Today, I feel like telling you about my personal journey with weight, self-image, and being a woman in a highly judgmental world.
It’s not a sad story. I’m not about to tell you that I battled an eating disorder, or that I hated myself when I was a teenager. None of that happened. But there’s a good chance something like that crossed your mind when I said “my personal journey,” and that just goes to show you how prevalent those problems are.
First of all, what is the Body Positivity Movement? Well, in its essence, it’s a bunch of people saying that they deserve decency and respect no matter what their bodies look like. I’ve put a picture of Lizzo above because I think of her as the face of this movement in a lot of ways. She has more than earned the fame and adoration that she’s recently gained, and she has been completely unapologetic about how she looks–and how much she loves herself. Her biggest hits, “Truth Hurts” and “Good as Hell” are incredibly uplifting songs, and of course I’m a big fan of anyone who spreads self-love like that.
So, back to me. How do I fit into the movement?
The answer is: not especially.
My non-tragic backstory is this… Starting at puberty, I spent my formative years being very skinny. I didn’t exercise or eat any particular way; I didn’t even think about it. That was just the natural form I took. In fact, when I was a senior in high school, I actually lost a little weight when I was taking P.E, and my parents gently confronted me about it. I was sort of befuddled at their concern, because my weight was never on my mind. I was healthy, and nothing had changed except for the light exercise. It was just that they knew what I didn’t at the time (I was pretty oblivious at that age), which was that young girls are extremely vulnerable to eating disorders.
But I was fine, and life went on, and I still didn’t give my weight any thought. But I did like being thin. That’s worth pointing out. Thinness is the standard for beauty in the western world, without a doubt. I was also coasting on a lot of privilege, being white, Christian, and upper middle class. I was 5’6″ and about 118 lbs. Life was pretty sweet, and I was just a little bit vain.
You know who’s the same age as me? Demi Lovato. And there was a girl who didn’t have a happy wave to ride through her adolescence. As it turns out, society treats not-skinny people, especially women, and especially celebrities, like absolute shit. I didn’t know a thing about this, because it wasn’t happening to me. Demi has struggled and overcome more than I can imagine, including surviving an overdose in 2018.
Recently, on an episode of Ellen, she opened up about how much she had been “managed” by her former team, who had gone so far as to remove the phones in her hotel rooms to prevent her from ordering room service, as well as not allowing her to have a birthday cake for several years. Listening to her talk about overcoming an eating disorder that had been encouraged by her own people, listening to the pure joy in her voice when she said her new manager got her a real cake for her 27th birthday… I mean, what can I say to that? She suffered so unnecessarily.
Her newest song, “I Love Me,” was a beautiful triumph over a struggle that way too many women face every single day.
Back to me again. It wasn’t until I was about 25–by then already happily married and settled–that something changed. Gradually, almost unnoticeably, I gained ten pounds. At the time, I was dealing with a bout of depression (that I did eventually work through), so I figured stress was to blame. That was when I got on anxiety meds, which improved my mental state, but also made me gain more weight as a side effect.
And this was the first time in my life that I felt weird about my body. I honestly couldn’t believe it. I had never been self-conscious before; I had never had a self-esteem issue, ever. (And I’ve come to realize how incredibly uncommon that is. Believe me, from what I’ve learned, low self-esteem is actually the norm).
(A norm I want to change).
So I found myself with a brand new strain of anxiety that my meds were actually worsening. An anxiety tied to my weight. Here’s how I handled it: I kept taking my medication.
As uncertain as I was, I understood that my mental health was the priority, and my depression had nothing to do with my self-image. You can only eat an elephant one bite at a time, and the first elephant I needed to get through was getting my brain back on track. And being married to a pharmacist has its merits–the cardinal rule of taking any medication is you don’t just stop.
Now, I did eventually make the decision to get off the medicine (about a year later), and it was the right choice for me, but I want you to understand, many people need to take meds for anxiety/depression indefinitely, and there is no shame in that. Everyone needs to do what’s best for themselves. It’s between you and your doctor.
