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The Chubby One  

            If a chubby girl wears a tight shirt, she won’t be seen as the same girl again. Please… never forget what I just said



Imagine you’re a mechaneches/menaheles/camp director and you receive a call from a mother telling you that her daughter is baruch Hashem recovering from cancer and wants to attend the shabbaton/Bais Yaakov convention/camp trip. But even though her daughter is comfortable wearing a wig among her friends and classmates, the idea of meeting new people who don’t know her story is making her anxious. The mother suggests that her daughter wear a cap atop her wig so no one will notice her wig isn’t her real hair, and that the whole school does, too. This year the “thing” will be caps, perhaps with the GO logo on it… let the other places give out cross-body bags as souvenirs.

It wouldn’t cross your mind to say, “It’s just too complicated,” or “Caps are nebby, the girls won’t go for it,” because you care and you don’t want this girl to be bogged down by her status as a “cancer patient.”

Maybe I shouldn’t be comparing, considering the difference in the situation, but imagine now that the girl didn’t have cancer, but obesity? And that her problem was fitting in, quite literally!

I’m writing from personal experience. I remember those agonizing moments when I went to pick up my camp shirt from the office. The biggest one was size XL, and no, it didn’t close on me. My face became hot, my hands moist. The sweet girl handing out the shirts looked lost; she told me not to worry, that, “We’ll take care of it.”

From the open door of the office, I looked at the swarm of blue outside. I saw girls with trip bags and sneakers and red faces. The smiles and laughter were a slap in the face.

My friends saw me and waved, calling me to join, but I turned around, the tears flowing from my eyes. I felt like a cat caught in the act of eating from a garbage can.

One of the camp directors was summoned, and she quickly got someone to add two inches of material at each side of my shirt. It was done sloppily, with a lot of thread dancing in the wind. I was so self-conscious. I knew everyone was looking at me. It’d happened before — I was no stranger to hurt — so I did what I always did: swallow and pretend it had never happened. But my frustration would soon burst forth. It happened when I went to camp for the last time. I’d lost 70 pounds and was looking great.

When we got our camp shirts, I was nervous. While I’d lost a lot of weight, I still wasn’t skinny (I don’t think I’ll ever be… and that’s fine). I asked for an XL, and, with an increasing sense of dread, I put it on.

The shirts were on the small side, and I was on the big side.

With a few friends pulling at my shirt from different directions, we managed to stretch my stubborn shirt. I wore it, though it was far from comfortable. It rightfully didn’t want to stretch and join the ranks of the obese!

It’s been years, but the pain of those moments has never dulled.

There were a few girls in my bunk who were really overweight, and they didn’t wear a camp shirt. My heart twisted for them. But what made my teeth chatter even in the summer heat was that no one said anything about it or tried to work out a solution. They just stood out among all the camp shirt-wearing campers.

I cornered the director somewhere on the playing fields and took a deep breath. I put my experiences on the table and explained what they did to me.

She had tears in her eyes when I finished.

INan article I read recently, a woman recounted her daughter’s experience in camp. I identified with the point she mentioned: If a skinny girl wears an oversized shirt, no one will even give her a look. But if a chubby girl wears a tight shirt, she won’t be seen as the same girl again. Please… never forget what I just said.

If you’re costume head, or ordering sweaters for a shabbaton, please make sure the bigger girls are not singled out. If you’re working on a chagigah or a special activity for a class that performed well, please make sure you keep these girls in mind. Camp directors, as you plan for Summer 2024, please keep the weight limit in mind before you book certain attractions like ropes courses and zip lines. Think about the chubby girls when you process the applications and make sweatshirt orders for Summer 2024.

One time, my camp brought in a helicopter for a major activity. They told us to pair up to take a ride. When our turn came, we excitedly made our way toward the helicopter. My partner got in first, and I followed. The attendant tried to pull the seatbelt over both of us, but since yours truly didn’t fit, I had to get off and ride by myself. It was clear to all that I was “heavy cargo.”

After the helicopter and camp shirt episodes, my camp director saw the situation and took action. She reached out to the mothers of overweight girls and asked them if they thought their daughters would be able to participate in a certain activity. When the answer was no, she canceled it. Only Hashem can repay her for all she’s done.


What I wish people would understand…

People who are overweight are still a part of society, and we also like style. And yes, we want and need to fit in more than ever. Don’t think because so many layers cover us… a heart doesn’t beat in there!

What I wish I could say…

What does it take to make sure there will always be a few shirts that cater to the chubby girls? Make that up to a 6X! All it takes is a few calls to the manufacturer, and all should be set.

I wish people would:

Not stay indifferent. Instead of saying, “Phew… glad it’s not me,”  do something about this. Try to visualize our pain, and perhaps, with this newfound understanding, you will be able to bring about change. After all, as Yidden, we are one!


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 872)

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