Growing up in a fat-shaming environment
There’s a whole spectrum of body positivity — from people saying that body positivity movement glorifies obesity and unhealthy lifestyle to people that demand to put “real bodies” on the magazine covers and shame people with weight-loss goals.
However, when I was a kid, body positivity wasn’t a thing.
You’re either thin or ugly.
The only body positive messages I got were from my mom who said I’m beautiful and it doesn’t matter what other kids say. Also, my primary school teacher said, “Good people are big.” on our way to the P.E. class. Obviously, she wanted to make me feel better but eight year old me just got her cheeks red as a beetroot.
Therefore, what I got instead was fat-shaming. From family, friends, doctors, teachers, strangers on the street.
My grandmother (I love her to death) would make comments like “Stop eating this, you’re already fat!” or “Well if you were a normal size then these clothes would fit.”
When I was around 10 years old, I had caught mononucleosis and spent two weeks at a hospital. One day, I went to get my ovaries checked. The doctor that was doing the scan jokingly told my mom that she should feed me less. The doctor had a laugh, the nurse had a laugh (still remember her bracey-smile). Everybody had fun except me — I was so devastated that I refused to eat lunch and instead chose to lie in a hospital bed staring at the wall.
The school was an absolute nightmare. I’ve been bullied by mean kids, made fun of by friends, and advised by a male P.E. teacher on how I should run to lose weight. He wasn’t even my teacher.
These are just a few examples of what I’ve faced being a fat kid. My whole childhood was shadowed by the fear of being bullied.
By the time I was 17, I wasn’t round anymore. Puberty probably played a role. Maybe a switch to vegetarianism did too. I finished high-school with a normal weight. Although the insulting comments stopped, I still felt being looked at the same way.
People that knew me since I was a kid, praised my weight loss.
“Before you were like … but now! WOW!”
“I remember when you were round. Now you’re such a doll!”
As flattering as it was, it was also damaging. It made me feel good when I heard those comments, but at the same time left me afraid to deviate from that doll image.
Even today, when I gain weight I’m ashamed to face my weight-loss fans because I’m afraid to be judged or valued differently. As if I am only my body and their perception of me should change with how much I weigh.
My insecurities were almost always related to my body. Self-doubt is part of my daily routine and I give special thanks for that to all the bullies on the internet and real life. This one’s for you, boo!
Distorted body image
After high school, my weight fluctuated quite a bit. Moving to another country to study at the university hit me hard and I had lost a significant amount of weight. I didn’t notice it though until my friends started telling me how thin I’ve become and my grandma (not the one mentioned earlier) burst into tears when I came home to visit.
I still felt like the same chubby fourteen-year-old and I couldn’t see what they were fussing about. Nevertheless, I was still happy that other people called me skinny and asked for my secret.
I still don’t trust what I see in the mirror. Sometimes, I see that I’ve gained weight even when I haven’t. One day I’m a skinny legend and other days neither of my clothes fit. It’s a rollercoaster.
Obssesive behaviour regarding my body
After my first year of university, the lost weight returned with a few extra kilos, and brought my insecurities back along with it. I was hating my body again. Icing on the cake — even my ex-boyfriend took this turn to throw a “you could lose a bit of weight from your thighs” at me.
I started working out. Quite a lot. I was also on a diet consuming around 1300 calories a day which is way too little for my body to efficiently function. Every time I ended a gym session with unmet daily goals, my whole day would be ruined. I’d become a walking fireball spewing wrath lava at everyone in my way.
My life became all about working out and dieting. My YouTube recommendations were flooded with “What I Eat In the Day to Lose Weight” and “How I Lost 20 Pounds in Three Months”. I would weigh myself almost every day and feel upset if the number on the scale would be the same or higher than the last time.
However, one day I just took a complete one-eighty. I stopped counting calories like a maniac, started to eat healthier and lift weights regularly. Only a few months from then I began to love my body.
Let me rephrase. I was obsessed with my body. I couldn’t pass a mirror without checking out my peaking abs and taking a nice bikini picture. I would also spend most of my free time watching work-out videos and planning my meals.
Still learning self-love
I lose the middle ground easily. I’m either hating my body and trying to lose weight or I am so obsessed with it that everything else is in the background.
I can’t say that I found my IT yet. Especially when COVID-19 hit, the gym became a dangerous place to be at and being stuck at home all day listening to boring online classroom lectures invited a ton of snacks.
I feel like I’m still trying to figure out what self-love is. Turns out, being completely possessed by the idea of building my dream body (and getting there) is not it. It consumes so much of my headspace that there is no time for books, creative work, and learning new things.
At the same time, treating myself whenever with whatever because “I love myself” is an indulgent trigger to downward spirals. I feel heavy and my body dysmorphic thoughts scream so loud every time I try to put on shorts that I just want to burst into tears and cancel my plans.
I’m just trying to live with my damaging experiences. I try to block out the negative (and borderline extreme) thoughts that I must be thin to be valued and happy. I try to convince myself that hurtful comments that people (still) say about bodies, both mine and of other women, are just reflections of their own insecurities.
Thanks to the universe I have people around me that support me. I have friends that tell me only miserable people comment on other people’s appearances. “You’re beautiful and worthy and people that think otherwise can go to hell”. I have a boyfriend who cooks me biryani and never fails to remind me that I’m the most beautiful girl on the planet (I don’t think he knows what he’s saying, ’cause there’s no way he’s seen all the girls in the world).
And if you don’t have anyone to remind you how worthy you are, I’ll tell you.
You are much more than your body — you are your mind, your personality, your talent, your kindness, and your creativity. Your body is an instrument that takes you from one place to another, writes down your thoughts and does innumerable things that your mind desires.
Sure, you should take care of the vessel that carries your mind, heart and soul— give it nutrition,make it run, climb, swim, roll on the grass — but don’t give it the power to make physical beauty the center of your universe.
After all, the value to a reader (or the writer) a Medium article carries is hardly defined by its sleek formatting or a stunning cover picture.
My sister is almost eight years old and I see how the (still thriving) fat-fearing culture is affecting her.
During a Christmas dinner family women were discussing how the cake has a lot of calories and is “fattening”. My sister who was offered a piece of it 5 minutes later said “I’ll be fat if I eat it”.
Thankfully, she is already living in a world friendlier than the one I grew up in. People’s perspectives have changed a lot since I was a child. I wish there were more magazines with plus-size cover girls. I wish Lizzo was there channeling the big-girl confidence. I wish there were more information about nutritious and healthy food — not all that zero fat yogurt nonsense.
Now there is easier access to better knowledge. So those saying that body positivity movement is promoting obesity can give me a break. There is place for everybody in today’s world— thin, muscular, curvy — all shapes and sizes.
Young people need to be told that they do not have to be size zero,muscular or fit into any type of frame. They need to be assured that they won’t get bullied for how they look — and if they do, they need to know they can turn to hundreds of other people for support and response.
I hope, not too far from now, body positivity will have become an obsolete term. In my 22 years on earth, I’ve already witnessed multiple births of new ideas about the ideal body type but I’m waiting for the ideal mind cult — where body is merely a vehicle that helps a personality to move from one place to another and no one even bothers to talk about it.