I heard the short, monosyllabic word pierce the virtual meeting as the other WFH-forever humans in their tiny, rectangular boxes asked if I would be up for taking on another task. “No. I don’t have the bandwidth.” Silence. And not like the kind where a slow internet makes the window freeze. The surprising kind. The kind I haven’t heard before. My face flushed as, I believe, that might have been the first time I’ve ever accounted for my own needs over anyone else’s.
I’ve always been a people-pleaser. A soft-spoken, amicable, happy person with an undying need to be the smartest, funniest, kindest, most trusted person [in the] room; a semi-positive affliction that has made it really easy for me to gain responsibility, opportunities and reliability in any friend group, relationship, gathering and work settingI’ve ever entered. But it’s also the kind of personality trait that clings to overly-ambitious yeses, which come with being taken advantage of. As a plus-size woman, I have let friends, co-workers, strangers, partners say the most fatphobic things around me without batting an eyelash for fear of ruffling feathers or making the friend group feel awkward. I am kind to a fault with my mental and emotional health teetering the line with every favor, late night work session, or out-of-line comment. I’ve said yes to things I shouldn’t have, because:
I don’t want them to be upset with me.
I want to do a good job.
I don’t want to miss an opportunity.
I don’t want to lose a friend.
If I don’t, I’ll lose it all.
Then COVID-19 happened. A whirlwind of resets, start overs, goodbyes, #quarantine15, eyerolls, #coronadiets, and other anxieties added on to our collective trauma. I watched memes roll in about gaining weight, losing weight, Adele’s weight loss, and indoor detoxes while I checked my phone each morning for the latest update on the world outside my studio apartment in New York City. Should we wear different masks? Gloves? Oh, an ad for shedding quarantine weight? Even during a pandemic, thinness kept its grip on our socially-distant zeitgeist while we all found ways to cope, cry, bake, mourn and long for our other lives. And I, the people-pleaser, found myself less motivated to worry about anyone but myself when confronted with a pandemic. I couldn’t hold it all up anymore. I have been conditioned to give 500% since I was a child, and it’s just now I’m starting to realize why.
You see, being kind, saying yes, and overachieving isn’t just a nice thing I do because it makes me feel good . . . maybe it’s about 70% of that. I know that as a plus-size person, my options are limited — a harsh realization that swims through my brain on a constant basis. Clothing, representation, being treated respectfully by a doctor, getting a job, a raise, a decent character on TV whose entire storyline isn’t about her size is not the the norm (honestly, why can’t I have a plus-size romcom where the joke isn’t this would only happen in an alternative universe?). And now, a pandemic has changed our daily lives and we still can’t find our way out of diet culture grips. My kindness, my concern, my ability to take on more with a straight face has also adjusted to a new normal, and it’s less agreeable.
Even if it wasn’t for the “I feel fat” comments from thin friends, the “in order to be happy, you have to lose weight” from doctors, the “she looks sloppy” mentions from past co-workers referring to a plus-size candidate wearing the same trends as everyone else with a ’90s-inspired Pinterest board, I would be privy to this added pressure of being better by being a chubby child with a well-intentioned family who knew how the world treats fat people. They taught me to be as perfect as I could knowing there would be obstacles I would face if I was lazy . . a word used to describe fat people for simply existing. There was even a moment I can vividly remember as a child where I was crying at a family function — for whatever reason a child would cry — and I heard a relative say, “Ohp! Better watch that. You can’t be chubby and uncooperative.”
A crystal clear message tattooed on my tiny, little psyche: If I was going to be anyone, do anything, get anywhere with this chubby body I was going to have to say yes, work harder, be amicable, and never complain.
We’re in a time where letting go and starting fresh feels like the only positive to come out of watching infection rates and death toll increases. I’ve been running so fast for so long, walking on a high-wire of my kindness, the yeses, the fear of being dismissed for my size, that it’s getting in the way of actually being happy — a consciousness that is just now hitting me in a time where all my actions, conversations, moments happen through a tiny box on the internet.
I am a student of my own experience, but maybe in this new normal where we need to look harder for our happiness, it’s about time I learn a new lesson. So, I said no. And I’m going to continue to say no.
No looks like a lot of things right now:
No, I won’t work on Saturday.
No, I can’t come to your masks-on rooftop party.
No, I don’t want to get on another Zoom.
No, I’m not going to follow people on Instagram who make me feel bad.
But yeses have been much sweeter:
Yes, I will wake up early and take long walks before work.
Yes, I will paint and watch RuPaul’s DragRace with my phone off.
Yes, I am going to eat pasta again.
Yes, I’m going to wear the same spandex today.
Yes, I’m going to take a day for myself.
Yes, I want to spend the weekend sitting on the stoop with my grandma even if she is 6 feet away.
I realize, the more I say yes to the things that don’t matter, the less time I have on what does. And right now, all I want to do is spend time on the things that make me happy instead of forcing myself into amiability out of fear of losing it all. We have all lost something in this time. I’m okay with losing all the yeses in favor of a new outlook of no.
Laura Delarato is a very cool weirdo with 11 tattoos, an extensive art supply collection, and an obsession with the 90s. In her 9-5 life, Laura is a creative director at Vox Media working on the Vox Creative team; building some amazing branded content projects! In her 5-9 life, she spends her time writing her newsletter 1-800-HEYLAURA, being the CEO of red lipstick, and writing her upcoming book out in 2022 for Chronicle Books. Follow her on Instagram where she creates content on inclusivity, personal wellness, representation, and self-love.