I shifted nervously on the cheap white paper covering the examination table in my family’s primary care doctor’s office.
My doctor, a short Latin American woman with eyes capable of boring into your soul quizzed me on my eating habits after clicking her tongue disapprovingly at both my blood pressure and my weight.
“How often do you drink?” Maybe once a week, I responded truthfully.
“Do you smoke?” No ma’m, I countered.
“What’re your eating habits like?”
I described sharing food with my roommates, like chicken and broccoli for dinner. We share food, and we make dinners together, I told her.
“So, your roommates are obese then too?” she asked me, cocking her head to the side.
Suddenly, the room felt too bright. The plastic paper under my hips ripped as I readjusted my seat and the tearing sounded too loud. The blood rushed to my head and roared in my ears and I trained my eyes on a spot on the floor as the hot tears blurred my vision. I don’t remember responding to her or even leaving the office.
I stood in the elevator after the appointment, crowded with sick children and elderly patients. I clutched the suggested diet papers and a sickly green pamphlet in my hand cheerily advertising a weight loss medicine.
“Lose weight responsibly!” It advertised in bold white letters. Smaller font advertised side effects like increased depression, insomnia, confusion, anxiety, and constipation.
Growing up, I distinctly remember my “otherness.” I wasn’t quite here, but I also wasn’t quite there. I didn’t belong with the “popular” kids but I didn’t belong with the “dorky” kids either. I drifted somewhere in the middle, devouring books on the weekends and finding better company with horses than sports teams.
My otherness came primarily from the soft folds of skin blanketing my middle section and the “extra stretchy” pants with adjustable hooks my mom bought from Land’s End for me. She swore up and down it was just baby fat, even when I was in middle school, and promised that I would grow out of it someday.
I spent my adolescence worrying more about fitting into my own skin rather than intellectual pursuits or dreams and ambitions. When my 7th-grade boyfriend broke up with me, citing that I was “fat and weird,” it stung, but not any more than when the boys at my school gossiped about how I “only had big boobs because I was fat.”
I grew past the bullying, losing the baby fat by discovering a gym and joining a sports team. Feeling my feet slap against the treadmill made sense and I ran so hard my teeth buzzed in my head and my vision swam after I stepped off. I fit in, but only until an aggressive bout of seasonal depression returned the weight to the scale.
I never exercised or ate out of love for my body but rather as a punishment. I exercised to numb the feelings of inadequacy that crept up whenever a roll appeared on my tummy and I ate more/worse food to stifle the progress with a few moments of bliss.
At 21, when the doctor trained her brown eyes on my own, uttering the word “obese” I was that 13-year-old girl again. My entire existence, my thoughts, my ambitions, the experiences I lived through and the emotional trauma I suffered for countless years but overcame disappeared. My joys, my friends and family I loved, my schoolwork and my successes shrank into the background.
I was a word again, and societal expectations conditioned me to believe that word meant I was worthless. Diet programs, pyramid schemes, and gym advertisements constantly reinforce a culture that decries being fat and emphasizes only weight loss, not conscious exercise and eating for health.
The ads on social media focus on “losing weight fast” and “burning fat instantly” with detox teas, over-priced plastic wrap slathered with chemicals and unrealistic weight loss routines. It condones obsessive calorie counting, extreme dieting and ill-informed advice masquerading as medical facts.
Our feeds are doctored, filtered and perfected with good lighting and better angles. We’re spoon fed the idea that in order to be someone or something, we need to look like Kim K or any other fitness guru.
It convinced me, and many others like me that I am useless, worthless, undeserving of love and invaluable because of my number on a scale.
I sat in my car after the appointment with my eyes staring off into the distance. Tears and wickedly hot emotion lodged itself in my throat, but the tears wouldn’t come.
I love myself. I loved myself, I thought.
But there I stood, unable to even meet my own eyes in the mirror that night when I peeled my clothes off for a shower. The jagged red lines striped across my hips and belly mocked me, taunted me, and aggressively reminded me that all the weight I once lost came back with vengeance.
“But I’ve already been through this,” I cried, to no one in particular. I rested my head between my knees while I sat on the dirty shower floor and let the hot water scald my skin. “I figured it out. I love myself, I don’t need to feel this way anymore. I learned my lesson, it’s over,” I sobbed.
I resented my body. Her, the vessel that carried me through heartbreak time after time. The gracefully long fingers and the wheat-colored hair, curled to perfection, tumbling down my back. The green eyes with flecks of brown, gold, and blue that shined in unique glory in the different light.
I resented my mind, thinking of her as too weak to withstand even a little pressure. I resented her for believing she loved herself only to an extent. I resented myself for believing I figured it out, the battle with self-love only to discover that on a deeper level, I had not figured it out.
But most of all, I resented myself for my weight.
I obsessed over my appearance, but not outwardly. I didn’t hit the gym again to start the brutal cycle all over again, but rather I avoided it at all costs. I ate anything and everything I wanted, knowing I would gain weight in all the wrong places and grow to despise myself again, but not quite caring. I became so numb to the hatred for myself that I let it die. I let it shrink into the smallest corner of my psyche and exist there, unheard and unseen.
In September, I woke up with a revelation. I do love myself. And because I love myself, I will take care of myself.
Not because a fitness blogger told me to, but because I want to. Not because I wanted a boy to like me so I should be skinnier, but because it makes me feel better. Not because my pants hugged my hips too tight, but because my sweet body craved the gentle and conscious movement I could give it.
I started slow. I went back to yoga, even if it was only once a week. I worked on my poses outside of class, and even began running again. I kept working slow, only running a few steps before walking the rest. I treated myself to whatever movement felt best in that moment whether my only activity that day was a light stretch before bed or a 2-mile run on the track.
In the end, all it took was silence. Listening to my body and saying F*CK YOU to the idea that every time I go to the gym, I have to go so hard that my head rings and my heart fumbles wildly in my chest.
I said F*CK YOU to over-eating only to fill the void I did or didn’t feel.
I said F*CK YOU to the diets, the starvation, the binging, the disordered eating and the unhealthy exercise patterns.
I said F*CK YOU to the guilt I felt every time I ate a “bad” food that made me feel like I needed to exercise right then and there to avoid the consequences. I said F*CK YOU to the endless cycle I trapped myself in, fluctuating up and down on the scale only to despise myself either way.
Every day, I still challenge myself to look into the mirror and not pick apart my body. Somedays, when I see the small pool of fat bubbling over my jeans or the extra width on my hips, I am reminded of the feelings I’ve harbored for so long simply out of familiarity with the self-loathing, and often, those days outnumber the “good ones.”
But the days when I look at myself and see not only milky white flesh freckled with tattoos and scars but bravery, vulnerability and humanity, I am reminded of my worthiness not because I look or act a certain way, but because I am deserving of the best day of my life EVERY DAY simply because I am.