TW: Diet culture, fatphobia, food, eating disorders
When I was seventeen, I attended my junior prom. My dress was a size two.
When I was eighteen, I attended my senior prom. My dress was a size four. In one year, I had gained ten-ish pounds and gone up one dress size. In my mind, I had failed.
The first year of college, I gained another ten pounds. The next year, fifteen. By the time I graduated from college, I was fifty pounds and multiple clothing sizes larger than when I started. That was unthinkable to me. I blamed the scale. I blamed the cafeteria food. I blamed my inability to exercise during a Minnesota winter. But most of all, I blamed myself.
For the entirety of my childhood, I was skinny. Not so skinny that people judged me negatively, but just skinny enough to be viewed as appropriately fit. As revolting as it is to articulate this mindset, I genuinely used to believe that my skinniness was an accomplishment. I viewed my body as something positive to boost my self-esteem. When I performed poorly on a test or messed up during a dance competition, I would reassure myself with the knowledge that I was skinny. When I was having a bad day, I would type my height and weight into a BMI calculator and take pleasure in knowing that I was technically underweight. For years, anytime I was regarding myself negatively or suffering from anxiety, I would literally tell myself, “Hey, at least you’re skinny.” I knew better than to ever utter this self-assurance out loud. But the thought was always in the back of my mind, skewing my perception of myself, giving me comfort in the worst of ways.
Of course, when I gained fifty pounds and was no longer considered skinny by most social or medical definitions, I no longer had that coping mechanism in my toolbox. At first, I tried different BMI calculators. I lied about my height or body type. But eventually, I couldn’t alter the numbers in my favor. I was overweight. According to some of the more skewed formulas, I was almost obese.
From that point on, it was a downward spiral. I am grateful that I never developed a full-fledged eating disorder, but I definitely fell into a pattern of anxious self-loathing. Thanks to a super annoying disease called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, I began to ruminate on my body for hours at a time until this obsession clouded much of my day. I tried diet pills, which caused me to vomit and collapse on my bathroom floor. I tried every diet app and exercise regime, but those never lasted long thanks to 1) My intense dislike of cooked vegetables 2) My inability to exercise without Netflix, and 3) A hormonal disorder called PCOS that makes weight loss unusually difficult. Eventually, I decided to try reading about body positivity. Not because I actually believed in the message, but because I ran out of options.
However, I soon began to wonder if dropping the stupid diet and fitness routines, throwing away my scale, and actually beginning to accept my body would work for me. True, I had plenty of social pressure telling me that embracing my larger-than-before body was a terrible decision. Yet I was persuaded by how compassionate and energizing and affirming the act of accepting myself seemed to be.
Of course, along with all that positive self-love came the unpleasant realization that I had a horrible case of internalized fatphobia. I was forced to acknowledge that the same misogynistic, classist, and bigoted worldviews that inspire fatphobia on street corners or in the media was also inside of me, inspiring a similar hatred of my own body that had shaped my identity.
And that sucks. (I’ve been writing a lot of middle grade fiction recently, so “sucks” is the only profanity I can get away with in my writing.) But seriously. That sucks a lot. It sucks that I’ve felt so horribly about my own body for so much of my life. And it sucks that I’ve felt that way because of bigoted system of beliefs that I wholeheartedly, fundamentally disagree with.
This is the part of the blog post, where most people would offer some form of advice or inspirational conclusion. However, I don’t have much of that. What I do have is honesty. I can honestly say that 50% of the time, some form of body positivity works for me. 30% of the time, I mask my insecurities with makeup and flattering clothing. And the other 20% of the time, I’m susceptible to the same insecurities and negative thoughts that I’ve tried so hard to eschew. In a dream world, I would eliminate those thoughts forever. Unfortunately, that’s not really how thinking works. And that’s DEFINITELY not how OCD works. So I’ll take 20% for now. Maybe next week it’ll be 19% or 18%. But 20% is a vast improvement from a year ago, so that’s a step in the right direction.