But over the course of this whole experience–about two years from then to now–I gained approximately thirty pounds. You can see the difference in the pictures above, the left being from 2018, and the right being from a month ago. At my heaviest, I was about 150 lbs. I never changed the way I ate; I never changed anything, so I didn’t really understand why I was gaining. What it took me way too long to realize is that 150 is actually a completely normal weight for someone who’s 5’6″. But the way women are conditioned in this society, if the numbers on the scale are steadily rising, that means you are losing your beauty!
Supermodels are a good example. Some of them are so thin, it almost doesn’t look natural. (The industry is getting better about discouraging unhealthy/dangerous eating habits, but for a while there, it was pretty damn guilty of that sort of thing).
Now, one thing I love is to watch these videos that Vogue puts on Youtube about how models start their days and get ready for big runway shows. One thing that a lot of them have in common, I’ve noticed, is that they say they were often scouted at the age of 14-15 years old. That’s when they started their careers. So a lot of models you see on the runways are not grown women. They’re kids who are naturally thin, just like I was.
I’m not going to sit here and bash supermodels. They’re very hardworking and committed young men and women. But they are generally only that one body type, and it’s important to realize that.
I’ve adamantly practiced self-love my entire life, and the feeling that my sex appeal was somehow fading…that was a foreign and completely unwelcome feeling. It certainly didn’t feel like me. And I was constantly at war with myself for that reason. Was I out of control? I didn’t know. The cause was still an overall mystery, which was highly frustrating.
I made a mental pros and cons list of the changes I was experiencing–classic me. I do that with everything. And there were pros, mind you.
For one thing, I liked the way it filled out my face. I’d never realized it before, but looking back at pictures when I was super skinny, to me, I looked 13 years old. Which I can’t say I liked very much. I’m 27. I’d like to look grown. And I do now.
Another big pro was that I was healthy. Steadily healthy, all the way through. Even when I was walking around looking like a human stick-insect, I was never underfed, never sickly or malnourished. And nothing about that changed.
The cons were very mild, now that I have some perspective. I needed to go up a size or two in my jeans (not fitting into your jeans is such a shitty feeling). My boobs got bigger–you’d think that would be a silver lining, but I actually found it pretty annoying. I got stretch marks on my thighs (which bothered me a lot less than I might have expected; seriously, who cares? Who’s gonna stand there and judge my thighs?). The one I disliked most was having some squish on my once-flat tummy.
Charli Howard is a woman with a similar body type to mine. She was a model who ended up rebelling against the standards of the industry and instead embraced her natural curves. She empowered herself enough through it, in fact, that she started her own skincare line called Squish.
I belong in the Body Positivity Movement at about the same capacity as Charli. She’s not supermodel thin, but she’s not fat either. I mean, for all the 30 lbs I gained, I literally just transitioned from ‘small’ to ‘medium.’ And for all the inner turmoil I put myself through, I never had to face public disrespect or a restricted access to clothing, something legitimately fat people deal with all the time.
Note: I’m using the word ‘fat’ here, and it’s not by accident. It’s not a rude word. The fat community has made a point to reclaim the term. It is not synonymous with ‘ugly,’ and if you use it that way, it’s because fatphobia has been so ingrained into us as a culture.
(As you learn these things, it’s your job to unlearn the prejudices you’ve been trained to have).
Our world is very harsh to people who look more like Lizzo. It’s really downright abusive. Lizzo herself gets all kind of shit from people who say she’s “promoting obesity” and other such nonsense. It’s ridiculous. She’s literally an athlete–you basically have to be to go on tour, doing those physically demanding shows over and over. Lizzo is strong. Lizzo could kick your ass.
I admire her for being so confident and unbothered by the haters. (She posts pictures of herself eating junk food on Instagram just to anger them further, and good for her).
But Lizzo is sort of an outlier. The average person who classifies as obese gets dragged down more than they can handle, and for them, self-love and confidence are a genuine struggle. What’s more, although there are fat people who are perfectly healthy, there are plenty who are not–and they don’t owe anyone good health just to receive basic decency from others. Nothing about your physicality should dictate how people treat you. If someone’s sick, or mentally ill, or suffering from chronic illness, or anything at all, how is it acceptable to treat them badly? It shouldn’t be, but that’s where we’re at as a society.
