The body I have.

The body I have.

I am fat.

And for the first time in my young life…

I am okay with that.

As I write this, I am sit­ting in my size 20 dark-wash skin­ny jeans.

You read that right. Skin­ny jeans — that some­how mirac­u­lous­ly hug my butt, hips, thighs, and calves with­out mak­ing my stom­ach pro­trude unnat­u­ral­ly. Skin­ny jeans that make me look, well, real­ly good.

On top of these mag­i­cal jeans, I am wear­ing a size XL fad­ed teal 3-quar­ter-sleeve fit­ted shirt with but­tons halfway down the front, most­ly unbut­toned so I feel nei­ther choked nor awk­ward. It hangs just at my hips, which is remark­able con­sid­er­ing my tall tor­so.

I am hap­py with how I look, even though I still have bulges I’d rather not have.

But it most cer­tain­ly has not always been the case.

I remem­ber the first time I felt pub­lic shame about my body.

I was 8 years old, in third grade, and we were hav­ing a class per­for­mance. We all were wear­ing white but­ton-up shirts and navy pants (for the boys) or skirts (for the girls), and were all in a rush to pull on our school-issued red vests.

My vest had fit every month pre­vi­ous to this, but sud­den­ly I was hav­ing trou­ble pulling it on. It was tight, uncom­fort­able, awk­ward. I raised my hand and informed my teacher that my vest didn’t fit. I think I was try­ing to tell her that I must have grabbed the wrong vest, but I assumed she would under­stand that from what I said.

She looked me over, then declared with a delight­ed sneer in front of the entire class, “Of course not. You’re too fat for it.

The class erupt­ed into laugh­ter, and I sud­den­ly wished I had the abil­i­ty to shrink into the shad­ows, nev­er to be seen again.

I stopped eat­ing in the eighth grade.

Peo­ple com­pli­ment­ed me on how much weight I was los­ing, how much pret­ti­er I looked, how much bet­ter I was.

They didn’t know some­thing was wrong until I start­ed pass­ing out. And when my eat­ing dis­or­der final­ly came to light, it was large­ly seen as me going through a phase to be pop­u­lar or noticed, much like with my cut­ting and sui­cide attempts.

Because, you know, depres­sion and sui­cide and self-harm and eat­ing dis­or­ders are only a phase.

It didn’t mat­ter that I hat­ed my body. It didn’t mat­ter why I hat­ed my body. And some­times, I was encour­aged to hate my body, because fat peo­ple absolute­ly can­not have a rela­tion­ship with their body that doesn’t involve self-loathing and the per­pet­u­al impe­tus to hide as much of their body as pos­si­ble.

You shouldn’t go out in pub­lic with wet hair,” he told us. “It makes guys think of you…” He paused, clear­ly uncom­fort­able, then said in a qui­eter voice, “in the show­er.

We were at a Bible con­fer­ence, stay­ing in the col­lege & career cab­ins, stand­ing out­side and talk­ing. He and his friend were somber-faced, and me and my friends were uncom­fort­able yet eager. We were talk­ing about rela­tion­ships, and how guys and girls (why not men and women?) could “help each oth­er stay pure.” We learned that hav­ing wet hair was a stum­bling block, along with ever allow­ing any male to see us wear­ing paja­mas. Appar­ent­ly that makes men think of us in bed.

Why a show­er or a bed are inher­ent­ly sex­u­al places for a woman to be, I don’t know. Frankly, I think it’s quite telling about our cul­ture that those assump­tions could be con­sid­ered “log­i­cal” in the first place.

But I do know that dur­ing this hours-long con­ver­sa­tion, I kept adding things to my men­tal of list of Things To Do To Be A Good Chris­t­ian Girl — a list that was com­prised almost entire­ly of Things To Do To Be Pure, which looked a lot like Things To Do To Be Silent And Invis­i­ble.

And my qui­et pan­ic kept grow­ing and grow­ing, because I want­ed so des­per­ate­ly to not be a stum­bling block, but it was start­ing to sound like hav­ing long hair, breasts, and hips was stum­bling block enough. I thought of my out­ra­geous­ly curly hair that I kept long out of per­son­al reli­gious duty. I thought of my large and endowed body. And my heart sank.

I was a stum­bling block. I was impure — by sim­ple inescapable virtue of being unable to hide the body I had.

What were you wear­ing? Did you do any­thing…invit­ing?

I’m nev­er cer­tain what peo­ple are say­ing when they ask me these two ques­tions about being sex­u­al­ly assault­ed at the age of 18. Because it sounds like they’re ask­ing me if my assault is actu­al­ly my fault.

For the record, I was wear­ing a lime green high-necked T-shirt, a pair of men’s jeans that were bag­gy and shape­less, and a large trench coat that was equal­ly bag­gy and shape­less. Along with a pair of Vans. I was lit­er­al­ly cov­ered from col­lar bone to wrists to toes.

And no. I didn’t do any­thing invit­ing.

And it’s insult­ing that peo­ple think that sex­u­al assault is some­thing that can be invit­ed.

For years, those ques­tions have hurt. To be hon­est, they still hurt.

Because they seem to say, “Your body is temp­ta­tion that makes assault okay. Your body makes men do evil things. Your body is tox­ic. Your body is sin­ful.

And for years, I believed it.

Ten Rules for Fat Girls.

I stared at the arti­cle title in shame, hat­ing myself for even want­i­ng to read it. Hat­ing myself for fit­ting into the cat­e­go­ry of “fat girl.” I was at my largest size yet, a 24–26. I was depressed. I had just start­ed bat­tling PTSD on a near­ly dai­ly basis. My self-hatred was at an all-time high. I clicked the link, ful­ly expect­ing ten rules about how not to be a fat girl any­more.

Boy, was I sur­prised.

