How I Accepted Being Fat When Society Told Me Not To

My body and how I want others to perceive it is a big part of my identity.

I remember when all the trouble started. As a child, I paid little attention to my body. On a hot day, I simply threw on a tank top and my denim shorts because the term ‘thigh gap’ didn’t reside in my brain yet. That was, until I turned thirteen, when the cute sundresses and skirts quickly turned into an armor of loose-fitting shirts and unflattering cargo pants.

I was watching television with my mom, and a woman on the screen was trying on wedding dresses. The bride-to-be stepped out of the dressing room, confidently showing off a mermaid-style sleeveless gown, and I thought to myself how beautiful she was. My mom disagreed.

“Oh dear”. She sighed. “Her arms aren’t nearly thin enough for a dress in that style

-she should cover them up.”

My mom continued critiquing nearly every physical aspect of the giddy bride, stating her disapproval continuously. The woman’s body was simply not good enough. My mom’s criticism about a stranger made me wonder how she felt about me. I found myself reaching for the blue and grey throw pillow next to me, hiding my stomach rolls behind it. I felt vulnerable and exposed to never ending opinions on a body I didn’t choose.

As a 21-year-old today, societal opinions, fashion norms, and my mom’s harsh words still creep into my psyche and dictate how I feel about my body. But underneath all the self-doubt and daily criticism, I yearn for acceptance and patience from one person: myself.

Working on your relationship with your body isn’t just a quick fix. I tend to rely on the people closest to me for self-acceptance. But after a six-year romantic relationship imploded, and my friendships shifted into an unknown state of ‘we are getting older and busier,’ I had to acknowledge that I alone was responsible for my happiness. In no means am I perfect, but these are my five tips to consider when healing your mind, soul, and body.

Tip 1: It starts with words

American singer, actress and author Naomi Judd said it best: ‘Your body hears everything that your mind says.’ It seems simple enough in theory, but after speaking to some of the women in my social circle we all had one thing in common: we were our own worst enemies.

In the past, I would never wear swimwear in public, but I always had the desire to. Because I’m working to unlearn my past mistakes, I bought a two-piece swimsuit and encouraged myself to wear it. I felt invigorated, and reminding myself that I am beautiful, and I deserve to feel good in my own skin boosted my confidence.

When beginning your journey, you need to learn how to speak to yourself. As a fat person trying to no longer hate myself, this was the smallest change I’ve made that’s had the biggest impact.

Tip 2: Get to know yourself

Being recently single, I’ve started doing things on my own, particularly having picnics, or scanning the bookstore for new reads.

During your healing you’re more than likely to undergo a big change, and you’ll start feeling like a brand-new person. Get to know this new, gentle version of yourself, and in a way ‘date’ them.

Think of activities that normally include others and instead do them on your own. Go to the movies, buy yourself flowers, or take a stroll through your town. Connect with this new version and appreciate them.

Tip 3: Food is more than Fuel

My biggest pet peeve as a fat person is feeling judged about my meal choices by the people who claim to be concerned about my health. I can appreciate the nutritional value of a bowl of quinoa with a side of baby spinach, but sometimes nothing satisfies the pinging hunger in your stomach more than a slice of that pizza you’ve been sworn off by everyone. For me, it’s more about balance and listening to my body, than labeling what I eat as either ‘bad’ or ‘good.’

Although there are elements of the problem that we can work on ourselves, reaching out to a nutritionist for guidance is also a brave decision.

Tip 4: Exercise shouldn’t be punishment

If you’re anything like me, then you know how hard it is to get up and exercise, never mind sticking to a routine. I’ve never enjoyed the gym, and most forms of exercise just never feel right for my body type or comfortable when doing them. To make sure I keep up a realistic, enjoyable workout routine, I stick to yoga, walking and swimming. I find them relaxing and motivating, but they don’t have to be the same for you.

The important thing to remember is to do what makes you feel good, and not what everyone else may suggest so that you can lose a few pounds.

Tip 5: Your body is trying its best, so be patient

Rome wasn’t built in a day, they say, and nor will your self-acceptance be.

You’re committing to a lifelong process, and making mistakes is only natural. If you can find the courage to trust that your body only has your best interests at heart, then you’ve already won half the battle.

Dr Rick Hanson says it best in his book, Buddha’s Brain:Whatever positive facts you find, bring mindful awareness to them — open up to them and let them affect you. It’s like sitting down to a banquet: don’t just look at it — dig in!’

It’s been two years since I lost everything my identity was rooted in. My parents separated, my boyfriend left me, and I flunked out of university. But I survived. When I look in the mirror now, I feel at peace.

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Anne van Coller

Anne van Coller

A self-proclaimed ‘stay-at-home writer’ from South Africa, who struggles being a 21-year-old starving writer in today’s economic climate.