In 9th grade, at a school event, one of the headteachers walked towards me and a group of my friends. They commented on how I had lost some weight and that I had to lose just a little bit more to be perfect. I nodded and smiled slightly. Later my friend revealed to me how she was almost enraged at the ease with which our teacher thought she had a right to comment on my body. That was the first time I realized I had a right to deny others an open floor to comment on how I look and the way I should be treating my body. I had to explain to my friend that being bigger than average and weighing more meant that for most of my life people, friends, relatives, strangers, everyone felt they had a free pass to comment on my body, on how I should be trying to lose weight, how I should go about doing so, what I should eat, how much, and when. I was so used to it, I began to expect it.
I was a chubby child and then just an overweight teen,
I don’t remember a time of my life where I weighed right. I came close to it several times by starving and forcing myself to accept that it would make me feel better. It didn’t.
I just felt more incomplete. I allowed so many comments by family members, friends, and teachers to break me a little more each time. Until I accepted that I wasn’t right. That something about me would always be imperfect. I began to accept that the way I dressed, the way I ate, the way I went about my daily routine would always be open to scrutiny no matter what lifestyle I adopted. That is to say – until I looked a certain way, I wouldn’t be pronounced healthy.
I began to expect a kind of love that was always conditional, that required me to look a certain way and weigh a certain number before it would accept me.
People close to me – people who cared about me – would always recommend new diets. Everyone always assumed I was on a diet when, or was trying to be, because why wouldn’t I be? Did I want to look this way? I accepted too, that I didn’t want to look this way. That I could’ve achieved anything but I wouldn’t be accepted, I wouldn’t be beautiful until I lost weight, until I shed the extra fat on myself. The scrutiny then became self-inflicted. I was always angry at myself for looking the way I did. I was angry when something didn’t fit, I was angry when something didn’t look on me the way it did on somebody else. I was angry when I was hungry. I hated being hungry. I hated wanting to eat because no matter how much I ate, I must have been doing something wrong to end up looking the way I did.
It was exhausting. Self-hatred, especially one that is grounded in absolutely superficial ideals, is exhausting. I started to feel tired of unsolicited comments, advice, taunts. I was getting tired of hiding behind layers and layers of fabrics, of crying. I got tired of being afraid of looking in the mirror. Miraculously. exhaustion gave way to change.
It took me years upon years of crying in changing rooms, looking at the sizes of clothing before liking anything knowing it was unlikely they would have been made in my size, dreading the looks and stares from strangers when I wore anything that curved tighter around my body, to realize that I owe myself an apology. For being angry at a myself for looking a certain way, for allowing others to validate their experiences through my perceived failures at losing at weight, for having an unhealthy relation with food because I couldn’t want food just because I weighed a certain number. I realized I needed to apologize to myself for looking for my self worth in the way I looked, for accepting that I only deserved to be loved if the numbers on the weighing scale fell. I apologized to every experience, every memory in life I had categorized unhappy because I had accepted I looked ugly.
It was hard and mostly hidden but once I saw beauty within me, it was impossible to unsee it.
Do you know how uplifting it is to like what you see in the mirror after not knowing anything but hate for your reflection? How glorious it feels to know that the only person responsible for decreeing whether you’re beautiful or not, is yourself?
Opinions on the outside became blurrier after that. I had years of self-love pending and I needed to unlearn so many habits, unlearn an ugly form self-critique that had become almost innate. I had to find new things about myself that I loved. I had to stop hiding behind fabrics and an angry hatred of food. I had to mend my relationship with what was closest to me, my body. I had seen what it was like to live inside something I absolutely loathed and how it destroyed any beautiful thing that came into my life, and now I had to learn to live with something I loved so deeply. I had to learn that I loved myself not because of the way I looked but rather, I loved the way I looked because I loved myself. That my self-worth could perhaps be judged by the kindness I spread in the world, but definitely NOT by the way I looked.
And it is painful to add time and again that body positivity does not advocate for an unhealthy life or even vanity, it asks for empathy.
It asks that we discard a narrow, superficial understanding of beautiful. It asks, at most, that we use common sense to understand how negligible outward beauty is in the grand scheme of things.