F is for Fat

“Don’t call yourself fat, say you’re full-figured,” my aunt offered as a comment on a picture I’d posted on Facebook. Since I had been knee-deep in fat studies literature and the more pop-culture versions #BodyAcceptance and #BodyPositive movements, I had almost forgotten that for many, fat was still very much the F-word.

I have had a curious journey through my own fatness. It began as being the chubby kid with “baby fat” to the “solid” teenager, the “thick and curvy” young woman in college to whatever I am now. Having not been thin or even average weight since I was about four years old, fatness and I knew each other well. For many of those years it was a struggle; I did not hate my body, exactly, but I was also not terribly fond of it. Sure there were pieces of me that I liked (my eyes, my smile–which paired with my chubby cheeks always reminded me of Janet Jackson’s famous grin) but by and large, I was not a fan of my body.  I waffled between wanting to appear confident and strong, and wanting desperately to lose weight, my only real success coming around both of my graduations–college and my masters–where I lived on salads and diet pills, running and circuit training all to look good from every angle in my graduation photos. Even at the time, though, I always felt fat. And here I mean the word in an emotive sense; I felt large, unattractive, bulky and gross. My thick thighs rubbed together drawing up fitted dresses and skirts, walking around in the hot summer months in the south meant sweating and there was nothing worse I hated than sweating when, to me, all the thin people did not seem to be bothered by the heat. To me, everything that was associated with my body was negative.

For the most part I was silent about it because I did not want to hear lectures of “how to fix it” because when you’re fat, all the world is a personal trainer slash nutritionist. I also did not talk to friends about it, and when I worked out I never claimed it was about losing weight. I was so deeply uncomfortable with even discussing weight and it took me lots of soul-searching to even understand why that was. For one, it is incredibly vulnerable to open up to anyone about one of, if not the biggest insecurity you have. I also wasn’t interested in pity or claims that I was beautiful no matter what. It always felt forced and so incongruent with how I felt about myself, I was unable to receive those messages at the time. Lastly, I am an incredibly accomplished, and prideful person. Admitting to anyone else, but mainly myself, that there was something I could not master or even get a handle on, meant admitting I was weak and incapable. I had no interest being a victim, and I certainly would not ever suggest to someone (or myself) that I was not fill-in-the-blank (diligent, focused, ardent, fortuitous, smart, persistent, strong, etc) enough to lose weight. So I avoided the topic and the conversation entirely and completely.

Failed attempts to shame myself into losing weight by taking unflattering “before” pictures and keeping track of my progress on a secret blog that I would only ever publish once I was thin, happened a few times. As did a few public proclamations on this blog, my public journal, such as the time I told the world I wanted to lose 100lbs.  And while I was successful with eating and working out for a while, eventually I would fall back into my old routines and the weight loss would come to a halt. I would talk to classmates and friends who managed to lose notable amounts of weight about how they did it. Fascinated by their personal journeys of trial and triumph, I would often leave the conversation both inspired and wondering what was wrong with me that I could not seem to get to that magical turning point in my own life where “enough was enough”.

My own turning point with the f-word did not truly come until after I was sexually assaulted. That may come as a surprise to some, it was even to myself, because months prior to the rape I had made a professional decision to study fat women and their experiences with body, self, and leadership for my dissertation. Seemingly I was comfortable (enough) discussing the topic, and even my own personal relationship with being a fat woman and articulating what that meant to me, but deep down I still very much held the belief that no one truly wanted to be fat and that weight loss was always a goal, whether iterated or not.  Then something interesting happened. I was barely managing to take care of myself while trying to teach, work, write, and get through one of the hardest six months of my life when I looked up and had lost over thirty pounds.  I did not feel particularly proud of the loss because it had come accidentally, nor did I seek attention or praise for it because it had come at the helm of not eating and high anxiety.  And it wasn’t until then that I could truly begin to look at myself in the mirror and love and appreciate my body.  Not for what it had the potential to be, but for what it was. As I struggled to see myself as a survivor of sexual assault, I found that it required careful reflection and examination of who I was: who I really really truly was.

