I have heard in many places and in different contexts, that some of our great power rests in our woundedness, brokenness, un-wholeness, or illness. That the places and things we might most like to reject about ourselves can be transformed in our understanding into places of strength.
And so I find myself wanting to tell you about claiming Whale. Or being claimed by Her, I’m not sure.
Some of the most hurtful things ever said to me involved whales. The worst of these was once someone standing next to me in line saying, “A beached whale like that shouldn’t be allowed to live.”
I was a size 18. Just about five-foot-ten.
Fat bullying has very little to do with anyone’s actual size. Just as internalized fat shame has so little to do with our size. We may experience our bodies as strong, weak, beautiful, ugly, desirable, undesirable, lovable, unlovable, no matter our size.
That said, it is certainly true that I was always at least somewhat—and now a great deal—bigger than my peers. And it is true that the first time I remember being shamed for fatness was when I was about three years old and was told by a member of my family that I “didn’t need” to eat something or other.
I have a photo of myself from 1976, age three, on my prayer altar. It is a perfect photo of a perfect child. A child who would be viciously bullied six ways from Sunday once she started school.
So back to the whale.
Whales are gorgeous. All cetaceans are beautiful in my eyes. And they can be BIG. The gray whale—called the Devilfish for its powerful fighting against whale hunters. The humpback, known for its gorgeous song. And the blue.
The great blue whale can grow to be 110 feet long and weigh up to 200 tons. Hello! The biggest animal ever known to have lived! And we talk about the awesome size of dinosaurs.
And they dive so deeply in their migration, that scientists’ trackers lose them for weeks at a time. The water between here and there is just too deep. I love that!
I love that they are so long and appear sort of stretched, compared to, say, humpbacks or gray whales. I love that they are so huge. They are SO HUGE.
They are huge, graceful, sexual, long-lived, and mysterious.
I am the fattest person I know. I am not sleek or stretched, though I am tall for a woman. But I am graceful when speaking, laughing, or swimming. I am sexual. I hope to be long-lived, and, while I don’t find myself mysterious, apparently some other people have.
The point is that people have used “whale” as a slur, something to throw at me to hurt me.
And it hurt.
For years and years I carried the shame of having been called a whale by my peers. Just as I carried the shame of being spit on. Just as I carried the shame of being taunted and asked in seventh grade, “How come that baby never comes? You’re so big—aren’t you pregnant?” But the worst were the times someone called me names, and worst of all when that name was “whale.”
But these past couple of years, I’ve realized how much power there is in that name-calling. And I mean “name” – “calling.” I feel called by that name. called to deeper understanding and a kind of magical imperative to learn more. More art. More knowledge. More embodiment!
There will be a tattoo on my right arm. It will be inked as soon as there is money to buy it and a place I trust to make it. You know now what it will be.
There she is: A great blue whale, gracefully descending in her long, powerful dive to the depths far below what we can see from shore.