I’ll never forget the first time I was called fat. The year was 1984 and I was walking to my locker in middle school. I remember feeling like a million bucks that day. My mom had just taken me to the Esprit flagship store in San Francisco and I was sporting my new diamond multi-colored sweater with my teal cords and my ankle boots. They had just announced the winners of the 8th grade polls and I had won “Best Looking” and “Best Body.” As I opened my locker a piece of paper dropped to the ground and to my horror, I was staring at a note with big black letters that read, “You are a fat pig.” I remember the blood rushing to my head entire body become clammy. I abruptly threw the note like it was a hot potato, but I quickly retrieved it for fear that someone would see it. I was embarrassed, hurt, stunned, and devastated. I remember running to the bathroom and crying my eyes out. Forget the fact that the majority of the school just voted for me as having the best physique in my 8th grade class. All of that confidence and appreciation went away once I read that note. It was the beginning of what would be many years of low self-esteem and insecurity for me.
This was me at my senior prom:
I remember receiving our picture packets a few weeks after prom. I dissected the picture down to the core with negative thoughts: “Your hips and thighs are huge, your arms look like sausages, you have fat hanging over the front of your dress. You are fat.” How did I get to this place of self-destruction and self-loathing? How could I not see that the girl back then was perfect just the way she was?
It wasn’t until my late 30s that I really understood what fat shaming was all about. As I endured a yo-yo of weight loss and weight gain (close to 80lbs.) over the past several years, I also endured a lot of criticism. I never realized how much society didn’t accept overweight people until I legitimately became one. I was treated differently and I have endured being called obese, fat, disgustingly fat, a closet eater, and (my personal favorite), in need of several Lean Cuisine dinners. What’s even worse is that these insults occurred more in my adult life (mostly by mothers who have daughters) than they had in my teen years.
And then something happened: Instead of crawling into a deep dark hole of depression because people perceived me as Jabba the Hut, I actually wanted to hug them. It’s because of these people that I strived to become more compassionate, empathetic and a little more sensitive to those who struggled with their weight and body image. I found myself making it a point to compliment someone at least once a day (regardless if they were thin or thick). I realized that everybody was struggling with some sort of low self-esteem and the simplest of compliments went a long way. Who doesn’t like to be paid a compliment? In a world of cleansing, juicing, fasting, meditating and sweating, this world has left little room and tolerance for those with even the slightest imperfections so compliments are needed more than ever.
I think what breaks my heart the most are the conversations I still hear among women and how they put each other down instead of building each other up. The question, “Did you see how much weight she’s gained?” should be banned from women’s conversations. In fact, I hope it becomes illegal to ask this question one day. Why is this even a topic of discussion? I have to admit, I had been guilty of partaking in this kind of conversation in the past, and it wasn’t until I lived through the adversity when I stopped this behavior. If weight is the only negative component of someone you can find to talk about, what does that say about your character? If you are ever in a conversation where this topic comes up, I would hope that you either change the subject or find something positive to say about one another. It’s behavior like this that starts the vicious cycle of self-loathing because it automatically sets the tone that curves should be feared because they are bad. I don’t know about you, but that is NOT the message I want to send to girls today who already struggle with a narcissistic society. In the age of filters, airbrushing and social media, we need to be lifting our girls (and boys) up more than ever.
I tell people that every pound I have gained over the years has a great story behind it. Although I may be overweight, I am healthy, my cholesterol and blood pressure are low and I try to work out at least 5 times a week. I may not be a size 2, but I enjoy good food, good wine and good company. Because no good story ever started with a salad!
All kidding aside, I admire people who live a healthy lifestyle and take good care of their bodies. But not everybody has the luxury of staying on a stringent eating plan or pattern. I attribute a lot of my weight gain to my job; I travel quite a bit for work and I’m always grabbing packaged foods to eat as I race for the next flight. I tend to become very tired when I travel which means my blood sugar gets a little lower than usual and I tend to overeat when that happens. The lack of healthy food in airports and hotels makes it difficult to stay on track so I tend to gain weight when I travel a lot. I despise working out on the road (I find it boring to walk on a treadmill in some tiny little hotel gym) so I choose to wait until I get home to become active again. These are all choices that I have made and ones that I know I need to be held accountable for. But what I will not be held accountable for is how others perceive me. That’s on them and if you want to judge someone because of their size, then the world will be a very lonely place for you in the future.
I often look back at my senior prom picture and wish I could have told myself then that I was perfect in my own little imperfect world. It’s never too late to love yourself. Try it and you’ll be amazed at all the good that flows into your life. This is my wish for every person out there and I hope it will be yours too.