Live Through This

Actual Size

How I fell in total love with my own body.

Illustration by Marjainez

Illustration by Marjainez

Like most fat adults, I have wasted years of my life feeling shitty about my weight and trying, through diets, to reach an arbitrary number on a scale, each time feeling worse about myself than when I started. It took a long time, but I figured out how (and why) to stop doing that. Here’s how it happened.

I somehow managed to make it through the majority of my childhood with pretty healthy self-esteem. Once in a while my grade-school classmates made mean comments about my chubby body, and it hurt my feelings, but overall I thought I was pretty rad.

That changed in seventh grade, when I transferred schools because I wanted to be challenged academically. I was an overweight biracial girl who went from being one of the smartest and most popular kids at my public school in Detroit to feeling like the complete opposite at a prestigious, overwhelmingly white private school in the suburbs. I didn’t have the same skin color, body type, education, or social status as my new classmates, and I began to question how I could have ever believed I was smart or attractive. Though I was eventually able to get good grades and regain confidence in my intelligence, my feelings about my looks were not so resilient.

This was my first real encounter with the Fantasy of Being Thin, which is the idea (that so many people buy into) that life will magically improve once you reach your “goal weight.” The fantasy intensified when I entered high school. Unlike my middle school, my high school was coed, and I developed crushes on lots of guys. I was constantly daydreaming about how wonderful my life would be once I was skinny—how all the boys I liked would love me, how all the girls I hated would be jealous of me, and how blissfully happy I would be. While I recall long stretches of time during those four years when I wasn’t obsessing about my body, somewhere along the way I managed to try the Atkins Diet, the Master Cleanse, and countless other weight-loss regimes. I’d inevitably give up after a few days or weeks and then berate myself for yet another failed attempt at thinness. I graduated high school weighing noticeably more than I had when I’d entered.

My first significant weight loss came the summer after graduation. This is every fat teenager’s dream, right? To shed your former identity and enter college as someone new? My mom, who had encouraged my past dieting, was more than happy to help. She’d heard about a local clinic that had a summer weight-loss program for teens. We attended the informational meeting together, where we were told about success rates and reasonable expectations. My mind was made up—I was going to do this.

After getting the green light from a doctor, I started going to weekly classes where we learned about “healthy eating” and exercise. In retrospect, I think this program was absolutely horrid: instead of teaching us about balanced eating and nutrition, we were given prepackaged meals and weight-loss shakes, and taught to count calories. We were actually encouraged to drink diet soda, because it had no calories! (There’s nothing wrong with choosing to drink diet soda, but I find it misleading to suggest that it’s good for you.) Alas, it is possible to lose weight on such a program, and I did. Watching the numbers drop made me feel high. I started running three times a week, for hours at a time. I meticulously tracked every single calorie that entered my mouth. When the program ended two months later, I’d lost even more weight than I’d anticipated.

I was convinced I’d keep dropping the pounds in college, but things didn’t go quite as planned. Like most people’s freshman years, mine was filled with lots of Easy Mac, cheap beer, and midnight pizza runs. I stopped losing weight and started gaining. Then, that summer, right before school started again, I got sick. I could barely get out of bed for a week. While at the doctor’s office, I picked up a pamphlet on HIV and scanned the list of symptoms of the disease’s onset. I realized I had every single one. I freaked out, was absolutely convinced I was HIV positive as the result of one or two unprotected sexual encounters. At the time, you had to wait three months after possible exposure to be sure the test results were accurate, and so began 12 weeks of torture. To make matters worse, right around this time the guy I was madly in love with broke up with me.

I didn’t talk to anyone about what I was going through. Instead, I fell into a deep depression and alternated between crying hysterically and feeling numb. I barely made it to any classes. My hair started to fall out in chunks from stress. I contemplated suicide. And, yes, I lost weight. I was absolutely terrified and miserable and thought I was dying, and meanwhile people were telling me how great I looked. I was closer to my goal weight than ever, but happiness couldn’t have seemed further away.

By the next semester, I’d gotten over the heartbreak, my health had improved, and my tests had come back negative. This was all obviously a huge relief, but my body image issues picked up right where the other stuff left off. Any excitement from the weight loss was soon overshadowed by feelings of not being thin enough: I was back to my ninth-grade size, but I was still the heaviest in my group of friends, and I couldn’t fit into the largest pants at most designer stores.

