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.