Actor Fran de Leon performed At War with the 15 Year Old Fat Girl in My Head and I was captivated. She shares an intimate story of how you can take the weight off of a girl’s body but you can’t take the mindset out of the woman’s psyche.
Written by Fran de Leon
Two things I can count on at this time of year. When I walk into a mall, I’m going to hear Christmas music blaring from the speakers. When I walk into a family gathering, I’m going hear the 15 Year Old Fat Girl in my head.
Yes, there is a Fat Girl in my head.
You wouldn’t know it if you saw me. You might even be annoyed that I’m talking about weight issues, but I could show you pictures that would explain it all. Still, when the Fat Girl takes over my mouth, I piss off my friends. I come off as insensitive and self-obsessed. I got the red angry face emoji followed by the punch as the response to an incredibly whiney text where I complained about the place where my thigh meets my butt, you know, the “thutt.” I get it. If I was you listening to me, I’d say the same things, but the problem is, it’s the Fat Girl who will answer and she is loud.
She says those typically self-sabotaging things to me, like:
“Don’t go sleeveless, you’ve got armpit boobs.”
“Change your pants, I can see your camel toe. Even your hoo-ha’s fat.”
“Why do you work out so much? You’re thighs are always going to be thick.”
“Don’t bother going over your lines for that audition, they never cast you.”
“Everyone has more sex than you. He must be getting it somewhere else.”
“Do not write this article. You’re going to sound arrogant, reveal too much, be too honest, wake up with a vulnerability hangover in the morning, open yourself up to internet trolls and their mean comments, fall into a shame spiral and feel like absolute and complete shit.”
I told you she was loud.
See, this girl, she’s only fifteen years old, and she doesn’t fully understand what’s going on with her body. She’s always been the skinny kid who could eat anything and not gain anything. But then seemingly overnight, everything starts…growing. Expanding, sidewards and outwards, but not upwards. No, that growing was done. She gets to maintain this 5 foot and a half inch fun-sized stature, but she packs on over thirty pounds in the summer between sophomore and junior year.
It happens so quickly, in fact, that she doesn’t even really notice. But then these raised white marks that look like lightning bolts, start to appear on her brown-skinned thighs and hips. Her bra, which, up until now, is only one step up from a trainer, is pinching her back, suffocating these now full, round, overflowing breasts.
Then at Thanksgiving dinner, she overhears her mom sounding defensive in a conversation with her aunt, saying: “No, no, no, she’s not fat, she’s just…filling out. You know, she’s becoming…womanly.”
Womanly indeed. As evidenced at the next family gathering of the season, when her godmother greets her with open hands, squeezing and bouncing her now D cups, announcing to the room, “Ay, how big!”
And the jerky cousin exclaims, “Oh my god, did you double? It’s like there are two of you!” Or the more empathetic one, whispering with a sad face, “Oh, it’s too bad. You used to be so skinny, no? And now you’re batchoy-batchoy.” Batchoy-batchoy directly translates to “fatso-fatso.”
At Filipino Christmas potlucks, there are no sugar plum fairies handing out social niceties. Just overly frank elves who do not sit on shelves because they’re busy handing out stockings full of cariño brutal. Direct translation, “brutal affection.”
Inside, she’s wishing for Christmas break to end and she can get back to school, even though she’s flunking out of AP Chem and Honors French. Her heart beats so loud and so fast, that she just can’t seem to pay attention in class. She’s got insomnia which means she’s up till 4am and can’t get to school before noon. But that’s okay, because that’s still in time to make it to Carmen Hill’s 5th period Junior English class where she gets herself lost in Edgar Allen Poe, from his necromancy with Annabel Lee to the “tintinnabulation that so musically wells from the bells, bells, bells, bells.” Her heart swells when she feasts her eyes on the blue walls in this cocoon of creativity, adorned with famous artwork painted by students’ hands. DaVinci, Picasso, Mirot, Van Gogh. And her favorite, Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus.” Venus stands so confidently, and doesn’t look like someone who would be scared of family parties. She’s certainly not afraid to stand barefoot and naked on a shell. Sure, she’s modest enough to use her long hair to cover her lady parts, but five will get you ten, there is no fat hoo-ha underneath. So between Venus’ gentle strength and Edgar’s unapologetic darkness, the 15 Year Old Fat Girl finds the courage to write, poetry and prose, words put together to make shit and gold. Here, it doesn’t matter what’s on the outside, it’s about what comes from the inside. It’s about pen and paper – because that’s how we used to write back then.
