How about that fat-shaming Netflix series?

I was brushing my teeth today and I look in the mirror and my face was caught between two panes of glass, a section of my forehead and most of my nose had been swallowed in the crack where the tri-fold doors of my medicine cabinet met.

It reminded me of that thing I used to do when I was a teenager. I’d stand in front of the mirrored closet doors, arranging myself so that my body was spliced in half by the crack and put back together, thinner. I’d look at my body, the body I wished I had, and imagine the life I would have if I looked like that. My fat midsection sucked into the thin slice of darkness, erasing my shame. Erasing the parts of myself that I was convinced were holding me back.

I watched a lot of TV growing up. More than I probably should have. I watched Even Stevens and yearned for the thin leggy beauty of Ren. I watched Hilary Duff in Lizzie McGuire and wished I had the body of that petite blonde. I watched Boy Meets World and deciphered that even the nerdy girls like Topanga were supposed to be beautiful and, well, thin.

I was convinced I could have these bodies if I worked hard enough. If I ate less. Worked out more.

I could achieve the body in the mirror. And I needed to achieve that body in the mirror, because if I didn’t I was worthless. I was nothing if I wasn’t thin.

I told myself all the things I could do once I was in my right body. I could make friends. I could go out on dates. I could get a job and go to university and get my hair cut short. I could wear sneakers with skinny jeans. I had all these rules for my fat body that I could leave behind when I was finally thin.

I starved myself into a size 4 dress for my prom and that’s when I felt like my life could finally start. My life didn’t start and so I decided I wasn’t thin enough. There was too much of me and that meant I wasn’t enough. I tried different diets, painfully measuring out honey and cayenne pepper and spending way too much money on fresh-squeezed lemon juice. I tortured myself. I weighed my body before and after bowel movements. I wondered how much my legs weighed my breasts weighed how much did the liver inside me weigh? I’d subtract these numbers, trying so hard to reach a point where I felt like a real person. I needed to take away pieces in order to pretend I was whole.

I gained all the weight back and then some when I started university. My first year of school I was thin but I didn’t know it. I was too focused on the way my thighs rubbed as I walked down the hallway. I participated in a study ran by a graduate student for extra credit in my intro-level psych class. She was brilliant, but the swell of her gut pushed against her cotton t, rolls of flesh swelled over the sides of her jeans. I told myself no matter how long I spent in academia I’d never let my body go, I wouldn’t get fat like her.

But I did. I gained and gained and gained and I hated my body, wishing I could chisel my true self free.

My fourth year of university, I took self-timed photos of me in my bathing suit in my poorly lit bathroom, counting every roll and dimple and stretch mark. My imperfections. This was my before. This was the body I would cast aside for my real body, my good body.

When I got into graduate school, I was still fat. And I told myself I didn’t deserve it because I was fat. I worried about moving to a new city, “How will I make friends if I’m fat?” I worried about teaching, “How will I teach if I’m fat?” I worried about sharing my ideas, “Who will listen to me if I am fat?” My body was something I despised. Something holding me back. I didn’t come up with these ideas on my own–this is what I had been fed my entire life.

Fat bodies are the before. Fat bodies are bad. Fat bodies aren’t actually bodies, they are flesh that needs to be peeled away to reveal the real body underneath. This is what I was taught. This is what I believed.

And I don’t believe this now. I know it’s not true. I’d been in the battle with my body for so long and I think I finally just got sick of it. I didn’t want to binge and purge. I didn’t want to weigh myself morning and night. I didn’t want to punish myself for not fitting into a pair of pants at a straight size store.

I stopped hating my body for being my body.

At least, some of the time.

When I’m sad. When I’m mad. When I’m alone and depressed, or dissatisfied, or scared, I remember that I’m fat and the idea creeps in that maybe I don’t deserve to be happy because I’m not thin. I don’t deserve to have a partner because I’m not thin. I don’t deserve ________ because I’m not thin.

Sometimes I catch a glimpse of my reflection, caught between two panes of glass, my mid-section swallowed by that little crack, and I think that’s perfection. Sometimes I can shake this thought out of my head, and step in front of a full pane of glass and know that what I see is good enough. Better than good enough.