It was not helpful to only own my intangible self, traits and characteristics like charm and wit. No, I needed to also own the thighs that touched down to the knee and made jeans buying impossible, but that would snap shut and protect me from unwanted attempts at physical intimacy. I needed to own my calves which were too large to fit into boots every fall, but would manage to kick a grown man back off of me.  I needed to own my back which had four rolls of fat that made bras and bathing suits ill-fitting, but would be put into a corner after I escaped his hold, forcing him to face me, something he avidly tried not to do.  I needed to own all of me and that included my (fat) body.

Now when I look in the mirror first thing in the morning, I study myself and I feel a warmth that I never felt before in my life. It is the warmth of truly loving that woman staring back at me in the mirror. She has been through so much and yet she still rises with the sun, shining and with just as much light. More protective over my body and with whom I share it, my body, my fat body, is sacred and cherished not by men but by me.  My ears no longer strain to hear affirmations or compliments, I am able to give them to myself. And what’s more, I am able to receive them. For the first time in my life, I feel at home in my vessel.

IMG_4267So here is what I can say about being fat. It is not all of me, but it is part of who I am.  It does not hurt me to call me what I know myself to be. Fat is not a death sentence, fat is not lazy, fat is not jolly or comedic by nature. Fat is not ugly, fat is not so big a flaw that it is the only one that can exist. Fat is fat, nothing more and nothing less. To me, it is an identity through which I see and experience the world, but it is not inherently negative anymore. Fat, my fat, is beautiful…how could it not be? If I am beautiful and I am fat, and the two exist at the same time, as I am the living proof.  I no longer fear being noticed in the same way that I used to, in fact now I would offer that I am perfectly at peace with being seen. There is something truly special about seeing yourself, truly seeing yourself and acknowledging all of your beauty. You do not shrink away or feign humility when offered a compliment, because you know your truth. You are beautiful. Although the greatest part of this story is that you no longer need to hear it from anyone other than the reflection in the mirror.

This post is part of The Layers of Beauty Tour created by GG Renee of All the Many Layers.  Follow the tour through the blogs of 25 women exploring the complexities of womanhood and beauty from A to Z.  Click here to keep up with each post and enter to win a giveaway package of goodies for your mind, body and soul.   #LayersAtoZTour

Origins

I don’t consider myself particularly exceptional. I am good at the things I am good at, but there are several others which I am not. I believe this is true of everyone. I have gathered through various interactions with humans of all kinds that I know exactly how important I am to this world. If I am exceptional in any way it is because I have an understanding of my purpose, and worth and I am openly committed to them without apology.

I was talking to Mari last night and she made a remark about her being envious of my ability to be so unapologetic. I guess it’s kind of like Lorde said,

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

The idea was and is particularly interesting especially after watching the documentary Light Girls. There was a section about the beauty industry in which the moving target metaphor was used. Perfection is unattainable and it is the idea that we are always imperfect yet on the cusp or within an arms reach of perfection which sustains this 300billion dollar industry. It is in the best interest of capitalism and our economic structure that there are less of me. Quite honestly, I could care less. Let the economy topple if it in any way depends on my belief that I am defective, insufficient, and in need of external repair.

I am not completely immune to beauty as a whole. I love make up and dressing well, I believe in fashion as art and liken designers to great artists. However, my worth neither begins nor ends with anything that is added after I leave the shower. My beauty is not circumstantial.

I find it doubly interesting that most women I know would adamantly argue otherwise. They would tell you but look closer, see my flaws? My giant pores, my full hips, my crooked smile, my frizzy hair. And I always assure them that I am seeing them. And all the things they’ve pointed out, and they are still beautiful. It’s a hard sell.

It blew my mind the first time I learned about internalized homophobia. People within the lgbtqia community berating themselves due to internalized ideals of heteronormativity heterosuperiority and an in general lack of tolerance for their own being. What I would later find out is that it didn’t stop there. There was internalized racism. Internalized classism. Internalized misogyny. And in my most recent discovery, internalized fat bias. In fact, external critique paled in comparison to the toxic dialogue happening within the folds of a woman’s own skin. We are down right nasty to ourselves.