I drank in the pos­i­tiv­i­ty. I mar­veled at con­cepts like, “You are not oblig­at­ed to be thin, healthy, or pret­ty.” This sec­tion in par­tic­u­lar hit home for me:

Touch your­self. You’re not gross. If you’re doing yoga and your belly’s in your way, take hold of it and shift it. I’m seri­ous. Most peo­ple don’t think about that, but it can real­ly help — touch your flesh. It’s yours. You grew it; you own it. Don’t be afraid of your body. Often because we are heirs to such body shame, we avoid get­ting to know our flesh, so when some­thing does go wrong we don’t real­ize it until it’s real­ly seri­ous.

I thought of my recent­ly diag­nosed poly-cys­tic ovar­i­an syn­drome, and how I spent all of my devel­op­ing and adult years think­ing that excru­ci­at­ing ovar­i­an pain was nor­mal, that unbear­able men­stru­al cycles were nor­mal, that every sign I had that point­ed to PCOS was just nor­mal and indica­tive that I was a wimp for not being able to just han­dle it. I thought of how une­d­u­cat­ed about my body I was, and about how out of touch with my body’s needs I’d been my entire life. And I took hold of those words. “I’m not gross. I’m not afraid of my body. It is my body. It’s mine.”

A lit­tle ray of sun­shine shone through the clouds into my world.

Around this time, I also stum­bled upon “You don’t have to be pret­ty.”

But what does you-don’t-have-to-be-pretty mean in prac­ti­cal, every­day terms? It means that you don’t have to apol­o­gize for wear­ing things that are held to be “unflat­ter­ing” or “unfash­ion­able” — espe­cial­ly if, in fact, they make you hap­py on some lev­el deep­er than just being pret­ty does. So what if your favorite col­or isn’t a “good” col­or on you? So what if you are “too fat” (by some arbi­trary mea­sure) for a sleeve­less top? If you are clean, are cov­ered enough to avoid a cita­tion for pub­lic inde­cen­cy, and have ban­daged any open wounds, you can wear any col­or or style you please, if it makes you hap­py.

Sun­shine explod­ed in my world as I absorbed val­i­da­tion and heal­ing.

I start­ed being more hon­est with the peo­ple clos­est to me about my body image issues. To my sur­prise, most peo­ple were utter­ly unaware of the exis­tence of my self-hatred, let alone the inten­si­ty of it. Even more shock­ing — most peo­ple com­plete­ly under­stood where I was com­ing from.

Michael and Paige start­ed a cam­paign to alert me to when I would dis­par­age myself, whether for my weight or my per­son­al­i­ty or my thoughts. I start­ed read­ing about con­cepts like con­sent, agency, auton­o­my. I talked to peo­ple like Dian­na, Sarah, and Grace about puri­ty cul­ture and mod­esty doc­trine and this poi­so­nous idea that there is some­thing inher­ent­ly sin­ful about a woman’s body that caus­es men to lose con­trol of them­selves. I start­ed read­ing the Redefin­ing Body Image blog. I start­ed read­ing about plus-size fash­ion, and dress­ing the body you hap­pen to have.

And yes­ter­day, while shop­ping for this pair of size 20 skin­ny jeans that I am wear­ing right now, all of those con­ver­sa­tions and blog posts and arti­cles all came togeth­er and hit me like a ton of bricks. Two things became sud­den­ly, inescapably, lib­er­at­ing­ly and joy­ous­ly clear to me.

  1. I have to dress the body I have, not the body I wish I had.
    When try­ing on pants upon pants upon pants, and talk­ing out the pros and cons of each pair with the ever-patient Michael and Paige, I real­ized some­thing. It was as I was wear­ing a pair of size 22 boot cut jeans. Paige had asked me what the prob­lem was with them, and I was strug­gling to find an answer. I sud­den­ly real­ized: “I always buy pants that fit like this, and I always hate them.” It hit me again when I tried on a pair of size 20 flare legs that fit my thighs and butt won­der­ful­ly but gave me a hor­ri­ble case of the dread­ed muf­fin top. I was lament­ing that no jeans I ever tried on fit me right, and Paige remind­ed me that maybe I should try some­thing that I’d nev­er tried before. I real­ized that I’d been stuck in this cycle of think­ing that I have to buy the same kinds of clothes I’ve always bought that I’ve always hat­ed, because I con­stant­ly want to buy clothes for the body that I wish I had instead of find­ing clothes that fit and flat­ter the body I hap­pen to have.
  2. Look how adorable I am!

    Look how adorable I am!

    The body I have is not shame­ful.
    Wear­ing clothes that fit does not make me a bad per­son. Wear­ing clothes that fit does not make me a seduc­tress. I’m not dress­ing for the approval of oth­ers. I’m dress­ing for my body, my com­fort, my own approval. And I will not pre­tend that the body I have is tox­ic poi­son any­more. Nei­ther being fat nor being female is shame­ful. My fem­i­nine body doesn’t have the mag­i­cal myth­i­cal abil­i­ty to strip away the log­i­cal thought-process­es of men, mak­ing them into help­less hor­mone-dri­ven apes. My fat body is still my body, and it’s my vehi­cle in this life. It doesn’t belong to any­one else for their com­men­tary, cri­tique, or approval. It belongs to me. It harms no one.

These con­cepts may seem real­ly sim­ple and obvi­ous. But I’ve strug­gled with them sub­con­scious­ly for all of my life. And as I sit here in my skin­ny jeans and fit­ted top, for the first time in my life I am fat, female, and unashamed.

I love the body I have. And I’m not afraid to show it.

For more on why I wrote this piece, please see “Exis­ten­tial per­fec­tion, prob­lem­at­ic cul­tur­al sys­tems, and being okay.

Posted in Fat Girl,