As I went through my closet today and picked out the items that no longer fit, I have to confess- I felt a little sad. My favorite navy blazer with the hot-pink pinstripe lining that no longer stretches across my back; the adorable peach silk shorts that refuse to zipper over my bubble butt; the sexy sequin skirt that is now so tight on my thighs, I can’t walk in it… They’re all sitting in the “give-away” pile. Over the past couple of years, my closet has become more and more crowded to the point that it’s about to explode. I’ve quietly added new items to accommodate my growing body, but I have been in total denial about getting rid of those that I’ve outgrown.
Full disclosure: I’ve put on roughly 20lbs in total. The weird part? I did it on purpose. I’m an extreme anomaly in a culture where women generally strive to be as thin and light as possible. Why they hell would I want to pack it on when I had attained what many women see as the holy grail of physical ideals?
For most of my young life, I was one of these “skinny-obsessed” women. I grew up as a “fat kid”. During my tween years, I was socially outcast, teased about my size, and absolutely miserable.
Then it happened: “Dieting” started to “click” for me. I developed the ability to rigidly restrict food, and I began running to burn as many calories as I could. Within a year, I was down 50lbs and practically unrecognizable.
But that “click” was the sound of a monster being born--a monster that lived in my head and berated the shit out of me if I ate too much or exercised too little. It told me how lazy, fat, disgusting, and generally unworthy I was, constantly.
At first, it felt like my angel. Finally, I was able to be “thin” and “pretty”... until it was never enough. Then it became my slave-master, taking over my life. I was chronically self-critical and unable to enjoy food, to the point that I became severely anxious and depressed.
You can imagine how low my self-esteem was! I didn’t value myself, and I didn’t expect others to value me. I tolerated being treated like total crap, believing that’s what I deserved. I allowed the jerks I dated to dictate whether I thought I was beautiful or not, and my life revolved around gaining their approval.
Three years ago, I went through a nasty break-up with one of these jerks. When it happened, I felt horrible: I was barely eating, I was drinking too much, and I weighed only 120 at 5’7”. But as I slowly realized that I didn’t need to make him happy, I started to feel liberated. I stopped being obsessed with being “thin” enough to be loved.
The process happened slowly, but little by little, I began giving my body the nutrients it needed to build the muscle I wanted. It was terrifying to see the scale creep up and to feel my clothes tighten. I felt almost as if I was losing my identity and power--my power not only to attract men, but to inspire the envy of other women.
Where I live on the UES, being “skinny” is more than just considered “attractive”: It is a status symbol. It is a way of showing discipline, self-control, a level of intelligence, and even wealth. On any given day, one can find gangs of Lululemon-clad, green-juice sipping, skinny bitches clamoring around outside of SoulCycle, bragging to fake friends about how many calories they intend to burn before jetting off on some luxe vacation with their finance-exec husbands.
Being overweight, or even non-emaciated, is considered an indication that you can’t afford a luxury gym membership or an all organic, gluten free, vegan diet purchased from a pretentious, high-end supermarket. Either that, or you just don’t care enough, and you’re lazy. Because no one would ever choose to be un-skinny!
I’ve been out of high school for quite some time, but this neighborhood has all of the same “popularity” dynamics: The pressure to fit in is palpable. It wasn’t until I became a stronger person mentally, and started respecting myself, that I had the courage to call BULLSHIT on this “Mean Girl” mentality.
I’m a personal trainer, and I have been weightlifting for many years. But because of my prolonged starvation diet, I robbed myself of developing the strong, powerful physique many of my female peers had. My fear of being lonely overshadowed my desire for strength and athleticism.
Living in this way created a ton of cognitive dissonance. The truth is, I love the way women with muscles look. It think it’s beautiful and sexy. And being strong feels unbelievably awesome, in a way that no one can take away from you.
Being liked based on appearance used to give me a sense of “power”, but it was an illusion: Any sensation that relies on validation from others to be true isn’t real.
The power from being strong is about more than being able to move heavy stuff around. It comes from the feeling of health, of doing what’s right for your body. When I was eating junk food, smoking cigarettes, and not exercising, it felt gross. But starving and exercising in a way that was intended to “burn” my body away into non-existence also felt terrible.
When you spend most of the day trying to punish yourself into conforming to someone else’s mold, it takes a deeply damaging psychological toll. The stress that it causes is as bad for your health as any other nasty habit.
“Health” cannot be defined by a certain weight or clothing size. It’s about caring for yourself in a way that enables you to perform physically while feeling emotionally balanced. So while I had to give up a few of my favorite clothes and possibly an invite to a spin-class or two, I gained my “authentic self”.
That nasty, school marm-esque internal voice is finally quiet. So while I’m now toting around a few extra pounds, I’m much happier, and according to my doctor, my health is great. My glucose, cholesterol, blood pressure, and all other significant metrics are at “excellent” levels”.
Social and cultural norms encourage women to be small, to be quiet, to be demure- to generally be “out of the way”. It is considered honorable for women to be above carnal desire, to deny themselves the sensual pleasure of food- almost like a nutritional virgin. Women torture themselves to fit into a size “zero”. The ideal is to, basically, not exist.
There’s nothing wrong with being small if that’s where you feel you’re best. But that’s just not what works for me and many, many other women. It’s time for us to say “fuck that” to unrealistic expectations, and trying to squeeze into an artificial version of perfect.
I have a right to exist in this world, to occupy space. I like food and I like my body. Anyone who has a problem with that, can stay in their closed-minded, self-made box of darkness, far away from me. No more size 0 for this lady!
Credit: Above illustration by Jason Raish