“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.
So 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