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Quarantine: Let's Talk About Our Bodies

When was the first time you considered fat to be a bad word? An offensive word, a word that would hurt you if it was said about you, a word synonymous with ugly? It probably wasn’t even a conscious thing—you didn’t wake up one day and think, “Fat is bad. I will do whatever I can to not be called fat.”

We have this twisted concept of beauty that equates beauty with thinness and, usually, whiteness. When I went to Mexico in January, I thought I would get a break from the messages I took in from all the models in catalogs and store fronts and what felt like everywhere else I could possibly look: “You don’t look like me, so you must be ugly.”

Let me backtrack a little. I’m not ugly. I usually even consider myself beautiful. I have brown, curly hair and hazel eyes and a nose that I sometimes wish was a little smaller and lips I’m actually happy with the size of. I have a love-hate relationship with the way my body does or does not curve, though I’m learning to embrace the “love” in “love-hate.” In high school, I obsessively compared my body to the bodies of every woman around me. I wished I had her nose and her waist, her thighs, her stomach, her boobs. I wore push up bras every day, up until the beginning of my junior year of college, because I thought I looked man-ish or young or ugly without them. The girls around me with flatter chests were beautiful, but they were so much thinner than I was, I felt like if I didn’t wear a push up bra, they would be able to tell I was fat, or at least, fatter than they were. It’s devastating to look back on my developing years and realize I felt less than all the other women around me if I didn’t have a push up bra on. It’s even more devastating to know I was embarrassed about the way my body looked, and I had been for a long time. The day I realized fat and ugly were synonymous in my head was when I got up in my fourth grade class to give a presentation and felt ashamed of my body.

My senior year of high school, my anxiety got so bad I had to break up with my boyfriend because I had grown too dependent on him and didn’t know who I was anymore. Within that same month, I started therapy, stopped eating red meat, and started working out. I lost around 20 pounds and felt absolutely incredible, and I heard a lot of jokes about the post-breakup glow up that obviously meant I was trying to spite my ex. I went from a size 10 in jeans to a size 6 and I didn’t even have to squeeze or suck in my stomach to get them to fit, that was just my size. At 140 pounds with a size 6 waist, I was still embarrassed to wear crop tops without high waisted jeans and/or (usually and) a jacket on or wrapped around my waist. At that point in time, I felt like I looked like the models in catalogs and store fronts, but I still didn’t feel thin enough.

The truth is, in the eyes of the beauty industry and the consequential disciples it has made all of us, we will never be thin enough. We will never be beautiful enough. And that, especially the weight part, has haunted me for the majority of my life. Fourth graders are usually 9 or 10, and I’m 21 now. That’s 12 years of my life that I’ve lost to worrying about my belly. That’s so fucking unhealthy. Fuck the beauty industry. Fuck my 8th grade P.E. teacher for calling me overweight in front of the entire class. Fuck the boy who thought that made it okay to call me fat whenever he wanted me to stop talking or go away.

I used to not even say the word “belly” when talking about myself because in my head, belly meant fat and fat meant ugly. Belly. Probably the cutest word I could possibly use to describe it. And you know what? I like my belly! She’s doing her best!! She acts as a pillow for my 5-year-old cousin when she’s tired and wants to cuddle. Someday, hopefully she’ll bring a baby or two into this world. She works, and she’s not deathly allergic to anything, so even though I maybe shouldn’t eat peanut butter or lactose all that often, I still can and she’ll take the L for me. I love my belly and all my internal organs that are working so hard, all the time, to keep me alive. Even when I don’t love them the way that I should, when I wish they were smaller or when I wonder if it’s okay to skip lunch because I had a big breakfast and I’m not really that hungry, they keep me alive and love me.

My sophomore year of college, I met Annie Gordon and had the joy of listening to her talk about the dangers of diet culture and how important it is to love your body. She’s super tall and always smiling and her hair is always that effortless and intentionally messy that I have tried and failed to achieve for years. One time, I asked her how tall she is as I watched her reach her hands up past the top of a door to tape a poster up. I don’t remember her answer, but I do remember her telling me she used to be kind of insecure about it. Then she said what I now tell myself whenever I feel bad about myself: “I do my best to radically love myself in every way possible.” And she radiates it. Annie loves herself so much and has helped me during times when I really felt like I couldn’t love myself. I have a friend who is just absolutely gorgeous and athletic and kind, and since quarantine started, she’s felt really bad about her body because she’s been gaining weight. I want to be a person that can help people through those moments, help them challenge and dismantle harmful perceptions of beauty; in short, I want to be someone’s Annie. I once saw this post that said, “How many companies are making money off of how badly you feel about your body?” and that stuck with me. I tell my friends that when they need to hear it and try to remember to tell myself when I need to, too. It’s not easy, and it’s not something you can just learn and move on from. Harmful ways of thinking are so deeply ingrained in our brains that we, especially women, will always find some reason to feel bad about ourselves. And in those moments, we will revert back to thinking of “fat” as a bad word.

Fat is not a bad word. It’s just an adjective. In N.K. Jemisin’s short story, “The Ones Who Stay and Fight,” the narrator says, “...you will puzzle over the Um-Helatians’ choice to retain descriptive terms for themselves like kinky-haired or fat or deaf. But these are just words friend, don’t you see? Without the attached contempt, such terms have no more meaning than if horses could proudly introduce themselves as palomino or miniature or hairy-footed. Difference was never the problem in and of itself….” Words are just words. We give them meaning. And we can choose to redefine words and reshape the way we think of and use them. This isn’t easy. It’s honestly really fucking hard. But it’s so much easier to love your body when you make that effort.

I had to start eating red meat to study abroad in Mexico, and I stopped working out because shit happens. Now that we’re in quarantine, I’ve gained weight. I’m up to 170 pounds—yup, I gained all the weight I lost senior year back and then some. Sometimes I feel really badly about my body, but it’s happening less and less. In my science class in 8th grade, I learned weight is just a measurement of how much gravity is needed to keep an object on Earth. So I could look at my weight gain as a failure on my part (which is a bullshit outlook I refuse to continue indulging), or I could think that the Earth loves me so much, it’s using extra gravity to keep me here.

I wish it was more normal to talk about how weight gain can make us feel, because it’s a thing a lot of us, especially women, tear themselves apart about. It’s devastating. People are literally killing themselves about it. Weight gain is normal, weight fluctuation is normal, and we deserve to live our lives without our weight and our appearance always being on our minds. You deserve to love your body.