Sometimes my friends say things out loud about themselves that makes me cringe. One because I know they likely believe it, despite the “just kidding” disclaimer. And two because I imagine the words are repeated silently and more frequently than is good for the soul.

I wish I could impart to them and to all women who struggle to see or believe their own pricelessness that it is as easy as a decision. My entire life changed when I decided to believe that I was worthy. That I was important. That I was unique and of value to the whole of the universe. That I was beautiful. That I was talented. That I was here for a reason bigger than my critics could ever comprehend. That I neither drew breath nor sustained life from the opinions of others. And that all I would ever dare to blossom into had seeds in my spirit already. Perfection is a myth. But the best version of myself is who I decide to be right now. And that target moves. It develops grows and expands moment by moment day by day. Yet I know that with each exhale I am enough.

It seems like overnight my passion for women grew. It didn’t. I just think I didn’t have words for it. But it was a woman who first revealed to me my own power. Well I suppose it was a few women. My mother. My grandmothers. And my former co-worker who I convinced to treat herself to a fancy Victoria’s Secret bra. After which she would tell me I inspired her to be kinder to herself and to own that she deserved tone treated well BY HERSELF. I’ve been hooked on that feeling of liberating women from their own muck since I was 18 years old.

And she called herself a feminist, not because she hated men–she did not–but because she loved herself and sisters too fiercely to be called anything else.

The lynching of pretty

Two things first:

1. For maybe three weeks straight I had intense shoulder pain in my left shoulder. It was only exacerbated by wearing bras. It was as if it never got the opportunity to heal, but I kept telling myself there was only so much I could do and resulted to suffering through discomfort and pain while taking an Aleve when the pain got to be too much. Finally, I’d reached my wit’s end and pushed my bras to the back of my closet and started wearing either sports bras or bralette which were not as supportive and certainly de-emphasized my chest in clothing but most importantly, they did not hurt! They offered so much relief that last night I went out and bought three more bralettes.

2. On the online dating site OKCupid there are a series of questions that are supposed to indicate compatibility when each party answers them. For each question you are also allowed to designate how important (not very, moderately, or very important) your partner’s answers are.  One of the questions asked is “Do you believe that women are obligated to shave?” I always check “NO” I always also check that I’d like my partner to check “NO” and then I indicated that it is “very important” that my partner checks “NO”.  I also add a comment that women are not obligated to do anything for anyone else other than themselves.  Despite my own personal disdain for body hair ((I always joke that a little Alopecia from the neck down would be A-okay with me)), I certainly do not feel that women owe their bodies or the condition of their bodies to ANYONE.

Pair the two…in my pain and discomfort over wearing a bra I had all these thoughts:

  • Why am I even putting myself through this? Bras are oppressive!
  • I don’t know if I like the way I look in my clothes without the “support” of a traditional bra
  • Wait, why don’t I like the way I look without those torture devices?
  • Are you seriously willing to endure the level of pain you’ve been in for WEEKS now to “look good”?
  • Can you take a moment to ask yourself where your definition of “looking good” came from?

tumblr_nbryuzzLzW1rqkw62o1_500There are a lot of things given to us in this world that we hold on to as if they were valuable never realizing that at any given moment we have the option to give it back. Well, the notion that beauty is pain? I’d like to return that. The idea that my breasts need to be bigger, higher, more or less perky full or prominent? I’d like to return that. The sentiment that shaving or not shaving is a requirement of my womanhood? KEEP THAT! As a woman being attractive is not the rent we pay for our space in this world.  We do not OWE our bodies, our comfort, our selves to anybody, not one single being. We do not owe the world a smile, we do not owe the world our virginity nor our sexual selectivity, we do not owe the world smooth hairless legs, a well groomed bikini area, polished toes, shiny nails, red lips, bone straight hair, curled lashes, a soft voice, a full ass, a small waist, a mild manner, GOODNESS, ease nor breeze, a shoulder to cry on, a warm embrace, NONE OF IT. And if at anytime the things we’ve been given become unwanted, give that shit back.

