I was always a very healthy child. My pediatrician had a scale of all the kids he took care of, and I was always in the 99th percentile in terms of height and weight. I wasn’t a chubby child with pudgy cheeks. I looked like a girl who would enjoy playing sports. I remember loving being outside, going to parks. The swings, the slides. The first 4 years of my life were like that. When I was in kindergarten a boy called me a made up variation of the word fat. I wasn’t fat at all, but I remember being hurt at the insult, because he had meant it as one. The fact that the boy itself was overweight didn’t register on my brain, the only thing that stuck was the insult. Days later, when my older cousin was bothering me, I told her the same word the boy had used on me. I didn’t know all the ramifications that word had, I was too young to understand how society worked, and Barbie wasn’t something I saw and wanted to emulate physically, she was just something I could use to re-enact every overly dramatic telenovela scene I’d overheard at my grandmother’s house. My cousin, 12 years old at the time, looked like she’d been slapped. Stunned and hurt, she turned her face and stopped bothering me. She knew what the word meant, how much it could hurt.
My mother had always been very beautiful, and very petite. She had a slender waist and narrow hips, olive green eyes, dark straight hair and a luminous smile. I have very early memories of her being on diets. I remember that while the rest of the family drank juice, she’d drink pink grapefruit Crystal Light. I didn’t know then, but after growing up with 3 older siblings with weight issues, my mother worked to make sure she would remain slender. My mother, an excellent cook, rarely ever made lasagna. When as I child I asked her why, she said because it was very “caloric”. I had no idea what that meant and wouldn’t process it until many years later when I remembered the exchange. However, my house was still a normal house. Chocolate Chip Deluxe cookies were bought. Cake was made on birthdays. Teddy Graham cookies were eaten with delight. Food was loved and celebrated, and I grew up with an intense love of broccoli as well as chocolate. And through it all, I was beautiful. Shy, bullied, and called ugly, but I was beautiful even if I didn’t believe it. My self esteem was low, but so was my BMI, although it didn’t matter. I grew up looking very different to most people here, and while I had physical traits that the western world prizes, it wasn’t any help to me that my eyes were blue when nobody else had them, that my skin was pale and rosy when everybody else was different shades of tan, or that my hair was a big auburn nest of curls when all around me were straight dark locks. When you’re older, being different is a prize. When you’re young, it makes you an outcast. But throughout all of it, weight was never an issue. I never felt fat. That all changed, though. I developed breasts, and big ones. Even though my frame, my arms, everything else about me was still a healthy size, being a C cup when you’re 12 years old and all of the other girls wear training bras wasn’t very helpful to my popularity. Boys called me a cow everywhere I went, making mooing noises as I walked and talking about my udders. I’d hunch over to cover them up, but there’s only so much you could do. And I had to wear larger shirts to keep my ever growing breasts contained. I was the second tallest girl in my class when I graduated from the 8th grade. I wore a dress of hers under my cap and gown. At some point during my elementary school years my mother’s thyroid became hyperactive. Facing a possible heart attack in her 30s, she had radioactive treatment for it. After that it slowly became hypoactive, and my mother’s weight fears became a reality. I saw her struggle, follow extremely strict diets only to gain weight. She was miserable.
When I started high school we had mandatory gym class in the 9th grade. I wore a very large t-shirt the first semester of gym. At some point during that first semester we went to the university next to our school to use their pool. Girls were supposed to wear athletic one pieces, so I bought mine. The day of the swim class I wore my swimsuit while every other girl basically ignored the teacher and went with their usual bikinis. While this sounds like something that would make me miserable, it wasn’t. What did happen was that people got to see the shape I had been hiding. My close friend told me “everybody just assumed you were fat, but you actually have a nice body!”. We were going through some money troubles at my house so I didn’t ask for a set of new polos, but a smaller gym t-shirt my parents could afford and I wore it with amazing confidence. At some point I gained a bit of weight. Not much, but enough for me to lose my confidence, so my mother took me to a nutritionist who helped me. I lost the weight. I never had unhealthy eating habits, but having small meals throughout the day kept my metabolism working and did the trick for me. In my senior year of high school I had my first boyfriend. We started dating at the end of my junior year, technically. I was never slimmer or prettier. My hair hadn’t been dyed so it was still my natural auburn color, my breasts had grown to a D-cup (which I denied as long as I could stuffing my breasts into a C-cup bra), and my jeans were a size 4. I was never really in love with him, but he was a nice guy. Unfortunately for him, I started gaining some weight. I wasn’t doing anything different, or eating more, but I was steadily gaining some weight. He never really commented on it except for one time when he told me I could lose the weight or stay as I was, but I couldn’t gain any more. It sounds jerky, but it’s understandable. He fell for a girl who looked a certain way and all of a sudden she started changing. By the time I started my second semester of college I was already single. I wasn’t really broken hearted, and it lead to my having more experiences with men and understanding them and him getting a girl who truly loved him, so win/win.
