The label ‘fat girl’

Sasha Mignoli (right) hanging out with her friends in her apartment. Photo by Alina Voronenko

Sasha Mignoli (right) hanging out with her friends in her apartment. Photo by Alina Voronenko

“You’re horrible!!!”

“How could you say those things to a human being?”

Sasha Mignoli yelled as she stood by a group of boys sitting outside the Dining Hall. A small crowd of witnesses could tell that something has set the 5’7″, 186 pound sophomore off.

“It’s because of ignorant people like you that others struggle with self-esteem issues… d–k bag.”

A small crowd watched on, but not the girl that just walked by between Sasha’s table and the guys. This girl was the main subject for the boys to make fun off. This girl had a label and it was, “fat girl”.

“Look at how big her thighs are. Why is she eating, she sure doesn’t need more food. I wonder how many Mc-nuggets it took to form that body,” the boys said.

Sasha, who wants to be known by her first name, sat back down, infuriated with the ignorance, angry with reality and filled with memories… unpleasant memories of her day, the day she was labeled the “fat girl”.

Sasha’s childhood memory

The day came. First day of high school. For Sasha it was like facing a phobia.

“First year of high school sucks. Doesn’t matter if you are skinny, it just sucks. But it really sucked being overweight,” Sasha said.

Weight Watchers, no carb diets, Nutro System, Jillian Michaels workout DVD’s and even going to see a therapist for nutrition were options that Sasha already experienced in trying to lose weight. But she wasn’t ready and the weight did not come off.

Sasha Mignoli preparing dinner in her kitchen. Photo by Alina Voronenko

Sasha Mignoli preparing dinner in her kitchen. Photo by Alina Voronenko

“Daunting,” Sasha said.

Daunting High School.

Sasha was self-conscious and her peers took aim at her weakness.

“I was an easy target,” she said. “I was mentally, verbally, physically abused the whole time. Bullying after bullying, I never got a break… it never stopped.”

She walked the halls marked as the fat kid. They knew it and she knew it.

“I was known as Sam’s sister but I wanted to be known as Sasha.” She wants to be known as Sasha because all her life she was known for something other than her first name.

She was lonely. She didn’t feel pretty. She didn’t fit in because she weighed 260 pounds.

“I was so unhappy with my life,” Sasha said.

The unhappiness was patched up with tears. Sitting in her room and crying. Crying herself to sleep. Sometimes crying in the shower. Crying alone.

National epidemic

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity in America has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. In North Carolina, 13.4 percent of adolescents are obese and 15 percent of children are obese. Among the 50 states, North Carolina is ranked 29th in obesity as a state while Minnesota is the least obese state.

Losing weight is something Sasha became aware of at age five. She started noticing she looked different than her parents. Her parents and siblings had flat bellies. Living near a beach, kids also had flat bellies but not Sasha. Sasha looked different.

Sasha started to experience her parents giving her altered food and talk about healthier eating habits. Hinting on what should and shouldn’t be eaten was an increased topic. The biggest hint came wrapped up in gift boxes.

“It would look so much better if you were skinny,” grandma said when Sasha put on a pink dress that grandma bought for her 8th grade graduation.

When she celebrated a birthday or went school shopping, her family would buy her clothes that were usually a size too small.

“Little hints like that my whole life tore my confidence to the ground,” Sasha said.

“This is it,” Sasha murmured as she sat in her room alone, drained from all the tears, staring at a corny video she just watched 12 times. The video showed obese teenagers at a boot camp exercising and losing weight and Sasha kept envisioning herself there.

Sasha googled “fat camps” for teenagers. It is a common term used when referring to teenage weight loss. Today, there are a number of such camps teenagers can attend and Sasha chose The Wells Spring Camp in New York.

“This is it,” Sasha said.

That was the camp that would transform her life. Her big decision to attend the summer camp for obese teenagers brought the kind of support Sasha was looking for. She rallied her family including her church to help raise the money to pay for the camp and right after that to attend a full year of boarding school for weight loss.

Sasha Magnoli ran 4,890 miles in her first pair of sneakers. Photo by Alina Voronenko

Sasha Magnoli ran 4,890 miles in her first pair of sneakers. Photo by Alina Voronenko

The cost to attend both was $10,000 and $70,000, respectively.

“They were buying me a life style that I wanted,” Sasha said.

And she was terrified. Terrified of the unknown process.

“I couldn’t let them [family] down. I didn’t have any workout clothes. I remember going to Old Navy and I was a double XL in everything. I never owned a pair of sneakers before. The money thing scared me too,” Sasha said.

The anxiety of failure scared Sasha enough to doubt herself but not enough to quit. Sasha lost 87 pounds in her transformation process but more importantly she has become strong psychologically.

“I have control over my own body,” Sasha said. “That gave me the confidence to go to school.”

The confidence grew because she was finally seen for who she really was.

“After I lost the weight I broke that label,” Sasha said.

Today Sasha feels empowered over her body and has eliminated the fear of returning to obesity. She said she feels like she is in control over her weight and that “fat camp” has equipped her with tools to live a lifestyle that she can be happy with.

Yet, Sasha still has to deal with conversations about obesity from her parents, peers, friends and society. She avoids working out in public places like the rec on campus because she feels judged for not being “skinny”.

The hyped conversations of weight loss is something Sasha is learning to deal with even though she is happy with her body. She is working with her family to veer them in a different direction then talking about weight loss every time she visits home.