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Fat and Beautiful
Seeing myself in a new light
A.C.
headshot

“Why don’t you just, like, stop eating?”

It took me a second to realize the skinny, pretty girl sitting on the opposite side of the lunch table was talking to me. I looked up from my untouched tray of school slop, blinked, and said, “Huh?”

She smiled and tilted her head to the side, her long, sleek black hair trailing the motion. “Just stop eating.” Her tone was sweet as honey, and as I looked into her acorn-colored eyes, I realized she wasn’t joking—no, she was serious! She waggled her cherry Blow Pop between her slender, manicured fingers, as though scolding me, before continuing, “It’s what I did when I got fat.”

I was 14 and I was so shocked, upset, and embarrassed that I only nodded and went back to conversing with the girl next to me. I did my hardest to ignore my stomach’s pleading growls. Little did she know that I was actually already taking her advice: I hadn’t eaten for nearly four days. After her comment, I didn’t eat for two more.

Then, my hunger won. It always did. Each time I starved myself, I ended up binging on food to fill the void low self-esteem left. And each time, I’d look in the mirror and hate myself; not just for the way my body jiggled like Jell-O, but for entrapping
myself in this vicious cycle of unhealthiness.

It felt like I was holding myself prisoner. Why didn’t I stop myself from repeating my mistakes? I knew that what I was doing was bad for my health and completely useless.

Crushing My Confidence

“Don’t you think that’s a little too tight? You should wear something else.”

My mother said this to me as we got ready for a night out. I was 15, struggling with obesity, and incredibly self-conscious. I never wore clothes that were my size, because I didn’t want anyone to see my love-handles. But on that night, I tried on a tight-fitting T-shirt.

My mom’s critique crushed my self-confidence. Defeated, I marched back to my room to change into my traditional baggy hoodie.

When I came back out, my sister was sitting on the couch ready to go. The first thing I noticed was her stomach—and the fact that her crop top bared it all! I desperately looked at my mom, waiting for her to scold my sister, but she didn’t. My sister, the only skinny one in my family, got to go out in a cute crop top for the night, while I toyed with the sleeves of my hoodie and tried not to cry through dinner.

When I binged after days of missing meals, my mother only saw the amount of food I was eating, not the meaning behind it. “OK, that’s enough,” she’d say as she took away whatever I was scarfing down, making me feel not only embarrassed but even more inclined to starve myself.

I would shrink in on myself when she launched into the inevitable lecture about my health, hoping that if I concentrated hard enough, I could swallow myself whole. “You don’t want to end up like your father,” she’d laugh. I didn’t. My dad was severely overweight, and comparing me to him only confirmed that I was disgusting.

It wasn’t that I didn’t know that I was eating too much. But when I binged, it was like a part of me had been sated. My stomach would ache, but for a while, I would no longer be sad. In a way, it was both a reward and a punishment—I starved myself, so I deserved to indulge a little, right? I’d earned it. Yet after the deed was done, I’d hate myself more and vow to starve even longer than the last time.

I began to see my 100-pound sister as less of a person, and more of an object of envy—something I could never be. How come she got to be the skinny one? The one boys fell all over themselves for? While I had my dinner taken away with looks of disdain, she ate freely, and my family actually praised her for it. They called her cute when she stuffed herself, but sneered at me if I did the same.

My Brain Lied To Me

I continued struggling with my eating issues throughout freshman year. No one knew, not even my closest friends. “Are you eating OK?” my algebra teacher asked when she saw my head cradled in my arms. “Yeah,” I said, smiling tightly. “Just skipped breakfast.” She didn’t know I meant yesterday’s breakfast, and the one before that, too.

But soon, I became tired of lying. Pretending I was OK made me feel worse. I felt guilty betraying my friends’ trust by not telling them about something so serious.

It took me days to muster up the courage, and thousands of text drafts deleted, but finally, I did what I should have done much earlier; I reached out.

My first text message was to my best friend: “hey, can i talk to you about something personal?” Not even five minutes later, she responded with, “yeah, what’s up babes? :)”

image by YC-Art Dept

I felt like a burden at first—a heavy weight, both figuratively and literally.

But I wasn’t a burden to her. In fact, she was supportive and nonjudgmental when I spoke to her about how I felt. I was surprised.

This whole time, a big part of my mind had convinced me that no one cared. It had tricked me into thinking that this was something I needed to face alone, and that I was a coward if I even dared to ask for help.

This got me thinking. If this part of my brain had lied about that stuff, then what else had it lied about? It had hijacked my mind like a virus and filled my thoughts with negativity and pessimism. But when I figured out its tricks, slowly, I began to see things in a new light. Was there a possibility that maybe, just maybe, I could learn to love myself?

Change Starts From Within

At first, I didn’t even know where to start. And then it hit me.

Up until then, the only clothes I owned fit me like huge trash bags. It was my way of hiding myself. If I couldn’t see my flaws, then no one else could, right?

I made a vow to myself: I was going to wear the clothes that made me feel confident, not what someone else, particularly my mom, thought I should be wearing. I needed a serious wardrobe change, no matter how much the shy, scared girl inside me protested.

Leggings and Liberation

A few weeks later, my mom and I were shopping for some new casual clothes. “You said you needed pants, right?” My mom’s voice echoed through the men’s fashion aisle, the place where most, if not all, of my clothes had come from. I looked up at her and felt something inside of me churn. Hard. It was now or never.

“Actually,” my voice barely squeaked. “I was wondering if maybe I could...get a pair of leggings.”

My mother looked at the pair of Great Value denim jeans she’d picked out for me, then back at me, and scrunched her face up. I was petrified. But then she let out a breath and set them back on the display table. She said, “Anything you want, baby.”

I didn’t expect her to let me switch up my wardrobe so drastically. She realized that she had to let me make my own decisions about how I want to look. I think she was secretly proud of me for finally speaking up.

My mom doesn’t think I’m ugly. She is just grappling with the remnants of her own abusive past. Being big herself, she was exposed to a lot of verbal bullying when she was a kid—and most of it came from her own mother.

On that day, I think she realized she had to put her insecurities about her own weight aside so she could be a better mother to me. Sometimes, she still makes insensitive comments about my appearance, but she’s trying to be more aware of this, and I’m so thankful for it.

That day, I got my first pair of leggings. They were just plain black ones, and they hugged my hips a lot tighter than I was used to. It was both uncomfortable and life-changing.

For the first few weeks, they lay collecting dust in my drawer. I didn’t step out of my comfort zone immediately; I just kind of teetered on the edge of it, contemplating. But when I finally put those leggings on and went outside, a sense of liberation flooded me. I had always been so afraid people would stare. They would point and laugh at the fat girl in the tight leggings.

They didn’t. To me, I was the disgusting fatass. To them, I was just another person on the street.

After realizing that my biggest critic was myself, I decided I was done letting that part of my mind boss me around. I want people to know that I am here, I am unique, and that I am entitled to my own space. I don’t hide my body anymore. Now, my dressers are filled with tees that fit me snugly, with jeans my size, and with lots of
leggings.

I love using clothes as a way to express my wacky personality. Now that I feel comfortable in my own skin, I can show people the real me. The truth is, she’s always been here, just tucked away in 3XL hoodies and sweatpants.

Until very recently, being positive about my body didn’t happen because I felt like I needed permission to love myself. But now I know that the only permission I need is my own. No one should ever have to choose between being fat and being beautiful. Being fat is beautiful. I’m living proof.

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(NYC-2018-11-15)

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