I was 10 years old the first time I felt fat.
I was trying on clothes for the new school year. A dark blue T-shirt and some plaid shorts—I remember the way they clung awkwardly in all the wrong places. I cursed the smallness of the other girls my age. Then, under unforgiving fluorescent lights, I cried. It was the first of many times tears were shed over the size of my waistline.
I was teased throughout grade school and adolescence. Even small children understand the cultural narrative of “thinness equals beauty.”
My weight has always been a struggle and, at times, a dangerous obsession. When I was 19, I developed an eating disorder. I was bulimic and worked out at least twice a day. I became determined to lose the weight at any cost. But the more weight I lost, the more obsessed I became.
Even at my lowest weight, I never felt beautiful. I wanted arms that were more toned, a stomach that was flatter. I was still very much a prisoner of my anorexic mindset.
What was clear was the value that everyone else put on my appearance. Friends and family gushed about how great I looked. Complete strangers treated me differently—people seemed nicer, they smiled and held doors for me.
I may not have felt beautiful, but I was reborn into a society as someone who was valued as beautiful. It felt strangely powerful and addictive, this power that I suddenly had over others, particularly men.
In time, I found that this power also had a dark side. After I lost the weight, I was almost sexually assaulted by one of my close friends. At every job I had, I encountered sexual harassment of some kind. Just walking down a crowded street was enough to elicit vulgar comments and unwarranted attention.
Fast-forward 10 years and two kids later, and I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been outside of pregnancy.
I go to the gym and work out three times a week. I’ve been going for months, but it turns out I’m terrible at dieting. My metabolism just isn’t what it used to be, and I’m learning to accept that.
The smiling, flirting and unsolicited attention from strangers has been replaced by side-eyes from cashiers who are wary of selling a 12-pack of beer to a woman who looks five-months pregnant.
But there is also a strange comfort in anonymity. As much as I was excited about the attention during that time in my life, I am just as excited (if not more so) about not having to deal with the hassle of it anymore.
The trickiest part of managing my weight has been trying to find a balance. I want to be healthy but I’m afraid that if I work too hard, a switch will flip and the obsession will begin all over again.
Also, I have a daughter now. I have to be conscious of the fact that she learns not only from listening but also from watching me. I don’t want her to grow up and hear me calling myself “fat.” I want her to know that her value can never be defined by the number on a scale. She is so creative, talented, brave, strong and incredibly smart. I need her to understand that real beauty isn’t about what you look like at all, but how you choose to treat others.
I want to be a good example for her. I am working toward being a woman who loves her body, flaws and all. Each day is a struggle to escape the negative thoughts that come with being heavy.
I don’t always love my body, fat and all, but I certainly don’t hate it anymore either.