What my friend’s weight loss taught me about body acceptance

My near-emotional breakdown is prompted by an incredibly gracious gesture.

One of my best friends is giving me a bag of hand-me-down clothing—an assortment of jeans, slacks, V-neck sweaters and stylish tops. Every item is cute, flattering, perfect. And every item is newly too big for her.

It’s the culmination of a four-month period during which my friend drops 70 pounds—a dramatic weight-loss that comes on the heels of another close friend losing 40 pounds after a year on Weight Watchers.

Both friends look healthy and stunning, and my best self is happy for them. But I’d be lying if I said I don’t also feel acute pangs of jealousy and self-loathing. The bag of clothes, an undeniably kind gift, feels like a recrimination. Why can’t I fit into cute “skinny” clothes? Why must I be the “big” girl in our friend group?

Maybe my friends’ shrinking bodies wouldn’t feel like such an affront if I weren’t planning a wedding, and already feeling the pressure to “look my best.” It’s been a struggle to love myself and my body as is, even as the wedding industry—with its diets and boot camps and fat-burning tricks—dictates that I don’t.

A week before I’m given the clothes, I’m joined by my two friends and a couple other close girlfriends (also thinner than me) for a wedding-dress shopping excursion. My friend who’s lost 70 pounds enters the coffee shop where we’re meeting in a long-sleeve tee that dramatically flatters her newly lithe frame. Her body looks pretty much perfect in the most conventional sense—lean, fit, curvy. She elicits gasps from our friends, and proclamations about how “amazing” she looks. Meanwhile, I sit on the couch and observe my stomach puffing out, pressing it down discretely.

We head to the dress shop, where I grab several gowns from the rack. About half don’t fit; the zipper won’t go up all the way, or the fabric tugs as I try to pull it up. Finally, I find a dress I like, and a woman comes over to measure my body. “You’ll need a size 15!” she tells me loudly not once, but twice.

This is the biggest size I’ve ever worn. And in the company of my definitely not size-15 friends, I feel something I rarely if ever feel in their company: shame.

I am, then, already vulnerable by the time my friend gifts me the clothes. She makes no comment about them being too big for her; I infer it and ask, and when she simply says “yes,” I snap. “Great, so now I’m getting your fat clothes!” I cry accusatorily. The words fly out of my mouth without the filter of rationality. I am, in this moment, operating on pure emotion.

And with that, I open the door to revelation.

“That’s not what this is about,” she tells me gently. She reveals that she’s been struggling with her new body, that to her it’s far from perfect, that she doesn’t like her loose skin and newly flatter boobs. She tells me I’m beautiful, that my body looks great, and that no one thinks of me as fat, ugly or any of the words that I have, in my least secure moments, use to describe myself.

And here’s the thing: I know she’s telling the truth. She does see me as beautiful. And I understand completely, because I’ve always seen her as beautiful too—at any size. In fact, I’ve always seen all my friends that way.

So maybe I won’t be losing a dramatic amount of weight anytime soon. Maybe I won’t elicit gasps or stares or enthused compliments. Maybe among my closest friends, I’ll have the least conventionally attractive body at my wedding.

But I know my friends will continue to see me as just right. I can only hope to one day see myself the same way they see me, and I see them: beautiful, strong and perfect, no matter the size.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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