In my little high school clique, I have always had a nickname, Big Tiff. It never bothered me, because there were two girls named Tiffany, myself, and of course Little Tiff. Little Tiff is a full head shorter than I am; I could pick her up and put her in my purse. For twenty years, we have had these secondary monikers, something that just stuck and helps everyone else avoid confusion. One of my other high school friends said to me, “You will always be OUR big girl.” This was accompanied by a hug. I knew how he meant it. I have always been the big girl. I struggle with my weight, it goes up, it goes down. I was getting ready for the annual Halloween Party at Little Tiff’s house, and as a plus sized gal, options can be limited. I read an article about a family that has a little boy who uses a wheelchair, every year they make a special effort to incorporate his wheelchair into his costume in a unique way. One year, he was the Ice Cream Man, complete with a truck with a treat list. While I am not saying that being overweight is the same thing, it is a struggle that I cope with, I try to overcome it, and I have to live with it until I am successful with losing the weight.
I looked at this little boy and I thought “He is actually dressed cooler than any of the kids on his block because of the fact that he has wheels, he is rocking that wheelchair.” It occurred to me that the shape that I was in was also something I could “rock”. I decided to go as my favorite extra=large bombshell, Anna Nicole Smith. I dressed as Anna Nicole back when she was fun, before she was on all the pills that made her look like a skinny cat. I got dressed and went to the party, and for once, instead of cringing when one by one, the photos got published to Facebook, I liked how I looked, I may even go blonde.
I have a few friends that are disabled that are in the entertainment industry. I would get upset when one of my friends was referred to in what I felt was totally inappropriate. What kind of survey do you administer, after all, to determine that someone is “America’s Number One Wheelchair Comedian”? First of all, he does not tell really funny jokes about wheelchairs, second of all, there is no way to quantify who is the funniest unless you take a survey. I also object to “wheelchair bound”. This implies that the person is held hostage by a wheelchair and can never get out of it. I do comedy at the local level, or did, I should say, before I went back to college. “That Fat Female Comedian, the really BIG One” is how I get referred to, at work I’m “The Fat Lady who works Third Shift”. I get the feeling that if I cured Cancer, I would be “the Fat Lady that Cured Cancer”. It bothers me, debases me, makes me feel that no matter what else I am, whatever else I accomplish, until I lose the weight, Fat is what I will always be, before I am anything else. I think of my friends who do not have the option of refuting their labels, shedding their cerebral Palsy or their wheelchairs. “Wheelchair Bound” “Handicapped”. Does it bother them as much as it bothers me? Probably. Can we change language by correcting people so that they describe us the way we want to be described? Probably not. People will package us however they want to. They will slap on a label and it will stick. The trick is to love what is under the label, no matter what form it comes in. Then the label cannot define you, or me. Mae West said “Call me whatever you want, as long as you call me.” Hey! I think I have my costume idea for next year! I can lose enough to be considered “curvy” by next year. “That curvy woman who tells jokes” has a nice ring to it.
Photo courtesy of Kate Gabrielle at Flickr Commons