said to me, while also being told that other shift leaders were also having this talk. There was Jodie who was missing several teeth and was so skinny people sometimes thought she was a drug addict. They didn’t like her image and they told her to work on it and then promoted her. Then there was Kyle, the owner’s nephew, who was also fat. He was told to work on his image (and he did by drinking Bud Light and taking Hyroxycut) and then he was promoted. Here’s the rub, I was told I was fat and then not promoted. Told that I had to show them I was working on losing weight before they would promote me.
Nola told me this. The DM. Now I liked Nola. She was nice and funny and she came around to our store a lot and she was very involved. And I think she liked me too. And I think she was very sad that day she had to have that conversation with me. It came from the top down, and to be fair John didn’t like me for a myriad of reasons, least of all that I was incredibly vocal about all the shortcomings at the store and the with the employees because I wanted the place to do well. But he did see that I was good at what I did, so he was stuck, I guess this little dig was just for him to have fun, maybe “put me in my place” or what not. It worked.
For the next several months I tried to lose weight. I did it blindly. I took what Nola said, which was basically “You’re too fat and we don’t want the customers to think that is on brand with us,” and I tried to get on brand. Now to be clear, I was about 195 pounds during this time. I stayed right around there. I am about 5’5″. I was fat, sure, but I didn’t have to have a wall in my house removed to walk outside or anything like that. And I was smaller and more fit than Kyle and I was actually healthy. I went to the doctor every year for an annual, I was active, but I was incredibly broken down mentally. I was depressed. I was small-minded. I was constantly berating myself. Then here was my job, a thing I was very good at, doing the same thing. Berating me, telling me I was fat, making me sad. But I went along with it.
The short of the story is that I lost about 15 pounds, nothing life changing (Kyle gained weight and was a dumbass, like truly he had a hard time with simple math and Jodie got her teeth fixed, but people hated her and I actually do think she was on drugs) and then they asked me to be a manager and I said no. Their jaws hit the floor of course, but it was the first time I felt like I did the right thing for me. The job was nuts, the hours were crazy, and if they were the kind of people who promoted the likes of Kyle and Jodie, while telling me I was fat, well obviously they were not of sound mind. I got married, got pregnant, and ended up quitting anyway about a year later, but it was nice to look them in the eye and say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” I should have added, “Y’all nuts,” but I didn’t. Also, the store itself was shut down about a year after that. And I did a little happy dance cause I am petty.
So why I am sharing this story today? It’s funny that I have never publicly shared it before. I think a lot of my close friends don’t even know the story, save Kasey and Mel and Jerimiah who were all there when it happened. I think it’s because I was ashamed it happened in the first place, right? I mean I don’t give a fuck that crazy John thought I was too fat (you should hear all the bad things I said about him, ha!) and I’m not even mad at Nola, who later said that conversation with me was the worst thing she ever had to do while she worked for him, which is hard to believe because he had to have sexually harassed her a lot. I’m not even made at Erica, the GM and one of my best friends at the time, who knew it was going to happen and didn’t warn me, instead she left.
The person I am most mad at is myself. I still can’t believe I allowed people to treat me that way. I still can’t believe that I took on others’ words and feelings and ideals of “being on brand” or their damn beauty standards or their distaste for “fat people” and I pushed it deep inside into my core and I tried to appease them. What the actual hell?! Obviously 39-year-old Missy is embarrassed and sad that 20-something Missy did that, but at the same time I didn’t know any better. I had spent my whole life being made fun of, even by people who loved me, being teased at school, being called names because I was chubby or overweight. I didn’t know I could say, “Shut up, you assholes. I’m fine the way I am.”
It was a hard lesson, but I learned it and I am glad that I did and I desperately wish that more fat girls would learn it. Maybe not in the way I did, but just figuring out that you are okay, you are good, you are perfect the way you are and you don’t need to make a change for anyone but yourself. If you are happy at your size, then shine on, girls (or guys). And if you are not happy with your size there is a whole community out there to offer support and help as you set goals and strive for them. But the point is, it is your choice, not anyone else’s. It is your decision how you live your life and don’t buy into this “Fat isn’t healthy” shit, because that’s not true. I was incredibly healthy at about 180 pounds, working out five days a week, busting my ass in the gym, all the while the doctor told me I was good to go, but “fat” according to the charts. They can shove those charts up thy ass, and so can anyone else who has an opinion about my body or my life, right up thy ass.
So, if my fatness offends you, if my fatness makes your life unhappy, if my fatness makes you sad for me, please stop and explore your inner demons, explore what makes you offended by fat people, what makes your life so unhappy, what problems you have to say horrible things to people who are just trying to get by in this life.
And for the love of all that is holy, stop talking about the weight you gained during a global pandemic! This has been a nightmare for a lot of people and you aren’t special, we all made bad decisions just to get by (I watched the entire “Tiger King” series for fuck’s sake) and gaining a little weight isn’t the end of the world and if you treat it as such, if you start to say, “Shut up” to the people who think it is, then life would be better for all of us.