I used to be fat. I used to be disgusting. I used to have so much cellulite it actually hurt to see myself in swimsuits.I used to have a muffin top so big my jeans would leave a crease on my skin for hours after I took them off.I used to have thighs thick it was hard to even fathom they were mine. I had this sick desire to get rid of my legs all together—if only I could just rip them off.
The self-loathing was so rich that I used to dig my nails into those soft, cellulite-y thighs and scratch as deep as I could. I would bare my teeth and look in the mirror and scream (under my breath so my parents/roommates/people in the dressing room next to me wouldn’t hear), “You fat fuck. Fuck you. Fuck you. Fuck you.”
I never drew blood. I never wanted to hurt myself as much as I just wanted me to know how genuinely fat I was. I wanted to make sure there was no doubt in my mind I was disgusting.
It started the summer before fifth grade. I developed early—got my period when I was ten. I remember standing in my kitchen in front of my mother and her saying to me, “Oh my God, you have hips.” And another time, “I’m sorry, Kristen, that you inherited our bad genes.”
She herself refused to go to the beach without shorts to cover her swimsuit because according to her—“no one wants to see this.”
I couldn’t fit into my best friend’s jeans after that summer. We had always been mirror images of each other. People could barely tell us apart from behind–same hair, same height, same size. Then I got big.
This started my obsession with food. This food will make you fat, this food will make you skinny, but if you eat too much of it, it will still make you fat.
The running ticker in my head was always planning what I would eat next or how I could avoid eating all together.
Once, in high school, I lost a few pounds because I got a job that I went to straight after class. I just didn’t eat—maybe, an applesauce for breakfast, as little as I could manage at lunch—then stood on my feet for 8 hours and went home to bed.
I got skinny. My ass was flat, my hips were smaller, and I was happy.
I was also hungry.
It didn’t take long for me to start eating again.
In college, I felt like everyone around me had a perfect body and I was just the gross friend. We ate a lot of shit in, pizza every night, Wendy’s and McDonalds for lunch, but everyone else’s metabolism seemed to breeze through it.
I thought if I worked out, something would change, but I never looked any better.
When I entered the professional world, I would spend almost half my working day obsessing about my next meals. I would count calories. I would eat a cookie and then spend the rest of the day thinking about how I could work off those calories. I would stress if a day went by when I couldn’t make it to the gym. I rode this vicious cycle of starvation to binging to guilt.
I even puked a few times.
Now, I stand in front of you, comfortable in my clothes. I’m not afraid of the woman I see when I look in the mirror. I don’t look down and hate anything.
What did it? What was the cure? It wasn’t a diet. It wasn’t a pill. It wasn’t working out. It wasn’t actually losing any weight.
A million little things…some from the outside, some from the inside, undid the lie I had invented in my head that I was overweight and repulsive.
I discovered my guilt around food had more to do with how I was feeling than the food itself and that the numbers on the scale were nothing more than numbers.
I hung out with women who carried themselves so freely they were beyond sexy even if their thighs were bigger than mine.
I stood naked in my kitchen in Brooklyn with my three best friends, and we told each other how much we loved each other’s bodies.
I started agreeing with men when they said I was sexy. A bunch of rap songs came out about fat asses and suddenly my body type was in style. This world is fickle.
I started eating what I wanted, when I wanted and stopped feeling guilty about it.
I started doing yoga and appreciating my body for what it could do for me.
I began trusting that my body knows how to be a body.
At the store I worked at in New York, I watched woman after woman come out of the fitting room and find something to criticize immediately. It was always, “Oh, I can’t wear this, it shows my belly,” or “Ugh, look at the flab on my arms,” or “Can you see my back fat?”
It didn’t matter what they looked like or how fit they were, they had to find something to hate, rather than something to love. I realized this horrific practice of self-hatred is passed around like a disease, spurred on by the patriarchal insistence that a woman’s value is in her figure.
And if you think that is history, take a look at some of the quotes by the American president elect.
I realized that girl in the kitchen standing in her swimsuit right before fifth grade had simply gotten hips before her peers, and her mother’s words were just shock that her little girl was already growing into a woman.
Recently, I asked my mother why she had always insisted on telling me I had “bad genes,” and she said she never wanted me to think it was my “fault” if I had cellulite or wasn’t as thin as I wanted to be.
Her words were well-meaning but they were words based on her own fear, which transmuted into my fear.
I wish I could have said, when my mother refused to go to the beach without shorts to cover her swimsuit, “Fuck what the people at the beach want to see. What your 10-year-old daughter needs to see a woman who stands proudly in her skin, who doesn’t equate imperfections to embarrassments, who is more interested in having fun with her daughter than what the people on the fucking beach are thinking about.”
How much pain could have been avoided had I not been infected with the self-loathing disease? How much pain could be avoided if we stop spreading it?
The truth is, I never lost any weight. My perception of the reflection in the mirror is what changed. Now, when I look in the mirror, I see what is really there. A woman who has boobs, and hips, and thighs just like any other woman.
What I lost what the shit in my mind.
Fuck the word fat. I am beautiful. You are beautiful. We are beautiful.
I recently read this piece at Singapore Writers Festival 2016. Here’s the video: