I Couldn’t Love Myself at Fat Camp, But I Fell for Her

Devil’s Lake, Oregon, in summer, photo credit Bonnie Moreland

My weight was the highest it had ever been. I felt as though I was drowning in fat. I thought that fat camp would finally “fix” me and mold me into someone lovable.

One of my roommates at camp was Catalina, who I thought seemed so damn cool. She had gorgeous long blonde hair and had pictures hung up of her from when she was skinnier. I was in the age 17-25 female group. These were women who had been trying for years to lose weight and keep it off, never having long-term success. I was ready to be starved and pushed beyond my limits. I’d do anything to achieve my goals.

The first full day we got to go in the pool. The cold water against my skin was a great reprieve from the summer heat. Later, we were expected to play running games like suicides—or sprints—after only having eaten another two small meals. With the sun burning down on me, I thought I was going to pass out. I already started to wonder what the hell I was doing there.

Catalina and I were glued to the hip. We bonded over our love for partying and our obsession with boys. We decided since we wanted to lose weight that we’d walk an extra two miles a day on top of everything that was required at camp. We woke up at the crack of dawn to walk our extra miles. 

The days dragged by, each filled with a deficit of food and too much working out. After our breakfast of sugar-free oatmeal that was plopped on our plate as though we were in prison, we met with a nutritionist. She was a petite brown-haired woman in her 20’s who pushed a starvation diet. She droned on during classes about nutrition. I drifted in and out of focus during class, as if I were losing my cognitive functioning. I dreamed of juicy cheeseburgers and chocolate-filled brownies while she taught us about maximizing protein intake. 

After the first grueling week of fat camp —full of desperate suicide sprints and flavorless chicken — we celebrated the fourth of July. I had brought a sexy black dress that was laced like a corset; the bottom rested at the center of my thighs and it was so tight it looked painted-on. I wore black to hide my “fat rolls.” I wouldn’t dare wear a color like pink or blue with a dress so tight because it showed every roll, despite the fact that I preferred color. It was a little looser going on than two weeks prior, so I was feeling about as good in my dress as I was going to be considering how filled I had been with self-hatred. 

There were fireworks later that night and Catalina and I sat in the grass with people from the camp surrounding us, but they felt a million miles away. The sweat beaded where my dress met my legs. Still, that didn’t stop us from plopping down right next to each other, sweaty thighs pressed up against one another. She wore a bright blue tank top that hugged her banging curves, with a beautiful silver dangle necklace that rested in the center of her chest, and a grey skirt. Despite being larger than me, I admired that she wasn’t afraid to be bold with her attire. 

While the fireworks were going off, Catalina slipped her hand into mine and left it there. A shortness of breath came over me. I wondered why my hands tingled and the sensation made its way through my body (We’re just friends, right?). I swallowed hard, unsure of what exactly these tingles meant, but having a hunch. At least my boyfriend was pretty sure I was straight. He thought it was just girlish fun when I kissed girls during drunken nights. I couldn’t say the same. Having grown up with Catholic grandparents, there was a pit of fear in my stomach urging me to step away from her. They weren’t homophobic themselves, but the religion itself left little wiggle room to be queer.

I couldn’t. My hand rubbed against hers and the softness of her skin overwhelmed me. I had been kissing girls for years, but that was always when I was intoxicated. Here, in the middle of the cornfields of NY, I was touching a girl stone cold sober, as we couldn’t sneak a damn thing into fat camp. Definitely not something with calories. It felt more “real.”

Nuzzling into her shoulder, I wanted to stay there forever. The fruity smell of either her hair or her perfume came over me. It made me want to cuddle into her further. (My boyfriend definitely doesn’t smell like this.) A small pang of guilt rolled in my stomach. I brushed it off.

A boom and a burst went into the air and broke me out of my trance for just a moment. “Wow, these are gorgeous,” I mumbled, then was entranced again by our hands touching.

I had been taking a million pictures at camp with my disposable camera. It was 2010, and even this was old for the times. While we were snuggled up, I grabbed my camera laying in my grass by my side and snapped some photos of us holding hands and sticking our tongues out that I still have to this day. (Just fun, like when I drink, right?) Now I know it was far from it, I was having genuine feelings for her.

When the fireworks ended, we untangled ourselves from each other. I suddenly became aware there was a world around us and became self-conscious, thinking someone may make a comment. Neither did anyone say anything to us, nor were there judging eyes that I could see. 

It would take me at least six more months to realize that it wasn’t just girlish fun and that I actually was not straight. 



Ginelle Testa is a queer writer who explores feminism, body acceptance, Buddhism, mental health, and sobriety.


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