I’ve never been a petite woman. As far back as I can remember, I was a little wider and curvier than my peers. I was painfully aware of this difference as early as 8th grade when I went shopping for a graduation dress. I continued to struggle with my body image through high school, into college, and through pregnancy with both my daughters. It was only in the fall of 2018 that I really started putting work into accepting and loving myself, no matter the shape and size.
Loving myself will be a lifelong journey. It will take time to reverse decades of body shaming and unforgiving language I inflicted on myself. As if that was not enough of a challenge, I also had to dismiss my partner’s judgment of my physical body.
He was fat-phobic. His phobia did not manifest in fear of being fat himself, but it allowed him to body-shame me, and treat me like I was unworthy of his love and acceptance at any shape or size.
We met in 2008 at the height of my disordered eating.
When we first started dating, I wasn’t honest about my food issues, and soon he realized that I avoided eating in front of him. He wanted me to be open and honest about my vulnerabilities, so he could support me through them — and I believed him.
The first red flag I ignored came disguised as a gift for my 18th birthday. Only four months after we’d met, he bought me workout gear. The gear was complete with two spandex racer-back tank tops, shorts that were a size too small, and running shoes. I hadn’t run since middle school where it was a P.E. requirement, nor did I ever express an interest in starting up.
I appreciated the gift, but noted that it’d have to exchange for a different size, to which he responded —
“Eh, it’ll be fine. Just leave it. Use it as motivation, working towards a smaller you.”
He didn’t say, you’re too big.
He didn’t say, you’re fat.
He didn’t have to.
His message was clear as day — You are not good enough as you are. You need to change.
Unfortunately, this wouldn’t be the last time a conversation like this took place.
When I was pregnant with our first daughter, he monitored my weight like a hawk. My OB-GYN said everything was progressing well, and the baby was healthy at every appointment. He found a way to bring up my weight.
When I’d challenge him about why he was so critical of my body, he’d say he was concerned. He thought I was beautiful at any size, but he wanted to make sure I was doing everything I could to make sure the baby was healthy. After having my first daughter, I lost a significant amount of weight. Within three months of her birth, not only had I lost the 23 pounds I’d gained during pregnancy, I went on to lose another 15 on top of that.
38 pounds in 3 months wasn’t something to be celebrated — it’s something that should have caused concern.
Between finishing my bachelor’s degree, postpartum depression, and an already poor body image, I went on to lose 38 pounds in 3 months. It wasn’t because I exercised, and it wasn’t because of a balanced diet. Life just was overwhelming to the point where eating took up too much energy.
My partner was so proud of me and wanted to celebrate. In reality, this wasn’t something to be celebrated — it’s something that should have caused concern.
He wasn’t concerned about my health — he was terrified of me being fat.
Growing up, both my parents were always overweight. For most of my life, I actually remember them as obese. In hindsight, both my mother and father clearly struggled with anxiety and depression. These struggles then manifested in emotional and binge eating. Anytime there would be something upsetting or hard in our lives, my parents would comfort us with food.
From the moment he met my family, something about them rubbed him the wrong way. He’d say he didn’t like their attitude. He didn’t like the way they managed their household. He didn’t like the influence they held over me.
The truth is, he was disgusted by the way their bodies looked. He found alternate reasons to support his claim that they were bad people.
In 2008, I wasn’t at a similar size as my parents, but my partner felt like the writing was on the wall. Once I graduated high school and stopped dancing, I gained some weight, not being as active as I once had been. He was terrified because my parents had ended up obese, I would become obese too.
What I’ve come to realize, this isn’t as uncommon as I wish it was.
I spent over 10 years with a partner who thought less of people who were obese. He found them disgusting and unworthy — unworthy of kindness, compassion, or respect. How much of this was because he was a downright terrible human being, and how much of this was ingrained by the society we live in?
Fatphobia isn’t a disorder or a mental illness, but it is something that exists. It’s built into society in a way that encourages these unconscious biases. What does the person look like, who represents your favorite cosmetic line or personal care brand?
While some advertisers have incorporated different size and shape bodies in what we see day to day, the work won’t be done until every person can expect to see their body represented in mainstream instead of being pleasantly surprised that society finds all bodies equally important of representation, love, and acceptance.
As for my experience, I share it with you because I want anyone who has been on the receiving end of criticisms about their weight or body to know you aren’t alone.
I’m not perfect. You’re not perfect. Our differences are what make this life beautiful.
You are loved, cherished, and worthy as you are. Honor your body in a way that makes sense to you. Whether that’s through exercise, ritual self-care, or improving the relationship with your body, engage in what is right for you.
When you engage in behavior towards yourself founded in love and respect, you will accept nothing less from others who are in your life — and that is precisely what we all deserve.