Rachel Charlene Lewis
Updated Jun 01, 2016 @ 10:25 am

During my four years of college, I was consistently around 160 pounds. It’s a number I still hesitate to admit, one that immediately makes me feel anxious, the reason I don’t step on scales and stand backwards on the scale in the doctor’s office, asking her to please not announce the number with shame but immediacy in my voice.

I know I’m not a victim of fatphobia in any real way. I’ve never had doctors blame my health on my weight. I’ve never had a partner insult my body, or been made of in any straightforward way. My experiences with fatphobia and body negativity has always been slighter, couched in people poking at my thighs and commenting on how big my ass is. It’s half compliment, half insult. Other girls have said how they’d be horrified if they weighed as much as me, or had hips like mine, but smiling and saying it looks good on me, though.

College was the first time I realized that having a body like mine maybe wasn’t okay in the eyes of others. I went to high school in a majority Black area, so the standards of beauty were different. Colorism and music videos made my body an okay body to have. I didn’t have any idea I was supposed to be ashamed of my body in such a big way until I moved for college and ended up at an overwhelmingly white, private university.

That was when the shame began.

It took a while for me to realize what was going on. I didn’t understand why my self-confidence had taken such a major plunge. Yeah, I’d had body image issues a bit growing up, but not in such a big way. More and more I felt unworthy, but, more than anything else, I felt unwelcome.

My social life felt stunted. Other girls didn’t always seem like they wanted to be friends with me, but I couldn’t figure out why. I’d never had problems making friends before.

During my senior year of college, one of my closest friends came to visit me. We were drinking coffee on campus and chatting when she casually noted that there were no fat people at my school. It was like being smacked in the face. While I’d realized already how wealthy, white, and straight my school was, I hadn’t totally realized just how skinny my peers were.

It wasn’t that I was some awful person worthy of invisibility. It was that I just didn’t look like everyone else. And they didn’t want me ruining their selfies, or breaking the homogeneity of their group photos. They didn’t think I was attractive, and they definitely didn’t want me to think I was attractive enough to be worthy of their friendship. Combined with my sexuality and my race, I was too far outside of the norm to be acceptable in a place where conformity was key to survival.

I got obsessive about the gym, about proving everyone wrong. I felt like if I could change the way my body looked, the way I was shaped, to stop looking so unacceptably like myself, my social life would shift.

And, in some ways, it did. People liked me better when I was hotter. People liked me as I began to shrink myself. I gained shallow friendships and felt like I had control of my narrative, and of my life.

But I was angry, too, and the more outspoken I got, the more my social life shifted to encompass the sort of people I wanted to spend time with. I realized that other people had been feeling the same way, like outcasts for reasons they didn’t understand. These people didn’t care that I wasn’t wearing thousand-dollar outfits on my size-2 body. They didn’t care when I stopped straightening my hair. They didn’t care when I got more tattoos and stopped bothering with femininity.

They were my people.

Not the people who wanted me only when I looked like they did.

Since I graduated from college, my weight has fluctuated, though I’m not sure what the number is. I still spend time wondering what my life would be like if I’d been skinnier in college, and whiter, straighter, too. I don’t think that will ever stop.

But I’m done trying to look like everyone else. It was never going to happen — and to be honest, I’m glad. Fighting to be someone else was never worth the trouble.