I’ve been stressing about hitting publish on this post since August last year. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever written, but I’m feeling more confident and finally ready to share it.
I first started blogging seven years ago to document my new journey in running as a way to keep myself accountable. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t rooted in an attempt to lose weight and to find my self-worth. I would also be lying if I said that I wasn’t ashamed of who I was or of my body, because I absolutely was. In fact, I missed out on many opportunities to celebrate size inclusivity because I was too ashamed of my own size to fully embrace it.
It’s taken me a long time to confidently say this, but I’m really proud of myself. I’m proud of how I keep showing up for myself no matter what life throws at me. I will always be a work in progress and truly believe my desire to keep learning is one of my greatest gifts.
Maybe this isn’t news to you, but maybe it is. When you live in a bigger body, society often writes off what you are capable of and then slaps you with a bunch of negative labels; the primary one being you are unhealthy. This is such a significant and sensitive topic for me because it is so deeply entrenched into my lived experience.
Before I dive into that, I want to call attention to the roots of diet culture and fatphobia being an integral part of white supremacy. I’m still learning everyday, but the simplest explanation is that fatphobia was specifically created to further oppress large, Black bodies by wielding power and “desired” aesthetics over them.
The roots of this oppression later sparked the body positivity movement which was originally championed by Black women for fat, queer, femme, trans, non-binary and BIPOC communities. It has since been co-opted and white washed by the diet, beauty and wellness industries by bringing aesthetics back into the forefront. Check out these resources for learning/unlearning:
I’m no stranger to body image/size as a systemically learned issue. From a young age, my body was always bigger. I was always taller, larger, and had a more muscular frame. Because of this, my body was also a topic of debate. My family was fortunate to have a family doctor who accepted my body as it was. I was an active and, more importantly, happy kid, but I often wonder how different my story would have been if I had a different childhood doctor.
I don’t remember how old I was when I went on my first diet, probably because I was too young to remember. What I do remember is my sense of self worth being directly tied to my weight and appearance because of people’s hurtful comments. So began my journey into people pleasing as a form of armour and feeling seen. No one can hurt you if you just work hard to meet everyone’s expectations and make them happy right? No one can hurt you if you are mean to yourself first, right? Wrong.
I remember being called “wide load” at my thinnest in middle school for having a big bum. The name calling was often followed with beeping noises to indicate a truck backing up. I remember being told I could never be the lead in a ballet because of my size, despite being the best dancer at auditions. I remember hearing about a girl in high school calling me the fattest, ugliest girl she’d ever seen, and how every time she saw me, she wanted to puke. I remember a guy who was a friend of a friend telling her I was cute, but that I’d be so much hotter if I was skinnier. I remember someone wildly flailing their arms and screaming, “lose weight you fat ass!” out of a car window when I was a teenager walking down the street with a friend. The truth is, I remember a whole lot more.
As much as I played it off and kept this a secret from my family and friends to avoid burdening them (some of them are probably learning about this for the first time now), these experiences hurt me deeply and have stayed with me as a trauma that I’ve held onto for a very long time. I don’t think I really started processing this or finding my worth until I started my journey with running. Even as I type this, I can still feel my heartbeat racing and my body clenching because of how uncomfortable it makes me.
Growing into adulthood hasn’t been much different except I can now add, “encounter with fatphobic doctors”, to my list of experiences after the emergence of some reproductive health issues. After reviewing my chart, and not running a single test, I was told by a fertility specialist that I am too fat to have a baby. Not because of the massive fibroid that went undiagnosed for years. Not because of the surgery to remove it, and definitely not because of my depression or irregular cycle after the surgery. It was very clear to me that in her “expert opinion”, my inability to get pregnant was because I was fat.
After firmly explaining how active I am (which was a knee jerk reaction because worth isn’t tied to exercise), and aggressively stating how uncomfortable she was making me, the specialist went on to tell me that I should just join Weight Watchers, and continued making me feel like I was lying about my lifestyle. To this day, I still feel like I have to prove my worth and health to her even though I don’t owe anyone an explanation.
Not feeling comfortable in that space, and rightfully so, led me to seek out a different doctor and clinic. This time I was hell bent on setting a boundary as soon as I walked into the office, and I did. I firmly told the doctor that we weren’t going to have a discussion about my weight or health unless something was found after testing.
As much as I hoped this would change my treatment approach, it didn’t. My bloodwork all came back normal. So normal that this specialist decided to tell me that I’m what they consider, “medically pure”, whatever the f*ck that means. He went on to tell me that breakfast was created by Kellogg’s as a marketing ploy and then proceeded to prescribe intermittent fasting with a dash of a pre-diabetic medication called Metformin; which turns out, makes you really, really sick when you don’t need it.
I’m not going to get bogged down in the weeds of my fertility journey right now because that’s a whole other subject for another day. What I do want to focus on from this experience is how even when your bloodwork is normal, doctors still turn to practicing and inflicting the harm of diet culture and weight stigma onto large bodies.
Even when I’ve asked, there’s never been any real explanation from these specialists on why I should lose weight aside from the societal status quo that being fat is bad. On top of that, their declarations have never been supported with any actual evidence based findings as to why weight loss was the best solution for me specifically. It’s not surprising when I think about it though. If everything is normal, you’re forced to grasp at straws to try to fix something you think needs to be fixed, but it doesn’t make it right.