It was at this point that fate intervened, in the form of LiveJournal. I’d discovered the social network/blogging platform in high school, and had been casually using it as a sort of personal diary. Then a college buddy introduced me to the LJ communities—groups filled with folks who shared common interests: fashion, celebrities, TV shows, cooking, you name it. I joined a few, and slowly started interacting with people, eventually making friends and forming deeper relationships. Because we didn’t know one another in real life, everyone seemed comfortable sharing their secrets and insecurities, without fear of judgment.

One group, Fatshionista, called itself “a place to discuss the intersections of fat politics and fat fashion.” I’ll be honest—I had never heard of “fat politics,” nor did I have any interest in it. I joined simply because I loved fashion and the idea of sharing style tips with a community of other fat girls. I checked the site daily, scrolling through endless posts in which large women shared photos of their outfits. At first I found myself judging their bodies and their clothing choices: I’d look at women in baggy T-shirts and matronly dresses and wonder, Why would she want the whole world to see her looking like that?

But over time, something funny happened: Without any conscious effort, I started see those women’s bodies differently. I no longer saw them as gross or unattractive. As I became more active in the community, I found myself browsing the more political posts, the ones criticizing our culture’s obsession with dieting and thinness. It got me thinking, and I decided to take a small step: I’d take a break from reading tabloids and mainstream lady mags that compared bodies or doled out advice for slimming down, and instead focus on positive portrayals of bodies that looked more like mine. Over time, fat bodies began to look not only normal, but beautiful, to me. And eventually, slowly, I fell in love with my own.

My next step was to make a conscious decision to stop having conversations about other women’s looks, on the internet and in real life. I stopped participating in negative body-talk with friends—I tried to be supportive of their concerns about weight, but I refused to engage with the topic. It’s amazing how when you exercise positivity and compassion toward others, it magically turns inward—this one effort made an unimaginable difference in how kind I am to myself.

All the weight I had lost in the previous few years, I gained back—hardly a surprise, since I’d lost most of it by undereating and getting sick. This time, though, I didn’t beat myself up about it. I let go of my need to constantly monitor my caloric intake. I allowed myself to enjoy food again. I graduated from college at my heaviest weight, and I was more in love with my body than ever. I started a blog that encouraged other women to have fun with fashion regardless of their size, and that has since become my career! I now get emails from girls who say that scrolling through my photos has kept them from feeling ugly or worthless.

When people ask me how they can stop hating their bodies, I always suggest that they limit their mainstream-media intake and replace it with body-positive media. LiveJournal is pretty much dead now, but the fat-positive movement is going strong on Tumblr (check out activists like Jessica Luxery and Margitte Kristjansson); there are tons of plus-size fashion blogs (Franceta Johnson and Nicolette Mason are two of my faves); and the former Fatshionista moderators, Lesley Kinzel and Marianne Kirby, now write regularly about body politics for xoJane. These are the things I choose to look at daily, and I can now appreciate other women’s bodies—of all sizes—without judgment or jealousy. I read mainstream magazines again (I even write for one!) and I watch TV with a critical eye, which allows me to avoid internalizing the endless body-shaming messages that used to make me feel inferior.

As I get older, I find that I’m more interested in educating myself about how certain foods can help bodies fight sickness and disease. This past year I’ve made a concerted effort to eat more whole foods and less processed stuff—and it’s actually been fun. Now I’m able to choose healthy options because they make me feel great, not because I think it will lead to weight loss, and I can’t tell you how freeing that has been. I may drop 50 pounds as a result of the changes I’m making, or I may not lose an ounce. Either way, I’m fine. ♦

44 Comments

  • decemberbaby March 7th, 2013 3:18 PM

    This is a GREAT article. The “live through this” pieces on Rookie are always excellent and important, but this one is outstanding. *hugs and applause*

    • llamalina March 7th, 2013 10:59 PM

      I agree, “Live Through This” is definitely my favorite section on Rookie.

  • Arabelle March 7th, 2013 3:24 PM

    i am not even done reading this i just on principle want to shout my love 4 u to the heavens, to the gods, to my closet, to bill murray

  • shelley March 7th, 2013 3:29 PM

    Love this article so much. I have found that the articles on radical self love on http://www.galadarling.com really helped me learn to love my body!

