I feel fat today.
Growing up, I definitely struggled with my weight. I was into sports, but even when I was my most fit self, I still had some lovable pudge to carry around. When I was little, I was relentlessly teased by boys and girls alike for my size. Even if I wasn’t huge, I was chubby enough to earn some mean nicknames and a reputation of being the kid who got picked on. I quickly learned that kids are mean and that’s just how it was.
This messed me up a lot as a teen and although I’m generally pretty optimistic, I was pretty hard on myself about my appearance and my severe lack of a social life growing up. I am one of the lucky ones though; I managed to brush this severe childhood bullying off with an oversized dose of self-acceptance. Others in my situation have not been so lucky, and I’m grateful that I had the perseverance to get through these times with a smile on my face.
However, I didn’t escape without emotional scarring. I didn’t realize how much I hated myself and my appearance until I started dating someone who I fell immediately head-over-heels in love with. This person (who I have the good fortune of remaining with today, almost four years after our relationship began) recognized that I had some issues accepting myself. I’m sure my friends and parents noticed too, but the difference was that this person was the first to try to do something about it.
My boyfriend told me as many times as I needed to hear it that no matter what I looked like, I was always beautiful. And after four years, I have finally learned to truly take his words to heart.
I’ve grown up in a mean world with some terrible societal standards about beauty. I’ve also grown up in a world where several beauty-isn’t-what-you-look-like campaigns are aimed at appearance–especially figure. I’ve never been taught that beauty is something completely and utterly removed from a number on a scale or the amount of muffin top spilling from my jeans. However, because I had someone there for me, finally, telling me that my beauty was more than my weight, I started to get it.
I strongly believe that weight and beauty need to be separated when we discuss appearance as a society. To this, you might say that there are several campaigns out there trying to do exactly that and I would be remiss to say that I didn’t stand very strongly with several of these campaigns. The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, among others.
However, the atmosphere that lingers in our society around body image has yet to shift.
If I say that I feel fat, I am not looking for pity and I am not hating myself. I am stating a fact about how I feel my body feels to me in a particular instance. For me, it’s matter of fact. It’s a truthful statement. “I am fat” is not an admission of defeat or a spiral into dark pits of despair. It’s a statement that I believe and that I wish to express, just like “I am thirsty” or “I’m cold.” And, the response I hear very frequently comes quickly after: “you’re not fat, you’re beautiful,” or perhaps even just “shut up, you’re beautiful.”
While I love my friends very much and appreciate very deeply their kind words and support, this is the issue I think our society still suffers highly from. I say nothing about my beauty when I declare that I feel fat, and yet most people in a listening situation will respond in a way to reassure me that I have no need to feel ugly. There seems to be an instant connection for people that weight and beauty are mutually exclusive; one can’t be both fat and beautiful.
This, of course, is an age-old issue for women in the world of mass media, but I think it’s time for a fresh perspective.
Beauty is not at all related to your body, at least not in the ways that matter. I feel beautiful when someone offers to hold the door for me. I feel beautiful when I have an extra granola bar or apple in my backpack and I can offer it to someone in need of some help when I pass them on the street. I feel beautiful when I mess up my hair and wear ridiculous clothes and go crazy with my friends at 3 in the morning (playing dress up, even though we’re probably too old for that now). I feel beautiful when the sun is shining and I’m alive and healthy and doing just fine.
We need to stop putting down people who say they feel fat by telling them they’re beautiful. What? Crazy. I know. But the sooner we as a society completely separate the concepts, the better. Don’t wait to hear someone complain about some aspect of themselves they don’t like to tell them they’re beautiful. Everybody is beautiful, all of us, equally. Go spread the good news.
I feel beautiful today.