At some point I went to an endocrinologist. Cysts were found on my thyroid, which explained my slow but consistent weight gain. It wasn’t hypothyroidism, so I wasn’t being medicated as aggressively. And the weight kept coming. In this weight I met many of the people I now have in my life and discovered there’s nothing quite like being chubby to land in the dreaded “friendzone”. And I knew it. I knew guys didn’t see me as someone they could get involved in, so from the get-go that possibility was ruled out of my head, making me the wingwoman, the girl “bro”. And I was awesome at it. And sure, it has the potential to be heartbreaking, but since I never expected anything to come from it, I didn’t get myself into that situation. It lead to hookups. Guys surprisingly wanted to fuck me, although never actually date me. This led to the belief that there was something wrong with me, and that thing was my weight. I felt ashamed of my body during sex, always wondering how my stomach or my jowls looked, often closing my eyes or hoping for darkness in the room. Then a man came who was crazy about my body. He called me voluptuous and curvy and buxom. My DD-cup breasts were seen as godly, my hips womanly, my ass astonishing. Slowly, over the course of this casual (by mutual choice) relationship, I began to feel more and more comfortable naked. Then there was this TV show. Almost every girl loves a good makeover show, having people help you improve your looks like fairy godparents is a dream. But this one show was different. They didn’t want to change people’s bodies, they wanted to change people’s feelings about their own bodies. They showed people how to wear something that would flatter you and highlight your best features. And everybody has great features. They also said to dress for the body you have right now. That whole buying clothes a size smaller because you know you’ll lose weight, or not buying clothes that you love now because you don’t want to stay this shape was dismissed. So I started focusing on the things about me I do like. I may be overweight, but that weight is distributed evenly. I have a large butt and am quite buxom, but I also have strong legs and a small waist, all things that are worthy of celebrating. So slowly but surely, acceptance and confidence started coming.
I can’t say that I don’t wish I could lose weight, because I do. And I should. And not from an aesthetic perspective, but from a health one. I’m a size 12 and weight 201lbs. I never ever say my weight out loud because I know it’s a big unhealthy number, and I guess part of me thought that saying it would make people suddenly realize I was fat. Because we do that. We trick ourselves into thinking people will see us differently if we admit to weighing a certain amount or buying clothes at a plus size store. We pray regular stores have a plus size section so we won’t have to be seen going into a Torrid. Such bullshit. We tell ourselves that some numbers are okay to be and some are dirty. We stuff ourselves into something that barely fits because we don’t want the size that would flatter us, because it’s one of the dirty digits. But I digress.
Over a year ago my mother finally found a nutritionist who was able to help her. She developed a very strict diet, which was nothing she hadn’t done before, but this time it worked. My mother was thin again and felt happier and more confident than I had seen her most of my life. She’s kept the weight off, in spite of my sister and father telling her she should gain back some weight. Ironically, the biggest defender of her weight loss is the daughter who weighs the most. Because my mother isn’t skinny or bony, she’s healthy and radiant, and beautiful as always. A couple of weeks ago we were laying in bed while my dad was on his chair in their room and I talked about my boyfriend (more on him later) and how I’d gotten a call from him, which had me very excited since he’s in deployment and we haven’t seen each other in months. Once again my mother suggested that I lose some weight while he’s away so I welcome him home “improved”. I told her that I was expecting her to bring it up. Because she does. Not often, but every once in a while. And I know it comes from a good place.
So I started writing this. Last week while running errands with my mom we stopped at a fast food place and I bought lunch for us. I got a piece of Hershey Pie, because I wanted it. I brought the tray over and she said “you always have to get sweets” in a concerned voice. I got defensive and told her that what she was doing was something called fat shaming and that it wasn’t helpful (the conversation is in Spanish, so there’s really no graceful way to translate it except to say it in English). Then I told her about writing this. I told her that all my life I’d seen her live in fear of getting fat, like it was the worst thing she could be. I told her that somewhere along the years, while I was still a teenager or pre-teen, she told me that I should lose weight because tall and thin women looked delicate while tall and larger women looked grotesque. She looked like she was about to cry. I felt guilty about telling her that. I told her I knew she was trying to protect me. She then told me that she grew up listening to people talk about her sister’s weight and how if she was fat it was her fault for letting herself get that way and how she never wanted people to talk about me like that. I’d never known that. When we were in the car she said that she tried so hard to keep me from getting hurt that she ended up being the one hurting me. I told her I knew she was trying to protect me, but that every child wants to feel that their parents find them beautiful. She said she did, but she also wanted me to be healthy, and thought my thyroid wasn’t under control at the moment and needed to get my levels tested. Then she mentioned my boyfriend again. I told her my boyfriend had met me when I was 13 years old and thin, and had seen me in a variety of weights over the years (he’s the brother of my oldest friend, so while we knew each other, we saw each other sporadically over the years). He’s told me that there are people who look better thin, and others who look better heavier, but that I look beautiful in every size and shape and he’s crazy about me. He doesn’t care if my body is bigger or smaller, as long as I feel happy in it and he gets to enjoy it as well. So my mother and I agreed that I would get my TSH levels and start eating smaller portions and forsaking carbs at night. I told her I wouldn’t mind dropping to a size 10, or even a size 8, but that I didn’t want to be skinny. She told me she just wants me to be healthy. Because, in spite of all the amazing bodies in bikinis I see every day on TV and magazines, I don’t want that body. I worship Christina Hendrick’s figure, and find the most beautiful women to be models like Jennie Runk, who also poses in bikinis, but looks more pleasing to my eye that the Victoria Secret Angels. I don’t see thin girls and get angry or insecure. Her being thin doesn’t make me fat, and her metabolism being fast won’t make mine any slower. I’m able to appreciate beauty in every shape. I’m happy, and soon will be healthier. When I wasn’t yet in high school and I was still hiding my changing body I read an article about a woman who grew up longing for Audrey Hepburn’s figure and style, but found her curves to be a deterrent. She concluded the piece saying that not all of us could be Audrey Hepburns, that some of us had to be Sofia Lorens. And I wish I could tell her how much that helped me. Because there’s space for all kinds and shapes in the world, and I am happy to take my place among the Sofias.