But sometimes I can’t shake those thoughts.

And that’s why that Netflix series is harmful. Not only does it reinforce a harmful revenge body plot line and paint women’s bodies as objects, it supports my worst thoughts about myself.

It makes the awful things I thought about my body true.

This TV show takes the narrative from the shows I watched as a teenager even further–it provides the schema for how to get thin. And I don’t think it can get much more damaging than that.

body posi, part 2: dress shopping is hard

So, I went on the prowl for a dress to wear to a special occasion (I’m graduating!) that I have coming up. I spent the whole day at the mall, trekking from store to store in search of the perfect outfit to pair with my hot pink pumps and I ended up coming home empty-handed. Now, I know–that’s not a hardship. Not all shopping trips end successfully, (a. And, b), I’m just privileged to have the opportunity to go shopping in the first place.

I acknowledge my privilege and I have had unsuccessful shopping trips before. But, this time it was different.

It’s not that I couldn’t find anything, and it’s not that I wasn’t willing to try everything, it’s that nothing fit right. Six different stores, multiple different outfits, one single body that looked wrong in most dresses, and flat-out didn’t fit into some of them.

It was… upsetting.

The first place I hit was Aritzia: it’s where I go for most special outfits and I’ve always had pretty good luck finding stuff there (a quick glance at my closet confirms that I’ve had very good luck there). I browsed, I picked up every single pastel-coloured dress I could find (I have a certain colour scheme in mind), and I moseyed on over to the fitting room.

One dress pinched my armpit flab. The other clung to places it shouldn’t cling. Another fit well, but had a button-up top half that created some tension with my girls. I found a dress I didn’t hate, that fit me pretty good, but I decided that maybe I could do better for my big day.

So, I thought, I’ll try The Bay. It’s a department store; they literally have everything.

Everything except what I was looking for. Their selection of dresses ranged from strappy beach chic to Mother-of-the-Bride matron, and there wasn’t a whole lot in between (barring an Ivanka Trump dress that was cute, but not $110 cute). I didn’t even try anything on because I knew that those spaghetti straps and v-neck necklines wouldn’t be kind to my boobs, and I also knew I wanted to look, I don’t know, age-appropriate.

My next stop was Brandy Melville, for a literal second. I hit up Ricki’s, to no avail. Then I popped into Dynamite on a whim, based on a cute floral number I saw in the window. It was the perfect shade of pastel blue I was looking for, and it had a giant flower print that I thought would complement my vision. So, I grabbed the largest size and gave it a go.

It fit, kind of. And it looked alright. But once again it wasn’t the WOW I wanted. I hung it up and left it with the salesgirl, taking my big girl business elsewhere.

Forever 21 was on my way out of the mall, and even though the store is known for its vanity sizing, I thought “Why not?”. After all, how much more humiliated can a girl get?

So, I gave the bottom level a quick run-through, perusing for anything pastel. Nothing caught my eye, so I wandered upstairs to see what else they had to offer. Immediately, a maxi dress in their plus-size section drew my attention. It was beautiful, and although I’ve never shopped in that section before I decided to try it on.  I grabbed the smallest-big size and continued to browse. I would’ve grabbed some other things from the Big Girl section, if everything else didn’t look like total shapeless garbage. Instead, I found a trapeze style dress in the so-called regular section and headed to the change rooms.

After squeezing my tits and the rest of my bad self into the largest-small sized dress and quickly deciding that was a NO, I pulled the smallest-big sized dress over my head.

And I was swimming in fabric.

It was too big.

The other dress was too small.

And I was some sort of mystery size in between.

I’m not going to give up until I find my just-right, but I’m disappointed in my experiences today. Because it wasn’t just not being able to find a dress–it was realizing that my body shape, and type, and proportions limited my fashion choices. And trust me when I say the size of my waist has nothing to do with my sense of style, and the latent assumption that it does is offensive, and hurtful, and it made me feel like my body is wrong for about the billionth time in my life.

And all I was doing was looking for an outfit to make me feel special.

body posi: part 1

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).