I remember the first time I really noticed my weight. I was 13-years-old, school shopping with my mom, begging her to buy a bright yellow polo t-shirt from Hollister (bet you haven’t heard that name in a while). After a few minutes of begging, she broke down. Maybe it was the fumes from the oversaturated perfume smell that finally made her surrender. “Just pick one so I can leave this place,” she’d mumble. After arriving home, I scurried to my room, ready to try on the shirt and snap the tags off with my teeth. As I slipped my head through the narrow hole, I remember looking down. I was confused, wondering if I had picked the wrong size by mistake. The top was snug and hugged all the wrong places. I pulled and tugged at the shirt, eventually freeing my small torso from its stiff fabric. I looked at the size and cried.
I didn’t eat dinner that night.
I began to gain weight that same year, each pound draining my confidence, eating away at my self-esteem. By the time I graduated high school, my self-image was dangerously low. I was suffering silently from, what I now know to be, a binge-eating disorder. I was drowning my body in baggy, loose-fitting clothes, trying to hide every inch of skin. I wanted to disappear–to shrink myself into a different person. I continued to gain weight rapidly, binging until I felt sick, vowing to start my diet tomorrow, and falling into a hole of self-loathing and sabotage.
As the years passed and the weight piled on, I was always conscious of my size. I felt vulnerable and disgusting. I wondered what it would be like to be skinny. Thin meant healthy; thin meant happy. Unfortunately, being thin was all I could think about. Constantly being aware of how much space you take up takes a toll. I was consumed by thoughts of inadequacy, comparing myself to every person I saw. If they were thin, I would envy them. If they were fat, I would compare our size, convincing myself that I couldn’t weigh as much as them.
My weight and self-worth became intricately interwoven, each pound devouring any positive self-image I had left. I was depressed, and although there were many reasons for my mental decline, having a negative body image was a constant reminder of my unworthiness. The physical and emotional weight dragged me down, making it hard to breathe; there were times when I almost gave up.
But God, I am I glad I didn’t.
Fast forward to summer of last year, something changed. One night, as I sat binging an entire bag of Hot Cheetos (with lime, of course), I came across an Instagram account called “Confidently Jules.” This account featured a woman named Julie, who had dedicated her entire feed to body positivity through a raw, personal, first-hand account of her journey to self-love and acceptance. I remember scrolling for what felt like hours, reading every post, awestruck by this happy, healthy, plus-size woman. How could a fat woman be so confident and open about her fatness? Intrigued, I looked through her followers, and what I found was an amazing group of people, dedicated to normalizing plus size bodies and self-love. I obsessively followed accounts, turning on notifications so I could see every new post that came in. Sometimes it’s okay to let other people help you love yourself, and this body-positive community did just that. Each picture I saw changed how I looked at myself; slowly but surely, I felt a shift.
If people of all sizes could love their body, raw and unfiltered, why couldn’t I? The idea that my fat body deserved happiness any less than another suddenly became ridiculous. I realized that the space I inhabited deserved to be recognized. My fatness deserved a place in the world. For the first time in years, I started to find things about my body that I loved. I could try on clothes, without having a panic attack. I could wear shorts in 100-degree weather, instead of melting in black jeans. I could stand naked in the mirror and stare, awestruck at the beautiful, soft skin I had been conditioned to hate for so long. Accepting my body in whatever state it was in was no small task. However, each shirt worn that hugged my rolls, each day I refused to cover up, each time I used the word “fat” as a simple descriptor, instead of letting it slip off my tongue with disdain, I found solace.
This brings me to the present day. I still think about my body daily, but instead of hateful thoughts, instead of hiding, I accept myself as I am. Each body, whether small, large, round, thin, disabled, tall, or any combination of six, deserves to take up space, and I am no exception. I am nowhere near perfect at loving myself. I still have days where I poke and prod at my body, wishing it were tucked or slimmed. Most days, however, I smile knowing that this body, this strong, healthy, able body is beautiful and mine.
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