An Unhappy History
I've always known that I was fat. While, in retrospect, I suppose I've mostly been on the chubby side of average, you wouldn't know it from the feedback I got from friends and family.
As a child, I was once informed by my friend that I wasn't invited to help them deliver newspapers because her mom worried that I was too chubby to climb over the back seat quickly enough. My little brothers would taunt me with the word "fat" whenever we fought. When my mother was really angry, she would too, which especially hurt because I knew she also considered herself a failure for the fat on her body. My grandmother, who always started these conversations with "You know I love you, right?" would tell me that I would be beautiful and happier if I could just lose some weight like my cousin Brianne had. "I just want you to be happy!"
Anytime this happened, I'd find a mirror and study myself. Sometimes, it took a few minutes. Most of the time, it took longer.
Reflecting on My Image
When a woman spends "too much" time looking in the mirror, we call it narcissism. Intellectuals may remind us that that word comes from the Greek myth about the hunter Narcissus — a beautiful young man who fell in love with his own reflection. He couldn't drag himself away from admiring himself in the pool of water, even for long enough to take a drink of water. He died from his self-fixation.
What people don't realize about us mirror-lookers is that, unlike Narcissus, our gaze isn't always one of admiration. For most of my life, mine hasn't been. I'd look at the bulge coming from my abdomen, wishing it were flatter. I'd look at the curves on my body, wishing they could collapse in on themselves. I'd fantasize about taking scissors and chopping off the embarrassing parts of myself. I'd take an inventory of the rest of it, seeing if any other body part was turning against me and if I should start hating that one too.
As women, we've been told that beauty means looking like the people we see in magazines (you know, the ones who have the help of teams of stylists before the shoots and teams of photo editors after the shoot). We walk around carrying the weight of our failure to live up to that ideal. I spent most of my life carrying around that failure, which was much heavier than the fat on my body ever could be.
Of course, the way we feel about ourselves impacts how we act, how we think, how we even spend money. While I never bought diet books (those I could just borrow from my mother), walking around feeling unworthy meant that even buying healthy food or new flattering clothes was an attempt to distract myself from my shame, rather than an exercise in nourishing or treating myself.
You'd think, maybe, that after gaining 25 pounds, I'd have felt worse about myself — that those mirror sessions would have gotten longer and sadder. If I was already fat, then fatter would be worse, right? I certainly would have thought so.
But I am 25 pounds heavier than I've ever been, and I've also never been happier with my body.
Bigger and Better
I feel lucky to live in a time where there are many successful, beautiful women like Tess Holliday, Ashley Graham, Tara Lynn, Katie Sturino, and Gabi Gregg rocking curvy bodies and dressing like the bombshells they are. As a child, the only plus-size women I saw shrouded themselves in loose black clothing, as if in mourning for the bodies they wished they'd had. Now, I see beautiful, confident women of all sizes, thriving in their bodies.
By seeing successful women who look like me, I don't feel like I am walking around with the wrong body because I know there are confident, beautiful women who are my size (and bigger!). I can envision a world in which my body doesn't hold me back, one where my body is my home and I love it for that. These women are beautiful and it's refreshing to know that I can be beautiful, even with chunky thighs. A revelation!
Seeing the possibility of my own beauty was an important step, but not enough. It took getting fat(ter) to realize that beauty didn't have to be my goal in the first place.
Before, I walked around nervous that people would see my fat and therefore, my failure to be beautiful. I hoped that people would just not notice me, rather than seeing me for my fat, unworthy self. If I could be funny, smart, and/or sweet enough, maybe people would forget that I was a failure and tolerate me despite my bulging belly.
Related: 12 Reasons Not to Lose Weight
When I visited Barcelona for the first time, one of my new friends there called me "Gordita" — a little bit fat. He didn't mean it as an insult, and I knew that, so I smiled and pretended like it didn't hurt my feelings. In retrospect, though, it was true! I was chubby — or, in other words, a bit fat. It wasn't an assessment of my worth, nor was it meant to be.
In a world where women are told they must draw meaning from their beauty, and where "skinny" is a compliment, calling someone "fat" becomes injurious. You see it in the Instagram comment sections of beautiful plus-size women's photos: people who feel threatened by their success pelting them with the word "fat" like a toddler throwing rocks at the ocean to punish it for being incomprehensible.
These days, I occasionally call myself fat and am sometimes chided for it. In my skinnier days, I started a YouTube channel called "Fat Girl Eating" and lost friends over brazenly calling myself "fat" on the internet. "Fat" is a loaded word — one we give an immense amount of power to. It's embarrassing to be called fat and more embarrassing to call oneself fat. It's not polite to remind everyone of your failure.
Maybe I'm older and crankier, but I now choose to not assess my worth based on who finds me beautiful, including myself. I don't spend nearly as much time taking inventory in the mirror, but when I do check myself out, I usually see that my hourglass silhouette is the shape I was taught it should be, just with more exaggerated curves. I see that my legs are muscular, and that my brown eyes are almond-shaped with long lashes. I see that my belly has a cute little paunch and that my neck is long and elegant.
Even better, I now see that the shape and size of my body has nothing to do with what I will accomplish, who I love and who loves me, and what I'm worth. How I look is neither an accomplishment nor a moral failing. Today, I love how I look, and more importantly, know that many things matter far, far more than being beautiful.