I consider myself to be body positive. I believe that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, and also that women and non-binary folks should not use beauty as a primary measure of their worth. A friend or a stranger can make a critical comment about their own body, and I’ll be the first one to shush them and tell them they are beautiful.
So why is it so hard to do the same thing for myself?
I’ve struggled with my weight and body image since I was about 10 years old. Around that time, I started putting on the pre-pubescent pounds that seemed all but impossible to shed in adolescence. It was the age some of my family members tried to caution me about my eating habits in an attempt to spare me the pain they endured with naturally slow metabolisms and perceived failure to meet oppressive body standards.
I endured high school in a state of perpetual self-loathing when it came to my reflection, disgusted whenever I grabbed a handful of flesh on my belly. I hated my body for not looking like my friends’ and for not giving me the flat stomach and thigh gap I knew I was “supposed” to have. This internalized fat shaming leached its way into my romantic life, where I used my sexuality to garner the validation from boys that I couldn’t give myself.
In college, I made the decision to try and lose weight. I was inspired by my brother, who had accomplished the astonishing feat of losing over 100 pounds. His success made me believe it was actually possible for me to do the same thing. I started exercising 5-6 times a week and making a conscious effort to eat less, and after several months, I lost over 40 lbs. and 4 dress sizes.
It felt amazing to walk into a store, grab a size 6 off the rack and know it would fit. Every time I stepped on the scale and saw the number drop gave me a high I thrived on. I threw away my “fat clothes” in a symbolic declaration that I’d never go back. I kept the weight off for about two years and during that time I felt more confident than ever before.
When the weight finally started creeping back, it was almost as if I didn’t notice until I was almost back to where I started. My boyfriend at the time admitted that he was less attracted to me since I’d put on some weight. I started to outgrow my clothes, kicking myself for having gotten rid of my bigger sizes. I sank into a depression.
A couple of years later, I decided to try and lose the weight again. This time around, it was less about my body image and more about using exercise as therapy. I had just moved to a tiny village in France to be an au pair, and I was sweating out the pain of a failed relationship. Each step hitting the pavement was to stomp out the negative emotions from which I was trying to heal. This time I lost about 30 lbs. and again, it felt wonderful.
Alas, I gained all the weight back, plus some more this time. Rather than sinking into a depression I tried to focus on loving my body as it is. I bought clothes that flatter my figure and made an effort to accept my body for all its soft curves, folds, and shiny little stretch marks.
I wish I could say that when I look in the mirror, I only feel acceptance and love. I don’t. I am influenced by years of feeling inadequate and my eye is still drawn to what I perceive as flaws. It’s hard to know how to shake off those emotions. I’m not sure I will ever look at my body and think, “wow, I look amazing – this is the body I’ve always wanted.” I don’t know if any of us feel that.
What I’ve found is that my personal experience is often at odds with my ideology. There is a disconnect between the outward body positivity I hold dear as part of my worldview and extend to others and the internal fat shaming I do to myself. Part of this is because we all (and especially as women and femmes) constantly combat messages in our society that to be fat is a shameful and even dangerous personal failing.
Because of these social pressures, it can be daunting to discuss the issues of body positivity in a real, honest way in public spaces. There has certainly been a rise in these discussions, as body positivity has become a more concrete element of feminism; there are amazing bloggers in this space who are doing the hard work of starting these conversations, such as Gabi Gregg, Nadia Aboulhosn and Bethany Rutter.
Maybe the best we can hope for is to take ownership of our bodies, the messages and pressure to look a certain way, and decide for ourselves how we want to live our lives. We may not have a perfect vessel, but it’s the only one we get, and we should strive to treat it with respect and care. It’s a lesson I struggle to impart to myself on a daily basis.
In another effort to help people like me who struggle with body positivity, I made an inclusive space for women and non-binary people called Cool Fat Babes on Facebook. It’s a private group where we share outfit selfies, our favorite plus size brands and delicious recipes. If you want to join the community, get in touch with me on Twitter at @paymyrant.