If only the Fat Girl could hold on to that confidence to get through Christmas Day, then she wouldn’t be hurt when her uncle, a retired surgeon, bellows from across the room, “Ija! Why is your neck so big?” This one stings. This is from the “nice” uncle, the one she always wished was her dad. He beckons her over, wraps his palsy-stricken hand around her neck, holding it tightly for a few awkward seconds. She knows Filipino aunts squeeze boobs, but why is the Filipino uncle squeezing her neck? Finally, he lets go, nods to himself and says, “This child has a thyroid problem.”
She doesn’t know what a thyroid is, much less what it means for it to be problematic. Blood work will show that this gland in her neck is hyper-active, producing too much of its hormones, which was the cause of the insomnia, the lack of focus, the rapid heart rate. But the weight gain is a stumper; the opposite of the usual symptom of weight loss. It’s a little like getting the crappy gift at an already crappy White Elephant.
Nevertheless, like a forgotten present found behind the tree, days past Christmas, the New Year gifts her with the antidote, in the form of sodium-iodide, delivered by a costumed, portly gentleman, as mysterious as Santa. Except this one is a technician, wearing a white hazmat-suit, complete with spaceman helmet. She feels severely under-dressed in her California winter tank-top, shorts and flip-flops in this cocoon of convalescence, where the only artwork on the walls are red and yellow radiation hazard signs. Spaceman Santa opens a combination safe with care so his gloved hands can remove a heavy silver cylindrical object. He places it in front of her, sticks a straw in the middle, and motions for her to drink. She does. It tastes like a melted wheelchair. She’ll have to give the toilet three flushes every time she pees, and stay away from babies and pregnant women for at least three days, which means she’s off the hook for any further gatherings as the sodium-iodide disintegrates and eliminates her thyroid. The last step is the pharmacy, to receive a bottle of small lavender pills: synthetic thyroid. She’s told she needs to take these pills for the rest of her life. She’ll spend the next thirty years rebelling against being tied to medication.
I don’t start to get my body back for another two years, when I learn that if I just stop putting food in my mouth, not only can I drop the numbers on the scale, but I can also stop the 15 Year Old Fat Girl from talking. And when that doesn’t shut her up, Jim Beam in one hand and a can of Coke in the other work just as well as ear plugs. Yet, after three decades of knocking the shit out of my body to try to knock her out of my head, as the season gets festive, her voice becomes ever present. Even after resolving to take my meds, work out regularly and get myself into the healthiest shape I’ve ever been in, when I look in the mirror, it is her I see. It is her voice I try to stop. But, this year, I decided it’s time to do things differently. It’s time to listen to what’s underneath her words and insecurities. It’s time to stop fighting her back. She’s only fighting me because she didn’t have a chance to fight back then. She feels robbed of the opportunity to protect herself, and she’s not going to let it happen again. She doesn’t deserve a shut-down. She deserves my compassion, my support and my love. So this year, I’ll be her sugar plum fairy. I’ll be her Secret Santa. Come Christmas Eve, there will be two presents under the tree just for her. The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, and Botticelli’s Venus, with a card that says “Merry Christmas, to the 15 Year Old Fighter in My Head.”
At War with the 15 Year Old Fat Girl in My Head
About Fran de Leon
Fran de Leon was born in Hollywood and lived her early years in Manila, Philippines before moving back to Los Angeles. When she has to define herself, she’ll say she is an actor, writer, workshop facilitator, and fitness warrior by day; mom, wife, and 3 dog lady by night. Well, actually, she’s all these things, all the time, just maybe not all at the same time.
Her one person show, “Faces of America”, geared to address issues of diversity, has been presented in almost every state including special performances for the United Nations Associations in NYC and LA. Fran and her husband, Colin Cox, are Artistic Directors of Will & Company, dedicated to using theater as a means for social change. During the summer, Fran can be found airport hopping, traveling to colleges with Playfair, an interactive icebreaker for incoming freshmen.
In the Los Angeles theater scene, Fran has performed with the Center Theater Group, South Coast Rep, East West Players, Playwrights’ Arena, and LA’s Music Center On Tour. Past credits include the critically acclaimed “Dogeaters,” “Ruby, Tragically Rotund,” and “Sea Change.” Festival credits include “The Third From the Left” at the New York Fringe, “The Merchant of Venice” at the UK/LA Festival, and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the 6th World Shakespeare Congress.
Fran has taken the mic to tell her stories in the Funny Women Festival, Expressing Motherhood, WordNow, Laugh Riot Grrrl, and Back Story. Learn more about her on the Fran de Leon blog and Facebook page.