  • jane alice March 7th, 2013 3:39 PM

    i think this is one of the most helpful and inspiring articles i’ve ever read on rookie, which is saying a lot because i basically love everything ever posted!! i’ve continually struggled with how to reconcile the love i have for my own body and the contradictory messages i receive from the mainstream media and the fashion industry.

    thanks rookie! everyday you make it easier for teenage girls to negotiate the difficult society we live in.

    http://femmefutures.blogspot.ca/

  • deuxiemesexe March 7th, 2013 3:58 PM

    This is just amazing! Did any of you guys (girls) watch My Mad Fat Diary?

    • Sophii March 7th, 2013 4:40 PM

      I did. It was such a great programme; loved it so much.
      In reply to this article, I used to be very conscious about my weight because I want to work in fashion but now I so often feel angered by society and the way it dictates what we can and can’t do that I would rather eat what I want when I want as a form of protest. Why should girls and women have to be slim in order to feel accepted? Well, they shouldn’t. This article is fabulous and has reinforced by views on the matter. I think the next step for all fashion magazines is the include larger women in fashion shoots. I don’t think we’ll see Elle or Vogue fully involving plus size women any time soon but I feel that magazines like i-D and Pop should be doing this because they seem to be more artistic and about acceptance. I believe that they are future; as it body acceptance.

      http://thechicmuse000.blogspot.co.uk
      http://sophiewilsonsbooks.blogspot.com

    • Arabelle March 7th, 2013 5:46 PM

      YES ISN’T IT THE BEST AHHHHHH FINN AND TIX!!!
      also best soundtrack

      • deuxiemesexe March 7th, 2013 7:05 PM

        YESSSSS those characters are my favorite thing on tv right now, they’re all so real. And how perfect is rae and her crushes on britpop boys <3 also the last finn x rae scene gave champagne supernova a new life.

    • all-art-is-quite-useless March 9th, 2013 12:06 PM

      AHHHH it’s been one of favourite programmes recently, it is just the best

  • marthaflatley March 7th, 2013 3:58 PM

    beautiful article. So well written and so true. I love your blog.

  • LiVyPiPeS3 March 7th, 2013 4:01 PM

    I love you Gabi!
    This article is really amazing! I felt bad about my body for years and tried every possible diet out there, and (finally!) I’m slowly learning to love my body for the first time. Thanks so much :)

  • grandmajade March 7th, 2013 4:03 PM

    love this article. i think it’s important for women of all sizes not to invest in size-shaming culture. also, just checked out your blog. you are the cutest-est from one bi-racial chick to another!!

  • abby111039 March 7th, 2013 4:34 PM

    This article came at exactly the right moment for me! Since this past summer, I’ve been absolutely ashamed of myself and my body. I’ve been trying my hardest to learn to love my body again, and of course that hasn’t been easy or anything, but this article is wonderful and inspiring and motivating. So thank you. (:

  • Ghillie March 7th, 2013 4:37 PM

    Thank you for this. I really needed this right now. I’m not “fat” persay, but I’m not thin either, and it’s always been hard for me to cope with this, especially as a dancer and a fashion lover. As much as I love certain skinny dancers and fashion icons, they still have to comment on how to “lose those last 5 pounds”, etc. It’s annoying and it makes me feel fat. After reading this article and perusing your blog, it’s so nice, refreshing, and a self esteem booster to see a plus size girl who rarely comments on her weight and simply shows a love of fashion. Thank you and kudos.

  • Violet March 7th, 2013 4:43 PM

    dude, you are AWESOME ! ! !
    and your blog is wonderful.

    I’m so glad I read this !!!

  • kirsten March 7th, 2013 4:57 PM

    <3 awesome

  • Isabelle97 March 7th, 2013 5:36 PM

    Nice article :) I’m kinda overweight myself and I’m trying to get fitter, not to fit into society’s norms but because being fitter will help me with all the things I want to do, like go on month-long hiking expeditions and stuff. Whilst I love the accepting your body vibe of this article, I still think it’s good to keep your body healthy, and it seems like their’s only two options being offered here; stay at your current weight or go on masses of non-constructive diets. I don’t want to be over-critical or hurt anybody’s feelings, but I think it’s important to know that it is possible to lose weight in a healthy, permanent way

  • jennbx March 7th, 2013 5:59 PM

    This is so refreshing to read. Thank you for sharing!

