Am I Still Body Positive?
Well, it happened. And by “it,” I mean the most melodramatic version of my own unthinkable tragedy.
Inspired by the few days of warmth we had last week in Philadelphia, I unpacked some warm-weather clothes. As I carefully unraveled my favorite pair of striped pants, I could practically smell past summers on them. Not entire summers, the last few of which have been rather unenjoyable as a whole, but key moments of happiness. Clutching my peach-flavored shaved ice as I meandered down the boardwalk, walking to my house all the way from my old office in Rittenhouse just because the weather was too beautiful to waste on a subway trip. I was excited to get out into the warmth and make some new memories—plus, these pants made my ass look good. As I slipped them over my ankles, my calves, and shimmied them over my thighs (were they always this tight?) the aforementioned unthinkable happened.
I slid them into place on my waist and gathered both sides between my fingers to fasten them together. It didn’t quite work. Between the buttons was a two-inch gap, staring up at me. Mocking me. I sucked in as hard as I possibly could. The pants didn’t budge. And just like that, I outgrew not just a beloved pair of trousers, but the notion that my body was a good body, and therefore undid all of the progress I’d made on the road to self-acceptance. You see, I did love myself. I was accepting. I had embraced body positivity. But only to a certain extent. After an afternoon of moping around, I came to realize that for all the love I had for all body types on those who were not me, I internalized a hatred for myself, and I’m still attempting to unpack it all.
I’m average-sized. Actually, according to statistics—as far as women in the United States go—I’m below average and I always have been. Still though, because of my height and the way I carry my weight, I’ve found a home in the body-positive movement. Having modeled for so long, seeing more and more people who look like me getting representation means so much—especially because there was a time when I tied my self-worth so closely to my weight that I thought there would be absolutely no way anyone would ever see my true talents unless I looked like “everyone else.” That notion led me to try every fad diet and later adopt dangerous patterns of disordered eating. In the throes of anorexia, I found my size 26 too large. When I got over it, I celebrated every additional inch up to 28. At 29, I was the largest I’ve ever been, my stomach softer than ever and my hips, now at the ripe old age of 27, the widest they’d been. Once 30 rolled around, I attributed it to stress and birth control. Then, when I noticed my size 30s fitting a little snug, I began to undo. I dislike this about myself. Why can I see other women of all sizes as beautiful and empowering but loathe myself so deeply?
I thought back to my middle-school self, grudgingly pushing a small portion of scrambled egg whites and charred turkey bacon around on my plate, trying to accept the fact that I was going to be hungry again in an hour and there’s nothing I could do about it but wait for the next meal. The South Beach Diet had just come out and my adolescent self was trimming down so I wouldn’t feel like a monster next to my two svelte best friends. If it worked for Jessie James Decker, it could work for me, right? It wasn’t the first diet that I’d tried (and failed). I can recall making SlimFast shakes, subsisting on a diet of Luna Bars and little else. Looking back, I was a pretty thin kid, but I’d felt like a big fat monster, for whatever reason. And it turns out, that feeling just wouldn’t go away.
Those bad habits carried me through high school. I’d skip meals so that I wouldn’t be the raven-haired eyesore in a sea of thin-mostly-blondes on the cheerleading squad. I’d cut calories and try to cheat my way to a skinny body. When skinny jeans became the trend, I wept for my love handles. (Then silently rejoiced shortly after, when high-waisted became the norm.) I adored the outline of my clavicle and newfound cheekbones when my high school boyfriend broke up with me my senior year and I was barely able to eat for an entire month. My once-round, ruddy face was sunken in and pale. Looking back, the contrast was grim: but I loved having a relatively “skinny face.”
College was more of the same. Then I started blogging and documenting my daily looks, and it got a little worse. Then I owned my first business and felt empowered in doing so and I began to accept myself a bit more. Then, I worked in TV and was repeatedly told that I didn’t have “the look.” Instead of internalizing it like I always did, that was what ultimately set me free. I’ve always been a bit of a contrarian and having someone tell me I wasn’t skinny enough or conventionally beautiful enough just made me want to love myself and my various flaws even more. Odd how that worked out, no?
Fast forward a few years, and if confidence waxes and wanes like a moon cycle, I’m in a bit of a low point. To say I feel like somewhat of a hypocrite would be the understatement of the year. How am I supposed to use my growing platform to inspire self-love when I can’t even find space for it within myself? How am I to truly care for myself when once the label on my denim crosses over a certain combination of numbers that I arbitrarily determined, I begin to hate everything about myself? It’s not fair. Am I not still the same soul? Am I not still beautiful?
There’s nothing quite like the invisible punch to the gut I feel when my friends are out showing their rolls and their stretch marks and shouting me out for being the one who emboldened them to do so when I refuse to even wear something form-fitting because my body no longer feels like mine. Just as I feel my body has betrayed me, I feel that I have betrayed those who turn to me for encouragement. Am I a sham? Am I no longer able to use the term “body positive” to describe myself now that I want to lose a few pounds? Do I have a place in a movement that has only recently been co-opted by white, cis-gendered, heterosexual women like myself. Did I even belong in it in the first place? If not, where do I belong?
To answer the original question: in a sense, no. I’m not. If I have such an issue seeing myself in a loving way, or only loving my body as long as it fits a certain criteria, I do not practice radical self-love in any sense. My internalized self-directed fat-phobia is wildly unhealthy, and it’s going to push me right back into the arms of disordered eating once again if I’m not careful. (This is the main reason why I gave up the vegan diet that I’d been practicing for nearly a decade: it became an excuse to and an easy justification for restricting calories, and I had to open myself up to more flexibility.)
I can, however, note that the rapid weight gain that caught me off-guard could be signaling deeper health or psychiatric issues. (If you know me and have been reading this blog for a while, know that I’m smiling softly to myself because we all know that it’s more than likely the latter.) I could acknowledge that depression has pushed me right into the arms of junk food and GrubHub delivery and white weight loss should not be the only reason I need to trade these things in for healthier options, it still needs to be done for a number of reasons.
Like everything else though, the road to my body positivity is just that: a journey. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am the size that I am, and if I take steps to physically feel better—as who can possibly feel at the top of their game if they’re tired and constantly bloated—then I’ll be more accepting of myself. Drinking 85+ ounces of water a day may not make my rolls disappear but it came keep my skin fresh and help me feel better in other ways.
If I feel good in my body and my skin, maybe I’ll start to love it again. After all, the best way to show love is to take care, and I simply was not taking care of myself. For now, I’ll be preparing my veggies and snacking on fresh produce instead of bodega potato chips, but I won’t allow myself to feel guilty if I enjoy a piece of chocolate or a glass of wine here or there as well. After all, isn’t that how the French stay fit? Balance, balance, balance.