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As a child, beauty never resonated with my Pillsbury Doughgirl tummy. The fat always protruded slightly over my pants, begging the question if my eleven-year-old self was carrying another life other than my own. Inside, the only thing I carried was a deep sentiment of dissatisfaction, self-loathing, and cognizance of the social hatred for fat bodies. And so the roundness of my belly, a shape that made my young body uniquely me and distinctively beautiful, became a catalyst for self-hatred and motivation to “get in shape.”

After years of track and field, fifteen pounds gone, and a slimmer stomach, I sit here as an adult wondering if society drove me to change my body or if I had a genuine concern for my health. The truth is that I wasn’t obese, maybe ten pounds overweight, but you’d think that I had a life-threatening disease the way I pushed myself through abdomen workouts and five-mile runs. It is true that excessive fat has its health consequences, as do many other bodily conditions. But beauty and health are separate entities, as self-love should not be contingent upon medical classifications. It is essential that all human beings be taught the value in self-love, which calls for the empowerment of many body sizes.

“Fat women loving themselves and their bodies are personally and politically revolutionary acts,” explains Tasha, a size-positive blogger and social activist. Indeed, it is an anomaly to find a fat woman that loves her body unconditionally when society-at-large classifies fat bodies as failures in human design. Tasha continues, “When we realize the intrinsic beauty of our fat bodies, and all bodies in general, when we embrace body acceptance and treat ourselves like we’d treat any other person we loved, we are empowered…fighting against institutionalized fatphobia becomes an extension of our self-love.”

“I think we can always strive to be healthier and live our best life possible, but you shouldn’t wait to live your life until you wear a certain pant size,” shares Steph DeWaegeneer, Ms. Plus America 2009. The Miss Plus America Pageant System is devoted to celebrating full-figured women and providing a platform for those generally overlooked by mainstream body standards. A self-proclaimed size twenty-two, DeWaegeneer has a degree in theater, and career as a well-rounded performer. She’s been fortunate to play a variety of roles from sexy to straight-laced, while also serving as a public speaker.

DeWaegeneer conveys, “What I found when I’ve performed or spoke in front of groups of women is that there were just as many size 4 women that would be uncomfortable with their bodies as there were size 24 women?” Women of all sizes must navigate through the media’s fat shaming and unrealistic body images, which create similar real life expectations.

Even popular forms of exercise don’t necessarily accommodate bigger bodies. Meera Patricia Kerr, the founder of Big Yoga, states, “After teaching yoga for over 30 years, I developed a program for folks like me who needed an adapted practice.” Big Yoga is for anyone challenged by extra weight, stiffness, injury, or neglect. Kerr proudly proclaims, “[it] addresses the needs of us ‘fatties’ who resist going to a regular class with the slender Gumby girls in their size 2, Lululemon yoga duds.” Fat-inclusive advocates like Kerr provide additional options for those struggling with body image and weight.

Elisa, a high school counselor based in Los Angeles, California, confesses, “I spent many years engaged in body and self-hate because of my size, accepting all the negative messages fat people – specifically, fat women – receive about their size, their motivation, their lifestyle, their eating habits, and their worth as human beings.” She cites size-positive commentator Wendy Shanker of BUST magazine, as an early source of empowerment.

In The Fat Girl’s Guide to Life, Shanker exposes how much money the weight loss industry spends on advertising, amongst other questionable corporate practices. The book led Elisa to join size-acceptance communities and read additional commentary online. Looking back, she shares, “I took lots of pictures of myself 
- clothed, full body pics – that I spent a lot of time looking at, becoming more visible to myself as a fat person…I slowly learned to re-think all those negative messages about fat people I’d absorbed for so many years and appreciate my body as it is.”

“Society is fickle and throughout different points in history, its preference and opinion on what is deemed beautiful has changed,” argues blogger Nicole Blake. Indeed, there was a time in which contemporarily classified fat bodies were deemed “most desirable” in ancient civilizations. Presently, it’s not that fat or thin must serve as a singular beauty standard, but rather embracing the beauty in a variety of body images to encourage self-love.

Laura Fenamore, the founder of OnePinky.com, sums it up quite well, “As a culture, we are addicted to dieting and body hatred, and we want quick, easy answers. Yet, the act of forgiveness opens space to free ourselves from past hurts, it is one important key in learning to appreciate our bodies and release the weight and body hatred that no longer serves us.”

