I am always amazed when I see pictures of me as a child and young adult—my memory of that time was of me being a “fat kid,” a “fat teen.” My stepmother, who kindly made most of my clothes for me because my extremely curvy body made it nearly impossible to find proper fitting pants, would always make a big deal out of how “huge” especially my backside was. “You and your big ass,” she would sigh while measuring out my hip to waist ratio, making sure to let me know how strange it was that there were two dress size differences between them. I know she didn’t mean it as an insult, and of course it was mostly a reflection of her own body issues, as is so often the case with our parental figures. Nevertheless, her careless words made me feel like I had the world’s most misshapen, unnatural, and freaky body out there.
And yet, looking back at those photographs of me as a child and teen, heck, even as an adult in my early 20s, I realize that I wasn’t, in fact, large-bodied at all. I looked mid-sized at best, often even slim. I just had large hips and a large bottom, body attributes that weren’t as desirable in the ’80s and ’90s as they have become now. Throughout my 42 years of living on this planet, I have probably been on every diet out there and tried every “healthy lifestyle change” you can imagine, but all it did was destroy my relationship with both food and my body for many decades. It was only a few years ago that I learned that roughly around 95 percent of the time, diets will fail, and any weight lost will eventually be gained back, so I am very much the rule and not the exception. But boy, do I still often wish I could be part of that magical 5 percent, one fine day!
Throughout my 42 years, I have probably tried every “healthy lifestyle change” you can imagine, but all it did was destroy my relationship with both food and my body.
Because the thing is … I still feel unsure if I will ever be able to fully embrace the body positivity movement. Or rather, I am unsure if I will ever be able to fully embrace my, by now, very much plus-sized—nay, dare I even say it—fat body. Diet culture has been part of my life since I was a child, and growing up with a sister who naturally exists in that magical of all magical states—“naturally skinny”—turned the idea of thin bodies being “better” into a deeply ingrained belief that is extremely hard to shake.
What I have learned throughout the years is that body acceptance is a lifelong journey for most of us, especially those of us who grew up being told that we and our fat backsides are just a giant nuisance to everyone. Baby steps are important, honesty about where we are in our healing journey is helpful, as is being okay with maybe not fully being okay yet. I still read every single news article about diet research, I still secretly hope to find a path to join those super special 5 percent, and I still battle with my own self-hatred whenever I am naked in front of a mirror.
But given where I was only a few years ago I’ve made so much progress! Focusing more on self-care, exercise without pressure, and healthy eating has been a game changer, for instance, and has stopped my destructive and unhealthy obsession with fad diets. I don’t own a scale anymore either, and that feels amazingly freeing. If you are as sick and tired of that never-ending diet cycle as I am, but unsure how to take those first baby steps towards body positivity and radical self-acceptance, here are some things that have helped me on my journey.
Connect With Body Positive Influencers and Educators
I wish I would have had the amazing role models that exist today for larger-bodied people! There is just something so incredibly healing about seeing a beautiful person being happy and at peace with their body and realizing: “Wait a minute—this person has the same body shape as me!” Social media is now filled with wonderful body positivity educators and influencers, who rock their outfits and enjoy their life in a way that still feels revolutionary to me. I learn so much from them and from the communities they have attracted, filled with positivity and kindness.
View this post on Instagram
Plus-sized model Ashley Graham’s Instagram profile is such a happy place, and I love how real this gorgeous woman keeps it post-pregnancy. I only recently discovered the stunning Katana Fatale, who I am hoping will share her skincare routine with us one day because her complexion is just flawless! Lydia Okello (@styleisstyle) is another must-follow, with impeccable style and unrivaled class. On Twitter, one of my favorite plus-sized writers to follow is Aubrey Gordon, creator of the Your Fat Friend blog and the Maintenance Phase podcast.
Read, Listen, and Educate Yourself About What Body Positivity Really Means
I had so many misconceptions about body positivity and about the anti-diet movement in particular. Even though I was never someone who felt that “skinny equals healthy,” mostly because I had the blood work to prove my own near perfect health at any size I’ve ever been, I definitely had a deeply ingrained belief that “skinny equals happy” or, to switch that around, “being fat means you cannot be happy.” So, the idea of being a happy, positive, and fat person just seemed absurd to me—my brain could not process it. In fact, and this is a painful truth to admit, I at first felt almost angry when seeing images of body positive influencers just enjoying themselves and their bodies.
View this post on Instagram
What has helped me greatly is to learn more about what “body positivity” actually means, and where the movement came from—it was started by plus-sized Black women to celebrate their bodies. Remembering this is so important, as the term “body positivity” is now so often co-opted by thin, white wellness influencers who then sell you the next tummy tea, “detox” program, or similar diets disguised as lifestyle changes. Roxane Gay’s book Hunger is a magnificent read when it comes to the intersection between fatness, gender, and politics, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
If you want to learn more about Health at Every Size and intuitive eating, Christy Harrison’s book Anti-Diet is a great starting point to understand diet culture and its frightening influence on all of us. And of course, Harrison’s podcast Food Psych remains one of my favorite anti-diet, body positivity resources out there, with hours of informative interviews and a diverse mix of guests. A book that helped me tremendously on a personal level is Kelsey Miller’s Big Girl. Miller shares her journey towards intuitive eating and body acceptance, after a lifetime of yo-yo dieting and destructive eating habits—I saw so much of myself in her stories!
View this post on Instagram
Focus Less on Forced Positivity and More on Gentle Acceptance
Now, maybe this is the grumpy German in me, but sometimes all that forced positivity is a bit too much to stomach. In all honesty, being fat does have some sucky moments, and I don’t want to pretend that’s not the case. It’s not fun going jeans shopping or, shudder, trying to find a bathing suit that doesn’t make me cry in the changing room. And it is certainly not a great experience being the “fat friend” in a friend group, who also happens to be the only single one.
So, don’t pressure yourself into being positive about your body when you just aren’t feeling it. What I try to do is talk to myself like a friend would (preferably a comparably plus-sized one, that is), gently listening to my own negative self talk, allowing it all to come out. I don’t fake happiness over the parts of my body that are difficult for me to accept, but instead focus on consciously taking good care of all parts of myself on bad days. Doing my skincare routine always helps, as it connects me back to myself. It also reminds me that I have pretty nice skin!
To me, body positivity and body acceptance isn’t an overnight “aha” moment but rather a lifelong journey to be okay with the here and now. I used to put off activities and plans thinking I will do them when I am thin: buy that bikini, get back into the dating game, sign up for that yoga class. And I think deep down inside I was always putting off that pesky self-love and self-acceptance thing until I would be skinny. It is hard to give up on that idea of my magically skinny-happy future self, and it will take some time to get there.
So, take those baby steps with me and don’t feel pressured to fall deeply in love with your body overnight. We will get there, eventually—but until then, just enjoy the body acceptance journey!