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from Nayyirah Waajid’s book Salt

Jess’ Jamaican Diary entry 1

It’s been a crazy 72 hours. Though, I think things were in uproar before I even left Atlanta. I’ll start from Jamaica though. After a million hour redeye flight (thanks DCam–joking…sort of…) I arrived in easily my new favorite place. After seeing Silver Sands, I was overjoyed that I invited friends down so that I get to share this place with people I love. It’s that kind of a spot.

It’s 6am…the fact that I am up, alert, and writing is a testament to the beauty of this place. Because the sun wakes up around 4:30am from what I can tell, because by 5 there was a beautifully lit sky sitting atop the Caribbean Sea right outside my bedroom window. When you wake up to a scene like that, sleep isn’t as tempting as it usually is.

I had my duck on while I’ve been here…calm cool and collected on the surface but paddling like hell to just stay afloat underneath. My emotions were in an uproar and everything felt urgent and worty-of-sharing. Unfortunately P2AD boar the brunt of my wrath. I couldn’t figure out why I was so triggered until I had literally unloaded everything. Then I realized…this was residual from Summer 2011. I had to remind myself that this was not that. That I was in a new place now, and that even though the scene felt familiar, this was not history repeating itself. When I literally said these words to myself, it is like I came out of the tailspin nosedive and leveled out, instantly. Then I had to suck the poison out, a la Mean Girls, and apologize (profusely and adamantly) to P2AD.

I didn’t explain to him the ins and outs…I didn’t want to tell that story. But afterwards, he said there was no need, I was just working through my emotions, and assured me that I wasn’t as nuts as I think I was. He’s wrong, but I am glad he let it go.

After settling score, I got to tell him about Shantal* teaching me local Jamaican phrases, how I am considering resigning my vegetarianism, and my new love of 5am. It’s an odd thing…I am in this beautiful place but the capacity in which I came puts me in an in-between. What I just realized in typing this is that Chile, my last trip abroad, was also liminal. Something about travel seemingly begets transition. Hm. Anyway, so I am here as a teaching assistant for the Counseling program. It’s weird because the other instructors, all male, are all together in a villa and I am here with students. Although my “students” are my age it is still felt that my role…my space, if you will, holds differently than theirs. But it is not a bad thing, or a good thing, just an observation. Something that makes me wonder about my role within the walls of school…because I believe you always bring your whole self into a place, I wonder how teacher me has affected student me in the classroom and with my peers.

Lastly, I have had the pleasure of several walks (in the hot Jamaican sun) around the property by myself. Often heading from one meeting to another, but solo nonetheless. In these, my thinking times, I’ve gotten to just be 6. Kick rocks, and make up stories about the guests staying in different villas. Dream up how each house earned its name. Admire the art and wonder what I can leave here as my small contribution.

I had this thought yesterday that we are going to leave with so much, what are we going to reciprocate? Not just stimulation to the local economy, tips for our house moms, bartenders, route taxi drivers, and the like, but what thing of real substance can we offer this community? Immediately a list of intangibles: gratitude, appreciation, humility…but I think the real thing I may be leaving are a few definitive limits. What and who is beautiful, what and who are poetic, lyrical, worthy to be a muse. What and who is acceptable, rich, and admirable.

Shantal told me last night that she requested to work every day because she needs the money to finish building her home. She has two sons and her home will be a 2 bed room, 2 bathroom home that right now does not have a roof. Initially, my instinct was akin to Liz Gilbert’s, I wondered what I could do to help. Then after sitting for a minute I wanted less to help, and more to just admire her hustle. Not everyone steps up to the plate like that, even when life is demanding they do. No going out, no new shoes, no trips, she said, every extra dime I get I save for the house. And she’s not paying a contractor, she told me she was contracting herself, finding builders who could do it at the price she could afford. It made me smile to hear her story. It reminded me of a conversation with my mom before I left home. She was talking about how hard it’d been to cut this crown molding trim for the rooms she is painting in the house. I asked her why she didn’t just get the Home Depot people to do it for her, and she just looked at me quizzically and said, because I can do it myself. And while I definitely will not be cutting up crown molding, there are other things that I can do, and should not be afraid to try to do, even if I haven’t yet figured out how. That, I think, is being in the arena…getting your butt kicked.

