Growing up, I knew I was fatter than my friends. It wasn’t something that just suddenly happened. And it wasn’t something that I did. I was just as active as my elementary classmates, playing kickball on the playground and racing around the soccer field to tag my friends. Being fat was something that I just dealt with, like being tall or having brown hair.
It wasn’t until I reached middle school and felt the insecurities brought on by puberty that I truly realized why my size mattered. Shopping with my friends became difficult because they looked in the preteen section while I have to look elsewhere in the store. I couldn’t just borrow and exchange clothes with them. Every time I looked in the mirror, I compared myself to them. I wasn’t as skinny as Natasha, I wasn’t all tall as Jess, my hair wasn’t as straight as Breann’s. Nothing was right with me.
Luckily for me, my weight wasn’t something that mattered to my friends. They didn’t see me as the fat girl of the group. They saw me as Emily, which was something that took myself a lot longer to realize. If they ever had opinions about shopping with me in the plus section, they kept them to themselves, for which I’ll be forever grateful. We were able to bond over things more important than our differences in size.
Last Thursday, body-positive activist and mental health advocate Jes Baker came to UT’s campus as part of the Eberly Center lecture series and gave a lecture on body acceptance for men and women. I sat in awe of this woman who is so comfortable in her body.
Here stands this woman, oozing confidence. But Baker wasn’t always that way. In her journey to body acceptance, Baker says that she blamed her body for a breakup and wanted to begin to express herself in an authentic way.
“I purposefully tried things I never was ‘allowed’ to and the more things I tried … the more empowered I became,” Baker wrote in an email interview. “In the midst of all this I thought “Why the f— does no one tell fat girls that this is all possible?”
Baker writes about her experiences and opinions on her blog, The Militant Baker. One of her most popular source of posts is fat girl fashion. She talks about her many tattoos, dresses, tights, heels and crop tops. You name it, she’s worn and rocked it.
“I think that the way we dress ourselves is a simple and silent way that we can claim space and show pride in our bodies,” Baker wrote. “It’s a great place to start.”
Society teaches us that if we’re the slightest bit different, then we don’t belong; we don’t matter in society’s perception of beauty, as Baker said in her lecture. Healthy is the newest body myth. If you don’t look ‘healthy,’ then you are ‘unhealthy,’ But what is seen as healthy? Long legs, tone bodies that are muscular but not too muscular (the kind of muscles you get if you do yoga), soft, feminine beauty and a natural thigh gap. Who in the world has a natural thigh gap?
Being fat opened me up to the belief that nothing would ever be right with my body. Because I didn’t look like my friends, I couldn’t see the parts of myself that were actually good. Because of my weight, it took me a long time to realize that my naturally curly hair was a good thing or that I love my spattering of freckles. It was because I didn’t fit society’s perception of being ‘healthy’ that I thought I wasn’t ‘healthy,’ which is a huge and awful lie.
“Fat isn’t a negative term; it’s a benign descriptor,” Baker said. “I use it when describing myself because destigmatizing the word is the first step towards looking at body acceptance as a whole.”
Much like real life, the Internet is full of people who want to tell me that my size is not healthy. They want to say that because I am fat, I cannot be happy. My size is not in correlation to my happiness with myself. I’m happier now, having accepted my body, than I was five years ago, still struggling with my weight and my inability to lose it. I may not be the skinniest or prettiest person on the planet, but I’m okay with me. And that’s a good enough reason for me.
The Internet also loves to tell fat girls what they can and cannot wear. People say that fat girls shouldn’t wear clothing that emphasizes their curves. The general consensus is that cellulite is gross and showing too much skin is even worse.
One of the silliest ‘fat girls can’t wear’ ideas is that fat girls can’t wear bright colors. So that means no deep blue dresses, no pink pineapple tank-tops and certainly no shimmery peach dresses like the one I wore to junior prom.
Bright colors were a big no-no for much of my life. But why should I deprive myself of something because others say that it isn’t aesthetically pleasing to them? Bright turquoise pants? Hell yes. Skinny jeans or leggings? Leggings made me love myself, even if others don’t agree with me wearing them. But what I put on my body is my decision, not the choice of others.
I love the way it looks on me and that is all the more reason to wear it.
In my own journey of body acceptance, I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t work to help me stay happy. It’s something that everyone has to figure out for themselves. There isn’t something that works for anyone.
“Surround yourself with as many body positive images, books, magazines and people as possible,” Baker said. “We sometimes want to do this ‘alone’ but really, we can use all the help we can get.”
There are still many days where I wake up and don’t feel like being me or putting myself out there. It’s something I constantly struggle with. And that’s okay. Because it means that I have even more days where I believe in myself and have confidence in my abilities. And that’s even better.