Here are some fat positive Instagram accounts I recommend you follow:
I’ve learned a lot. A whole lot. We put people through too much. We act like they should jump through hoops to get our approval. Designers won’t make clothes in their sizes; healthcare professionals often don’t take them seriously; they walk through life dealing with people being assholes left and right. It’s bullying on a mass scale, and we just let it happen. It’s more than unkind. It’s cruel.
I don’t have a sad story. I’ve never been abused in any sense of the word. I grew up with a (rare) sense of self-esteem, and to this day, I live my life surrounded by people who love me unconditionally.
I still felt like shit when I was gaining weight.
And it really opened my eyes to how easily the self-image can be distorted. Suddenly, it made sense to me why many girls I knew–even girls who were thin, even girls who had beautiful features, even girls with incredible intelligence or big, loving hearts–found excuses to call themselves ugly. That used to confuse the hell out of me, but I get it now. Women and girls exist in a world that ties their beauty to their human worth.
And beauty, in this context, is a very narrow, exclusive construct.
You want to know why I gained weight?
It was because I had reached my mid-20s, and my metabolism naturally changed. I wasn’t a teenager anymore, and I had finally grown into my adult body.
I’m lucky that I made healthy choices as I went through this experience. Around last October, when I was about 150 lbs, I bought myself a planner, and I wrote down (in ink) which days I would go to the gym, which days I would do yoga, and which days I would do nothing at all. Next, I cut back on the Dr. Pepper (I didn’t cut it out; I didn’t cut anything out, because I’m not on this earth to live a life of deprivation). I also got rid of the scale in my house, and I haven’t weighed myself since–obsessing over numbers was only going to drive me towards insanity.
I had just wasted a whole lot of time feeling weird about myself, but geez, what if I had reacted drastically? What might I have done to myself if self-love wasn’t such a deeply rooted personal habit? Because women end up hurting themselves all the time for this exact reason.
I laid out this problem of mine, and I dissected it like I was performing an autopsy (because that’s how my anxiety works). I’m not afraid of research–you really have to do it if you want to learn anything practical. (Just like with sex ed. Our school system is basically worthless). It might have been useless to worry, but I don’t regret the knowledge I’ve gained.
For example, did you know that not only is cellulite normal, it’s kind of important? Women’s bodies store fat differently, which actually helps us survive shortages, or drains on the nutrients we take in, drains like, oh, a little thing known as pregnancy. I was floored when I learned that. And yet, we are desperate to get rid of it.
The general public doesn’t know jack shit about what makes a body healthy, and “normal” can be so drastically different for different people. There is no reason, no excuse for a person to look at another person and decide they don’t look “right.” And keep that in mind when you look in the mirror.
Self-talk is crucial. You’ve got to be as stubbornly kind and forgiving with yourself as you would be with anyone else. If someone, at any point, had walked up to me and said, “You looked better ten pounds ago,” I wouldn’t have hesitated to tell them to go fuck themselves.
So why on earth should I be allowed to talk to myself like that?
Here’s the end of my little story. In the midst of my anxiety, I examined those feelings of insecurity and doubt, and I said that’s not me. I chose self-love. And when it got hard, I chose self-love out of pure spite.
That’s who I am.
I’m 27 years old. I’m 5’6″, and I have reason to believe I weigh between 141-146 lbs. And I’m still just a little bit vain.
We are currently trying to get through a pandemic. I’m waiting it out in quarantine just like everybody else, and I haven’t been to the gym in a long time now. Whatever. It’ll be annoying to get back into an exercise routine when this is all over, but I will. ‘Til then, I’m grateful that I can stay safe at home, and that I can keep writing.
Give yourself permission to forget about weight during this difficult time. Drink coffee and wine. Eat carbs. Do things that you enjoy. We’ll deal with the future as it comes.
Have a beautiful week.