Take a second and imagine how that feels. Although the doctor isn’t an expert in weight loss or nutrition, and doesn’t have any specific evidence to support their advice, they dole out suggestions for weight loss as though they’re prescriptions for health. It’s not ok. Here are some articles that specifically highlight the ways healthcare is flawed and failing large bodies:
How confusing and messed up is that? To be told you are completely healthy by a doctor, but in the same breath also be told you need to lose weight? Not only does it not make any sense, it perpetuates the notion that weight equals health and health equals worth based on size alone, which we know isn’t true.
The medical field really needs to axe the practice of looking at someone’s weight first or assuming the symptoms a patient is experiencing are a direct result of their weight. By telling a patient to lose weight without any additional knowledge or evidence before treating them is negligent. People have gone undiagnosed with medical conditions because of healthcare professionals avoiding testing and also because of their assumption that weight is the primary issue when it’s not. I would argue that this practice ends up causing more harm to the mind and body than good; anxiety, depression, and eating disorders come to mind to name a few, which can negatively exacerbate someone’s weight in either direction.
No one should be discriminated against for their size, race, or gender when seeking medical attention. NO ONE. Furthermore, no one should have to defend themselves in a doctor’s office when they show up in their most vulnerable state asking for help or at the very least, compassion. Yet more and more I keep hearing stories about larger bodies having to advocate for basic medical rights.
I don’t like labels, but I also know that I am fat. It’s still really hard for me to admit and unpack the negative associations of that word. It’s difficult unpacking it because I also identify as athletic, which further complicates things since I feel like I don’t fully fit that mold either. The two represent a dichotomy that feels hypocritical, but can certainly coexist. We’re just taught to believe they can’t because we believe big bodies indicate poor health, laziness, and excessive eating (to name a few).
I’m tired of robbing myself of what I know to be true. I work hard. I nourish my body with what it needs. I find joy in doing hard athletic things. But none of these facts determine my worth or anyone else’s, especially those living in a bigger body. Repeat after me: weight doesn’t equal health and health doesn’t equal worth.
That being said, being on the smaller end of the plus-size spectrum, my size and perception of my self-worth still hold me back from a lot of things. While I keep pushing myself forward, I still find myself feeling a tremendous amount of anxiety because of my size when making athletic decisions or being in public spaces. I constantly worry someone will make fun of me, or that people won’t like me because I’m fat. That all they will see is my large body and nothing else.
This extends to interviewing for jobs, and even as far as speaking up to defend myself or others. I remember sitting in multiple interviews where I could feel my weight making an impact more than my actual resume or work ethic. The stereotype that fat people are lazy or take more sick days has crossed my mind more times than I would like to admit.
If I choose to stand up for others or speak out against an injustice, my biggest fear is that someone will target my size, and I won’t be able to speak up because I’m paralyzed in my own anxiety about my own body. I worry I’m too fat for my friends and my family. That they’d like me more if I was skinny. I wonder how many times I’ve been passed up as a bridesmaid out of fear that my weight could ruin their wedding pictures.
This has been really difficult for me to write, but these are only a fraction of my experiences, and they have woven their way into so much of the fabric of my life that they’re easy to keep tucked away in shame. As a result, I’ve become hypersensitive of the way my body is processed and perceived by others, which only feeds my cycle of negative self-worth. I constantly feel like I am forever too much; too big, too emotional, too loving, too giving, too intense, and yet at the same time, I constantly feel the need to conform because I’m not enough; to make myself small, to try to fit in, to feel a sense of belonging.
Don’t get me wrong, I have felt moments of confidence in my life, many of which have come from accomplishing difficult athletic feats, but it’s not healthy to attach your worth to accomplishments either, which now has me questioning who I’m trying to prove myself to and why. If I believe all bodies are good bodies, why is it so hard some days to love my own? If I believe health isn’t an indicator of worth, why do I struggle to apply that belief to myself? Why is it so hard to see myself for all of myself and not just my body?
I’m writing this to say that I’m working VERY hard on not buying into that narrative anymore. Part of that work was writing this piece and sharing this part of my story. As difficult as it was, if sharing this story gives anyone a sense of relief or belonging, it was worth it.
We often hear the phrase, “If you could speak to your younger self, what would you say?” Looking back at the experiences I’ve shared here, it’s easy to say I would tell myself to be kinder, or that the only opinion that matters is my own. However, the reality is, it’s easy to say that when you have the gift of hindsight.
I don’t want to speak to my younger self as if she’s a ghost of the past. I want to speak to her directly because she still lives within me now. It’s important that I approach her with the same tenderness and empathy I would with someone else who is struggling with these issues (which let’s face it, are a lot of humans).
So here’s what I’m telling myself: I no longer want my achievements, size, gender, or beauty to dictate my worth. I want to keep working on investing and trusting myself. To keep acknowledging that I hold the power within myself to choose how I feel, and to choose what feedback I keep. That everything I need is already within me. That I AM kind. That I AM intelligent. That I AM powerful. That I AM strong. That I AM resilient. That I AM brave and that I am much, much more than a body. And guess what? So are you.