I have been insecure about my body for almost the entirety of my existence. I can remember the moment in elementary school in which my non-thin body was pointed out to me, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
Unfortunately, my experience with body image issues is not at all unique. Anywhere from 40% to 60% of elementary-aged girls are concerned about their weight, and 78% of 17-year-olds are “unhappy with their bodies.”
Singer and songwriter Maddie Zahm’s new song “Fat Funny Friend” perfectly encapsulates this all too common yet extremely isolating experience that existing in a body outside of societal standards entails. Her raw honesty shines a fresh light on the obsessive and lonely nature of trying to force your body to fit in.
The first line of Zahm’s song reads “I break the ice, so they don’t see my size.” This line is almost soul crushing. It subtly points out the need to deflect social attention, to move to something more socially acceptable to be well received because a bigger body size is unacceptable in our modern, weight-obsessed culture.
This need to deflect is a psychological one. “Better if they laugh with me than at me,” as one study puts it. Women cope with the social disapproval of their weight by resorting to humor because being the “fat, funny, friend” is an entirely real phenomenon. But even though we can be funny, it doesn’t make us feel any more valued.
Lines later in the song, the dehumanizing nature of being fat strikes listeners again as Zahm sings “can’t be too proud, can’t think I’m pretty” in the chorus. Again, I’m grateful for the shared experience while still feeling so hurt because of that experience.
I like to feel good about myself. I really do. I love dressing up and feeling pretty, getting a new haircut and painting my nails. That’s all extremely superficial, I know. But I do those things to improve myself yet I feel no different because my continued lack of social acceptance often takes away from any of the pride in my appearance that I want to feel.
Fat people are consistently told that they aren’t worthy of feeling good in any capacity. If they aren’t following the newest diet fad or obsessively exercising then they can’t feel pretty.
Zahm then hits us with the line “Do they keep me around, so their flaws just seem silly?” I’ve often questioned why my friends are friends with me. Am I the token fat friend? Do I make them feel better about themselves? Or is it genuine? Of course I love all of my closest friends deeply. But that doesn’t stop the doubt that I’ve acquired because of societal standards.
If you thought I was crying before, just wait. Zahm’s outro of the song reads “I've drawn out in Sharpie where I'd take the scissors,” conveying the idea that there are parts of her body she’d remove to feel better and fit the standard. This is the first line in the song where I haven’t been able to literally relate, but I still feel the mental depths of it like no other.
Zahm brings to light something that a lot of fat people do in the dark, mentally critiquing their bodies to fit the standard, continuing the obsessive and lonely cycle of not being up to par. I’ve had countless run-ins with my mirror. Almost every time, it’s the same game of sucking in, posing differently and prodding and squeezing my body until I feel even worse.
Being fat can feel insanely isolating. But Zahm’s song focuses on an almost universal experience among the plus-size community and allows people unfamiliar with the fat, funny, friend experience to have some more empathy.
Fat people deserve a valued place in society just as much as the next person. While it feels good to know that I have a community of listeners to relate to, society needs to do better.
Elizabeth Valadez (she/her) is a freshman studying English and political science. She is a member of Chi Alpha.