I have never, ever been a small girl. On the day I was born I weighed more than ten pounds. As a young child, I was constantly being told to stand up straight and suck my tummy in so that I looked thinner. I started wearing a bra in third grade because I was told my curvy body was starting to distract boys. In middle school, kids would moo at me during gym class. I wore double digit sized clothing by fifth grade, and shopped in the Misses size section of stores, while all of my cute, tiny friends got to wear Juniors sizes. I have always felt like the token “fat friend.” In school, boys didn’t really look at me all that much. Sure, I dated a couple of people, but more often than not, we were “better off just being friends.” My sister, who was thinner than me, had no trouble getting people’s attention.
Diet culture and fat shame have always very much been a part of my life. I remember being on SlimFast and Weight Watchers with my mom as early as fourth grade. I had to wear clothes that covered me up and left the unsightly parts of me as a mystery. I truly believe that when my mom bought me gym memberships and encouraged me to try new fad diets with her, that she had the best of intentions. She felt like she was helping me feel happier and more acceptable by reminding me to be different… better. But all I really heard… from my mom, the boys at school, my friends, magazines, everyone… was that what I looked like and who I was, as a person, was bad. If I were just thinner, I would BE better. I would lie in bed and punch myself in the stomach, leaving bruises on my body, thinking that maybe I could physically beat my body into submission. I lived my life as an apology for taking up so much space.
A couple of years ago, I came across a picture of myself in a bathing suit on vacation with my family in the summer of ’94. I was sixteen and at a peak moment of self-loathing and anxiety. But you know what is absolutely crazy? I realized, all of that time time that I spent being told I was fat… that I WASN’T fat! I had an amazing, glorious curvy girl figure. Yes, I would still be considered plus size by industry standards, but my word, when I look back now… I was HOT! But the truth is, I hated that girl with every fiber of my being. I truly believed she was nothing.
After college, getting married, and moving far from home, my body changed a lot. Partially because of choices I made, and partially because I was just getting older and my body was changing. I gained a lot of weight. I had to accept what I thought was defeat and shop at plus size stores. I would have conversations with my mom where she would ask, “Don’t you wish you looked like you did back when you were (random size and time that was once unacceptable)?” “Do you really wear things like that to work?” I would hear from other loved ones that “So and so lost a lot of weight. They look so good…” internally hearing that I must look awful, then. I would probably always be unacceptable.
Over the last few years, the body positive movement has taken the social world by storm. At first, I was a little skeptical. How could anyone ever cause society to change long-held beliefs about size being connected to worth? But as body positive girls started making more noise, I started listening and wondering. My students at school had been telling me when I joked about it, “You’re not fat. You’re beautiful.” What if it was possible to be fat AND beautiful. I stared reading books by Jes Baker and Lindy West, started following body positive Instagrams like Anna O’Brien, Tess Holliday, and Gabi Fresh, and reading all the body positive blogs I could find. Slowly, but surely, retraining my brain was having a huge effect on me. I began fearlessly dressing in what I WANTED to wear, no matter what other people thought. I was able to love louder and show a greater sense of empathy to other people. And I was able to see myself, not as a mistake or an apology, but someone who was glorious and creative, fearless and colorful, and someone that was WORTHY of being seen.
About a year ago, I started seeing a therapist regularly. One of the things that we have been discussing a lot lately is that, the pain of what I felt the first forty years of my life is bad… but what if, strangely, that pain was part of me that created to help me be a champion for others? What if the negative self talk and feeling impossibly flawed for so long was the vehicle that I needed to see and love people who felt unnoticed and marginalized themselves? By learning to radically love myself, I have been learning how to radically love other people. I want to shout at people. I want to hug them so hard. I want to shake them until they believe… “YOU ARE ENOUGH RIGHT NOW, JUST AS YOU ARE!!!”
This picture was taken in a photo shoot I did with my photographer friend, Michelle, at IKEA. I was talking about how much I loved this vanity and she asked me to sit down so she could take a couple of shots. Then she asked me to really look at myself, and then tell myself all the things I really love about me. All of a sudden, I was shaken. I had made so much progress on what I thought was body positivity, but that was just HARD. My head immediately filled with the dialogue I had spent forty years building up in my heart. I couldn’t tell myself nice things, right?! I panicked!
But then, I started to breathe a little deeper. I noticed by thick hair, that I have always loved, sprinkled with the silver tinsel that comes from life experience and wisdom. I noticed my cheekbones, that I once thought were weird, contribute to a great contour with no assistance from makeup. I noticed my eyes that SEE people and offer kindness and compassion to those who often feel marginalized. And I noticed my body, my FAT body, that I used to hate so very much, but I have learned to give grace and space to be loved.
I can’t really ever replace the dialogue in my head that is stored there. It’s part of me, as much as anything else. I can’t stop people from thinking that I am still unacceptable as a fat lady. However, I can stop apologizing for taking up space, and embrace myself, exactly as I am right now. I can’t change certain people’s minds about how I SHOULD be, but I can stand up for myself and allow me to be who I WANT to be. I can be authentic, and kind, and empathetic and truly me. I just wish that I could go back in time and remind my sixteen year old self that she is freaking amazing… just the way she is.