  • DreamBoat March 7th, 2013 6:12 PM

    AGHHHHHHH OMG
    I’ve only read bits and pieces of this, but as a body-posi fatty Rookie-obsessed teen, I’m SO SO SO SO STOKED that you guys did an article on this!!! GABI IS A BABE AND AMAZING WRITER AND GURG ALL THESE HAPPY FEELINGS AND I’M JUST SO HAPPY ABOUT THIS GAHHHH THIS IS WONDERFUL!! <3 <3 <3

    http://psychedelicdaisy.blogspot.com/

  • Shannon March 7th, 2013 6:32 PM

    I clicked on your blog, and all I can say is, you are SO. CUTE. :D Thanks for sharing, I loved the article and I can’t wait to delve deeper into your blog! x

  • Flavia March 7th, 2013 6:36 PM

    Reeeeeeally liked this article + I just visited your blog and I’m already in love!!!

  • friendlychuckle March 7th, 2013 7:14 PM

    This article could not have come at a more perfect time…thank you so much you inspiration angel!!

  • anhiebananhie March 7th, 2013 8:38 PM

    I love Gabi! I’m a little late to the game, but after reading about her in my college alumnae magazine (we went to the same college), her story really inspired me. Thanks Gabi!

  • love_soup March 7th, 2013 8:42 PM

    actually there is a problem with drinking diet soda. its sugar alcohol and does in fact make you gain weight by unhealthily slowing your metabolism. the fake sugar also causes heart problems. but like all other unhealthy foods, once in a while is ok

    • hanalady March 8th, 2013 3:52 PM

      i think the reason Gabi says there’s nothing “wrong” with drinking diet soda is that it’s important to be careful about saying that any food is “right” or “wrong” to consume in the first place. some foods are more nutritious than others but putting the labels “right” and wrong” on them suggests a moral obligation, like you are doing something morally incorrect if you choose to eat foods with lower nutritional contents than others. we use these labels constantly and very casually in our everyday culture but they ultimately end up playing into the idea that if you eat foods that are “bad” for you and therefore gain weight, you have done something “wrong” and are therefore a less moral person than someone who is thin because they subsist only on “good” or “right” foods. that type of language only feeds into a body-shaming culture by making people feel ashamed for eating the “wrong” foods, while really it is none of our business what any individual chooses to put in their body.

  • amazeedayzee March 7th, 2013 10:27 PM

    Beautiful. Even though I’m not overweight I can still relate so much to some of the things in this article–obsessively counting calories, not being happier despite losing weight, etc. It really is better on the other side of that way of thinking.

  • Madeleine Angel March 7th, 2013 11:11 PM

    This article is so beautifully written!! ^~^ It helps so much in so many ways, for a body type like mine♡ Luv you Gabi♡
    http://madeleineangel.tumblr.com/

  • Pen Elope March 8th, 2013 6:30 AM

    Love this article!

    I always get furious when I see those ads or articles on how to “get your bikini bod in 3 weeks” or some diet that excludes whole groups of nutrients. And don’t even get me started on diet shakes.
    They all feed to the idea that you have to stage some kind of extreme lifestyle intervention to ever, ever lose a pound.

    I lost quite some weight before college and gained some back due to stress. I have come to realize that I will never be skinny, simply because of genetics…for example I have the broadest hip bones in the world. And it doesn’t bother me anymore. My goal is to be my healthy, curvy, somewhat toned self. Which will be fab.

  • Mary the freak March 8th, 2013 2:03 PM

    It’s amazing how much rookie helps. I wouldn’t consider myself as fat but as relatively skinny but I can imagine how much this article and your blog helps girls.
    I also get really angry when I read all these “How to loose three pounds in two weeks” because DAMN YOU SOCIETY BIG IS BEAUTIFUL. I think it’s awful how much pressure is put on girls to stay skinny or get skinny.

    http://birdiewearsatie.blogspot.com/

  • miranda11 March 8th, 2013 2:20 PM

    Thank you for this. I recovered from an eating disorder over 5 years ago, but I’m always worried about relapsing because I know that I will never feel truly comfortable in my body, no matter how it looks or what kind of people I surround myself with. I’ve been especially worried about relapsing lately because I’ve been skipping meals and spending time looking at “body positive” fitness blogs and tumblrs. I follow a lot of body positive tumblrs, but they still constantly post half-naked skinny girls with bodies I could never attain, and it’s been triggering me lately. I recently decided to give up Tumblr and replace it with more truly body-positive blogs. So thanks for all the links! And good luck to everyone that’s trying to love themselves!

