Growing up, I always had a slightly larger frame than all of my friends.
I was never overweight, exactly, but the fact that my build was larger than average made me think that I probably would be someday.
And, being a child, I didn’t want that. I saw how the overweight girls were treated: they were poked at by the boys in our class, laughed at, called names. I didn’t want to be treated like that. So, growing up, I always had a little bit of fear around gaining weight.
This fear didn’t really come into play in my life until after I graduated from high school and lived on my own for the first time. In the course of two years, I gained about 30 pounds—at which point, I panicked.
Logically, I knew that there was nothing wrong with me. I knew that there was nothing wrong with being a little overweight. I didn’t think it made me any less beautiful or anything like that. But I still had that fear, and so I told myself that all I was trying to do was “get healthy.” I was going to change my eating habits, and I was going to start exercising, because I knew that I hadn’t been doing that enough while I lived on my own.
Except, as time went on, my actions made it very, very clear that health was not what was on the forefront of my mind. And, perhaps, part of it was related to the fact that I wasn’t quite educated enough on what being healthy was for a woman.
I knew that I had to eat less, and so I did. In fact, if I ate fewer than 1,000 calories a day, I was proud of myself, even if that meant that I went to bed early for the sole purpose that it would bring me to breakfast sooner (for reference, the average woman needs to eat 2,000 calories a day to maintain weight, and 1,500 calories a day to lose weight).
I also knew that exercising was a good thing, and the more that I did, the better, so I worked out six days a week for about an hour and a half each day. I didn’t realize at the time that I wasn’t eating nearly enough in order to power these kinds of workouts, so I felt weak and small and hungry and irritable. But, hey, I was losing weight.
And the more that I ate, the worse I felt. If I got so hungry that I could no longer take it, and I splurged on pizza or something, then I felt so guilty about it that I felt the urge to go into the bathroom and throw it back up. If I didn’t do that, then I’d work out so hard the next day that I gave myself a headache.
But, of course, I’m not alone. In fact, our society practically grooms women to do exactly this from the beginning.
Society tells women that it is not okay to be fat. We so rarely see body fat represented in our celebrities, in our models, actresses, or musicians. As children, we’re endlessly mocked by our peers for being overweight. As adults, we’re told that we aren’t healthy or that we’re lazy or that we’d be so much prettier if we just lost a few pounds. So, of course, we don’t want to be overweight. Of course we feel disgusting and ugly when we are a little bit heavier. It isn’t because we are; it’s because society grooms us to feel this way.
And, more than that, society doesn’t simply tell us that we can’t be overweight; society tells us that we have to be thin. In fact, the thinner, the better. And what exactly does that mean? Who knows! All that we know is that we can’t be fat, and we get so obsessed with that thought that we see fat everywhere. We see fat in the rolls that naturally form in our belly when we slouch. We see fat in our thighs jiggling when we jump. We see fat in our cheeks, our arms, our butt, in everything. So we can never quite get thin enough; we never know when to stop.
And how, exactly, does one eat healthy? How does one exercise properly? Society doesn’t tend to really talk about that, except for in the countless diets and trends that float around from time to time. For the most part, all that we really hear (unless we go out of our way to research into the matter, is that we need to eat less and exercise more.
But when we take this approach of eating as little as possible and exercising as much as possible, we aren’t really acting in the best interest of our own health. If we were, then we wouldn’t feel weak, hungry, or tired all the time; that’s not how a healthy human being feels. No, the only thing that we are really accomplishing by doing this is making ourselves thin—and is that really the most important thing? Isn’t it more important to be happy? Or comfortable? Or strong?
So if you desperately want to lose weight, then I can’t really fault you for that. I understand how much importance our society puts on being thin, so it makes sense that you might aspire to that. But before you begin your weight loss journey, I recommend two things:
1) Do your research. It’s a little bit difficult to recommend where to start, because different sources will tell you many different things, and the same thing won’t work for everyone. Some people will recommend cheat or “treat” meals every once in a while; some people find that more difficult.
Some people can cut out meat or cheese or bread from their diet; some people can’t. It’s a matter of trial and error, and it might take you a while to realize what works best for you, individually, but it is always best to go into this well-informed. So try talking to different people about what worked best for them, and search for advice on the internet, read about different theories and experiences. Trust me, there is a lot of information out there (almost too much).
2) This is the most important thing: start thinking about this whole journey differently, and start from the very beginning. Many of us begin our weight loss journeys from a place of self-hatred; we want to change because we think there is something wrong with us. Our goal, first and foremost, is weight loss, not health. But the thing is, there is nothing wrong with us.
Being overweight is not the worst thing a woman can be; it is not worse than cruel, or ignorant, or greedy. Taking up space does not harm anyone. So if you want to change your eating habits and start exercising, then great, but don’t do it because you want to become “prettier”—because you won’t become prettier. You’ll become smaller—that’s all. If you want to do this, then do it because you want to get healthier and take better care of yourself.
Weight and health are not necessarily correlated. You might appear to be overweight, and yet be in the best health that you can possibly be. And you can have a Barbie doll’s figure, and be starving, weak, and frail. I know that I wasn’t in my best health when I was at my skinniest. In fact, I’m in better health now, 10 pounds heavier than I was a year ago.
Love yourself, and accept yourself as you are. I know that that’s easier said than done, but it all starts with an attempt. It starts by looking in the mirror and telling yourself that you love your belly, your thighs, your arms. And you have to keep telling yourself that until you believe it.
Or, perhaps, take notice of other people like you. We are always hardest on ourselves, but I know a lot of women who are much heavier than I ever was, and yet I would still describe them as gorgeous—breathtaking even. Noticing people who share what you think of as your “flaws” will help you realize that they aren’t flaws at all; they’re just a part of you.
Or, alternatively, if it’s at all possible for you, then try to look for worth in something other than your physical appearance, because it’s most certainly there. Find your sense of self-worth in your hobbies, or in your relationship, or in your job. List off all the things that you are good at and allow yourself to be proud of that. Because, sometimes, when you revel in your inner beauty, you might be a little less harsh on your outer appearance, too.
And once you have reached a place where you feel somewhat accepting of your physical form, then decide if you still want to change. Because if you do, great; just make sure that you are changing for you. Change for your health, for your happiness, and change to make your life longer and more fulfilling. Don’t change because you think society expects you to.
Because that isn’t healthy for any of us.
Author: Ciara Hall
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Callie Editor