Self-love requires forgiveness, support, and liberation from disserving social standards. It’s time that women, fat, thin, and in between, enjoy the beauty and power in their bodies, as self-love can serve as armor against social hatred.

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  • Rowena Starling

    This is an important subject. My own self-image was shattered recently. Once, I recovered, I thanked God for this body that serves me very well and reveled in the beauty of it.

  • bleh

    I also have to say that if you truly develop self-love and love yourself, you will gravitate towards loving your body and wanting it to be healthy.The reality is that most overweight and obese people are not healthy and are killing their bodies rather than loving them. And this is coming from a place of love for them not hate. If you love your body you would want to lose weight and eat healthier for your body so your body doesn’t ‘hate’ you back with diseases and ailments (like someone stated earlier). Same for people who want to be skinny rather than slim, healthy, and fit. Too many black women in my family ‘love’ themselves (under the idea of being thick), but are killing themselves. And I love them too much for them to do that. But this is my opinion.

    • Sepiastar

      I think it’s a process because we all do things to ourselves (physically, emotionally, mentally) that contradict the concept of self-love. We have yet to mention the emotional toll of being the sole bread winner while simultaneously working multiple jobs, attending college and working full-time, and rearing families on limited incomes while expenses are escalating contribute to the stress level of many black women. Stress plays a major role in to weight gain so why are we not providing advice on how women need to de-stress, sleep at least 8 hrs, and find some time during the day to relax and/or meditate. Once the mental foundation is in tact, then transition to the emotional state concerning the inappropriate use of food due to other factors (ie..childhood experiences,rejection, etc), advising on proper portion control, and how to eat healthy in an environment that promotes unhealthy eating. The physical factor should be the next aspect and self-love has to be incorporated at every level.

      Obesity is an American problem and you can’t solve the problem with the same stereotypical rationale that we should all love our bodies and then everything else will happen naturally or it’s so disgusting to be fat and we’ll just disregard and disrespect you until you lose weight. How is that working when the obesity statistics show the numbers are rising for everyone in the U.S., not decreasing? Can we address the injection of hormones in the food and what affect does it have on the physical body (men vs women, blacks vs hispanics vs white) etc? Are we stating that 30 minutes of exercise per day may combat weight gain but you may need 1 hour of exercise per day to accelerate weight loss (just an example)? Can we teach a mother on a limited income that although Ramen noodles are cheap, they provide no nutritional value for your children and let me show you how you can purchase better food and still shop within your means? The problem is we’re treating obesity as a physical problem and not a mental health issue. Nutrition and physical fitness should be a part of the education system. There should be safe parks in the urban communities and free gyms, counseling, and nutrition programs in the community centers, especially since many blacks suffer from high unemployment and no insurance.

  • “[it] addresses the needs of us ‘fatties’ who resist going to a regular class with the slender Gumby girls in their size 2, Lululemon yoga duds.”

    You had me until this gem. There’s always someone who finds some way to throw shade at thin women in their crusade for the cause. I call BS. If you’re truly comfortable with yourself, you don’t have to put down another to stake your claim.

    • TeeHee

      I could not agree more with you!

    • B

      Yep. Wholeheartedly agree, Devan. It was uncalled for (while I agree with the rest of the article).

  • Society’s view of what is beautiful has never been the same. There were moments in time where being a size 14 was hot stuff. Today’s time its all about being a size 4. I personally think it is womanly and feminin to have curves in the right places. I dont think being a stick is cute. However, I also dont think being a circle with legs is cute either lol. In my opinion it is unattractive to be too skinny and too fat. See that is the beauty of “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. However there comes a time where one has to respect a view that is different. If a fat woman wants to be just as self-accepting or self-loving of her body as a skinny woman I have no problem with that. If a fat woman thinks she is beautiful, well then I say go right ahead sista. However, just know that other people dont feel the same way and RESPECT that just like people who think being skinny is beautiful have to respect your differing opinion. See what I think is hot may not be to another and thats okay because at the end of the day I have to deal with my self image a tad bit more personally than you. So though a girl may love her own fat, doesnt mean I have too. If I think I look like hot stuff, yet another thinks I look a hot mess well we are entitled to have our own opinions cause that is the reality. So thats my view on beauty and body image.

  • Amanda

    Black women are NOT THE FATTEST. HISPANIC WOMEN ARE. HERE’S PROOF: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100421172600.htm

    YOU HAVE TO MEASURE ACTUAL BODY FAT, NOT JUST ETHNICITY-NEUTRAL BMI