  • Grace Mecha March 8th, 2013 3:07 PM

    if rookie had an article hall of fame, this post would be in it.

  • MabelEnchanted March 8th, 2013 4:38 PM

    This article, in my opinion, is the best one of Rookie yet. I’m still not at the ‘loving my body’ stage but I’m constantly paranoid about what to wear and not being able to wear ‘fashionable’ clothes because I’m bigger than most people. (Which I talk about in a lot of my blog posts) However, thanks to you, I’m going to try and change that.
    Thank you for this article, Gabi!
    xoxo

    http://mabelsmind.blogspot.co.uk/

  • onewithahippiesmile March 8th, 2013 7:08 PM

    sweet! luved ur article, its really inspiring stuff! i totally identify with everything u wrote, u rock, thx for the advice and for the amazing text <333

  • Helena March 9th, 2013 11:01 AM

    :_)

  • GlitterKitty March 9th, 2013 9:07 PM

    Could someone please explain the “fat” word usage to me? I see it as a harsh, offensive word and I would never call someone that. I feel like it’s usually used as an insult. But here, Gabi describes herself as fat. I don’t really understand in what context it is offensive and in what context it has the exact same meaning as “plus-sized”. Is it only okay if an overweight person uses it to describe themselves? Could a thin person use it?

    • Jessica W March 10th, 2013 1:26 AM

      It’s about the fat community reclaiming the word and removing its negative, insulting connotations.
      Beth Ditto said “Reclaiming the word fat was the most empowering step in my progress. I stopped using it for insult or degradation and instead replaced it with truth, because the truth is that I am fat, and that’s ok. So now when someone calls me fat, I agree, whereas before I would get embarrassed and emotional.”

      So can a thin person use it? Short answer: NO.
      As a thin/average sized person you are granted many privileges which fat people are not, for example: generally speaking you do not get glared at by bigots for your size, you do not get targeted in the media, you can usually fit “normal sizes”, you can eat calorific foods in public without getting nasty looks, and so on. You have not experienced fat oppression. You have no right to use that word.

      This article is quite interesting http://fiercefatties.com/2010/08/06/reclaing-the-word-fat/

      The Lovelorn

      • GlitterKitty March 11th, 2013 4:39 PM

        Thanks for clearing that up for me. The article was very informative and I’m glad it addressed the fact that not everyone was completely comfortable with using the word fat.

  • Caden March 10th, 2013 4:52 AM

    Gabi is so beautiful. And clever. And generally amazing :) :) :)

  • periwinkle_dreams March 13th, 2013 7:11 PM

    this article, among other things, has really helped me begin to realize how much I’ve tied my identity up with my weight…now that I think about it, there were way too many times when people have made fun of me for my clothes, my height, my relationship status, my bra cup size, etc etc, and I’ve thought – consciously or not – “well at least I’m thin.” when I’ve been jealous of other people because somehow it seems like their lives are more glamorous than mine, I take comfort in my low weight, as if I get better-person points for more closely resembling a ridiculous societal ideal than they do. after starting college, I gained weight, and it’s thrown me into an ongoing, fluctuating mild-to-crazy panic. I feel like my no-longer-flat stomach is a shameful secret, and if you ask me how much I weigh, I will promptly and breezily lie to you, with a who-cares smile. clearly, I have some body image issues to deal with. this article shocked me, and then made me wonder and examine WHY the idea of fat acceptance completely boggled my mind. so, thank you for some much needed self-reflection.

  • Nomali March 29th, 2013 1:27 PM

    What a great piece, Gabi. Through reading this I’ve also realised that I sometimes go through the fantasy of being thin. I’m slowly learning to love my body too, even though I’m currently at the heaviest I’ve ever been. There’s more to life, there’s more to people and the more to me than being fat.

    Thank you for this.