Writer: Alysse Dalessandro | Recently, it was National Best Friend Day and I know that there’s a national day for everything from donuts to dogs but I still think it’s important to celebrate friendship especially fat friendship. Learning to value friendship in the same regard as romantic love has transformed my life. For a long time, I grew up believing that I would only be fulfilled or seen as valuable if I had a romantic partner. I spent my time as a fat pre-teen dreaming that I would one day have a boyfriend who loved me despite what I believed at the time to be flaws.
I think this narrative is one we see quite often. We see fat-shaming often responded to with ‘but look at my hot husband/boyfriend.’ Despite how infrequently we are shown this in the media, people of all sizes date and love people of all sizes and a visual representation for this, such as the recently viral engagement photos of Mzznaki Tetteh and Kojo Amoah, are certainly an important reminder. The persistence of “and I can’t even get a text back” memes that exist when fat women are shown in some way to be desired demonstrates that this representation is still not the norm. The joke is predicated on the idea that fat woman shouldn’t be loved or be desired. And while this is certainly a problem on its own, I also reject the idea that one’s beauty or worth is only justified by the more conventional attractiveness (or thinness) of their partner. Fat women with significant others are no more valuable than their single counterparts. Fat doesn’t mean ugly and single doesn’t mean sad. Let’s just get that straight.
In my own life, romantic love has always been something that has been wildly inconsistent mostly because I used to look outside myself for validation. I believed that having a romantic partner would mean I was a person worth loving before I ever took the time to see that I am a person worthy of love all on my own. My love for myself shouldn’t change whether or not I have a plus one at parties but for a long time it did. I let a lot of unworthy people into my life so I didn’t have to sit with what I thought it meant to be alone. I spent years blaming myself for my failed relationships until I finally realized that my worth will never be determined by someone else’s feelings towards me. And that sometimes two individuals just aren’t a good fit.
These days, romantic love is still important to me but I don’t hold it in the same esteem that I once did. I realized that mutuality, love and support can come from all kinds of relationships and that one person can’t be expected to fill every role. In my own life, one of the most personally fulfilling and supportive relationships I have is with my best friend of 14 years, Kristen.
In many ways, our lives are intertwined in the same way that romantic partners tend to be. Kristen and I have lived in three different states together and we share ownership of a dog. Kristen makes me feel appreciated, safe and supported. When I turned 16, Kristen spent her lunch hour filling my car with balloons and streamers to surprise me. When I had to go to the emergency room in Chicago, it was Kristen who sat by my side for 12 hours and listen to me complain until I was finally seen by a doctor. When I got word that my Grandpa was in his final hours, it was Kristen who rented a car and drove 8 hours with me so I could be there for his last breath. I’ve shared more tears and more laughs with Kristen than probably anyone else in my life.
Kristen and I regularly get asked if we are twins even though we think we look nothing alike. Maybe it’s because we are both short with dark brown hair, but I’ve always thought it had something to do with us both being fat and confident. Through 14 years of friendship, Kristen and I have both worn clothing everywhere from a size medium when we first met at 15 to the size 2X we both wear now. And though our bodies are shaped differently, we have learned over the years in our own individual ways to love our bodies and be kind to ourselves at every size.
Many of our experiences as fat women are the same: we’ve both encountered medical bias at the doctor and been fat shamed in the workplace. And because of the public nature of what I do, Kristen has been trolled and harassed on the internet for being visibly fat. Even when we don’t go through the same things, we are able to relate to each other. I remember the rage I felt when Kristen was told on a first date to eat almonds to reduce her belly fat. Kristen was there for me the first time I needed to ask for a seatbelt extender on a plane without me having to explain my anxiety. When my hips didn’t fit into any of the rides at the top of the Stratosphere in Las Vegas, Kristen got off with me and suggested we get a caricature drawing instead to lift my spirits.
I don’t find myself having to explain to Kristen why I am upset in the same way that some of my straight size friends or romantic partners have required in order to be sympathetic. Maybe that’s because Kristen knows me so well after 14 years or maybe it’s just because some of the other people in my life haven’t had to think about the reality of being a fat woman in a society that would rather we didn’t exist. This is not to say that straight size folks can’t be great allies and support someone through something that they don’t deal with firsthand but there’s something I appreciate about being understood through shared experience.
So while National Best Friend Day only comes around once a year and there are still so many more days designed to hold up romantic partnerships, I choose to lift up and celebrate my fat best friend as much as I can. I no longer spend my time feeling sorry for myself for not having a romantic partner. Instead, I recognize how lucky I am to have all of the amazing friendships in my life including a fat best friend who totally gets me.