I am overweight. It’s a fact determined by the number on the scale and the percentage of fat clinging to my frame. And I guess I’m okay with it–most days. On the days where my pants are a little too tight and my self-esteem is riding a little low, it’s easy for me to pick on my most obvious weakness (as determined by societal standards of beauty)–my weight.
Because that’s the thing–I’m overweight, and that’s a fact. But for some reason the objective measure of my body shape gets translated into a subjective evaluation of, well, self-worth. And most of the time I just don’t measure up.
It’s been a battle since I was a little girl: recognizing my bowling ball calves and thick thighs were a mark of something different. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look in the mirror, look at a magazine, and know that one of these things is not like the other.
Junior high school was the worst, by far. I obsessively measured my waist, hips, bust, thighs, arms, neck. If I could wrap a measuring tape around it, I measured it. Recorded it. Compared it. I weighed myself before and after bowel movements. I stopped eating food with flour or sugar in it. I pitted myself against myself and I lost, over and over and over again.
It seemed like every other girl was thin and beautiful, and I was a lump of baby fat. There were all these other girls with their tennis-ball breasts, encased in brightly coloured bras visible through their thin cotton t-shirts (as was the style in those days) and then there was me–my flabby mosquito bites contrasted against my wide hips. A pre-pubescent girl trapped in her own body, just trying to squeeze into the shape of somebody, anybody, else.
On top of being the wrong shape, I was backwards and shy–an easy target for teasing. I spent a lot of nights crying in my room, sometimes purposefully loud enough so that my mum would come in and comfort me. I was chubby. I was lonely. I was emotional.
“You’re just like me,” she said one night. “We gain weight easily. Too easily,” gazing down at her own body before meeting my swollen eyes, “I look at a chocolate bar and I gain ten pounds. It’s just how we’re made.” If only that were good enough. But, it’s not–me and my mum aren’t allowed to break the mould. We can’t have extra skin, stretch marks, and belly flab pushing against the edges, threatening to break free. Even that’s not right though, not for me. I can’t enjoy being fat*, and I didn’t enjoy being thin (2007-2009 I was the thinnest I’ve ever been, but, because I’m a woman and have to meet my daily quota of hating myself, I spent most of those years calling myself a whale), and this is where my relationship with my body gets even more complicated.
The body positive movement champions women’s bodies, all bodies, every single shape and size. I think. At least, that’s my interpretation of it–sometimes things get sticky when there is comparisons between thin and bony and round and curvy and all the apparently normal shapes in between, but for the most part body posi is pretty positive. I know that it has made me feel more comfortable in my own skin to know that, unlike in junior high school, walking down the street I’m not going to get ostracized for my size.
But—that doesn’t matter. Because I’ve internalized that I look wrong. And the fact that I can’t walk into a store and find pants that fit over my ass only exacerbates that fact. If I fit into clothing, then I don’t feel bad about my body. It’s only when I’m trying to squeeze into a pair of navy slacks in the biggest size the store offers (a size 12, by the way, which is ridiculous) and I can’t quite get that side zipper to slide up over my love handle that I feel inadequate. And that’s not a me problem, is it? Or… is it? Should I feel obligated to shrink so that I can shop at regular stores, and wear regular clothes? Or… what should I do?
The body positivity movement stresses that you need to love your body the way that it is. But I don’t, not always. I can’t, not all the time. Because sometimes my body makes it really hard to love it (it’s my own fault, I’ll admit). I’m afraid that the body posi police will chase me down if I don’t love myself enough. But I’m also afraid that I’ll never love myself enough, because sometimes I don’t feel good in my own body. But it’s confusing–is that because I don’t actually like my body? Or is because I think that other people don’t like my body? Or is it because the world is set up to make fat people (And sometimes thin people too–sorry) feel bad?
Or? Or? Or?
I just don’t know when my body became everybody else’s goddamn business. And I don’t mean that in an explicit way–it’s not like I walk down the street and get harassed for my size. As many people have kindly pointed out, I don’t look “fat” (I know they mean it in the best way and it is nice to know that even if I feel wrong, I look “right” enough). But when I see a friend I haven’t seen in a while and she looks me up and down, her eyes resting a fraction of a second too long on my protruding belly, that’s when I feel fat–in the bad, negative, insulting way. When I walk into a store looking for a button-up to stretch across my busty chest and the largest size the cute shirts come in is a medium, that’s when it feels like my body is wrong. It’s my own self-worth, colliding with societal expectations, colliding with women pitting themselves against other women, colliding with this and that and everything so that the way I look when I look in the mirror isn’t about just me and my body. It’s about me looking at my body in the mirror, and taking into consideration all the opinions in the space in between.
This is just part one of what I hope to be my body positivity series. There’s a lot that I need to unpack when it comes to my relationship with my sack of flesh, and I hope that y’all will come along for the ride. I can’t promise that it will be worth it for you, but I have a feeling it’ll be worth it for me. And isn’t that enough?
*just as an FYI, I stopped using fat as a derogatory term a long time ago so don’t fret–this isn’t a series of self-deprecation (yet).