*Shantal is the bartender on the property, obviously we became friends early on. Judge not, lest ye too be judged.

Glimpses

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I love photography. I admittedly am one of those people that change my facebook profile picture every few days because I get tired of the shot a few days later. Usually, its about the outfit, or the hair or the make-up or some…accessory that has temporarily made me feel (fill in the blank). I took one of those pictures the other night before a friend’s birthday party. My hair was curled, my lips were pink and pouty, my eyes were understated drama…I felt pretty. And yet a photo I took days before still haunts me in a wonderful way.
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While I felt pretty in the “dolled up” picture, I feel beautiful in the other. Its plain, pretty ordinary and otherwise unremarkable. My hair was straight, my make-up…well what make-up? Its just me. And I guess I see myself everyday, but I certainly do not look at myself and see the beauty I see in that picture.

I was having a conversation with myself; thinking about where I am and where I’m headed. I thought about my strengths, my absolute strength being in people. In connecting and relating and listening to people. I wondered, challenging myself a bit, how I could get better at this. I’ve long believed that the bashert things are easy, we make things hard when we fight against the way. Yes, again…surrender.

So I thought about the things that have come easy to me…the good things like making friends and the bad things like quitting on my health. And I’ve talked myself through “the fights”, asking myself why I stayed in the ring. In past relationships it boiled down to wanting to prove I was worth sticking around for. In past failures its been my own stubbornness is not wanting to accept that not everything was meant for me.

But when I look at that picture, I get a glimpse of the woman who is sure of herself. The woman who is not defined by her relationship status nor her partner. The woman who loves fully because she chooses to, not to validate herself. The woman who is capable of anything she puts her mind heart to. I smile because I see her. And until I can see her everyday, I am going to keep searching for glimpses through the photograph. Glimpses that remind me of who I am and who I was created to be.

Loveeeeee

I was driving home the other night when a song that reminded me of E came on. As I sang along two conversations occurred in my head. One in which I thought of him and us and our laughter, and another where I laid to rest those sounds and continued on up the 805.

I had a dream the night before of my wedding, my beautifully romantic Christmas wedding. My maids in white again the smell of trees and sweet berries. I remembered more this time. I remembered Kim, Ken, Jennie, Jewels, Tre, and Trin with me. Praying with me and standing with me. Laughing and toasting to love and laughter. I never walked down the aisle, but they were with me.

If I think about what it was like to love before I remember, more than anything the effort. The trials and the battles, the compromise. It wasn’t right. And more than I knew anything about my partners, I knew how I was going about the business of love was wrong. I imagine it needs to be as all meant things are, effortless. Divinely crafted and seemingly coincidental, only…not. I took this photo of myself before I went out last night.

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I looked at my body. My belly cleverly hidden in my billowy, and feminine XL top. My thighs squeezed into shape in my size 20 jeans. I studied my curves and my twa hidden under a flowy lace front. I applied a thin layer of MAC “Media” and I love myself despite it all; and perhaps because of it all. I’ve never looked in the mirror and felt even remotely effortlessly in love with my reflection. The truth was not hidden from me, I knew what was there. And I was not hiding, obviously as I’m baring it all now. I was proud to take me out. Now if I’m lucky enough to find another who makes me feel the way I felt about my reflection last night…

And when I think back, I can reconcile a question I’ve pondered; yes I loved him. I loved him with every broken piece of me, however now that I am whole I want a whole love. There is nothing wrong with admitting that to yourself or to the world. I am not counting down the days or waiting with baited breath, I am living my life, fully. And when the time is right, it will be. Settling for self isn’t exactly settling. I feel incredibly blessed to be in a place where I can recognize and truly believe that.