By Sarah Nathanson
Body positivity: I don’t have it, I’ve been trying desperately to get it and it is hard. I’ve always struggled to love the way I look — even just like it, or tolerate it. It has proven particularly difficult since coming to university. The Freshman 15 are real, everybody! I feel that many people have this problem of weight gain when starting uni, and I have heard many “solutions” — you know, how to lose weight, how to balance school with staying slim, healthy or muscular.
That works for some people. It is, of course, important and wonderful to live a healthy lifestyle. Going to the gym, eating right and sleeping enough, regularly, is good for your energy, mental and physical health. You should absolutely do your best to check all of those boxes. And if they helped you lose or avoid the Freshman 15, and that’s making you feel good? Awesome.
Here’s the thing though: fat is not a bad word. Fat bodies can hold muscle. Fat bodies can be healthy. Have you ever seen an Olympic boxer or dead lifter? They’re fat, and they’re incredible.
Lots of people on the internet — strangers mostly — will go out of their way to get into fat people’s business. How many times have you seen someone dragged online for being fat, with the excuse for the insult being “I’m worried about their health”? It’s interesting to me that people who lose a lot of weight quickly, perhaps unhealthily, get praised for it — they’re success stories, even if their success is mentally and physically damaging. The same people who comment “omg . . . inspirational” on these images sometimes write, “Lol!! I’ll join u tomorrow!” on the Facebook of their friend who gets lit every day of the week. My point: they seem far less concerned about people’s health issues if those people aren’t fat.
Something about Me and My Issues
I’m a woman who has always felt insecure about how she looks. I remember thinking, when I was six months from turning 13: “I have to do sit-ups every night. Who’s ever heard of a fat 13-year-old?” I was excited to mature into my body, because I hoped that it would make my stomach look more proportional. I decided to go on a no-carb diet when I was 14, and I kept it up until just before I turned 16. I’ve felt guilty about eating pasta and bread (and fruit) ever since.
Looking back on pictures of myself in first year of university, and in my last year of high school, is shocking. I was, comparatively, a bony little thing. I have gained some serious weight since coming to U of T, and when I look at pictures of myself then and now, I hate myself a little bit. I see flaw after flaw after flaw.
As I’m writing it, all of this sounds really messed up, I admit it.
Reflections, and Changing Your Mindset
I’ve done a lot of reflecting on how I interact with my body since gaining the weight. Interestingly, nothing has changed in my mind: I was uncomfortable with the way I looked then, and I’m uncomfortable with it now. One thing is different, though — I’ve been trying to confront that mindset. I look at myself in the mirror and go: “Sarah, this is the body you inhabit, and it’s keeping you alive and kicking.” I look myself in the eyes and say, “Sarah, your worth is not dependent on your body.” I pretend I believe myself when I say that I’m beautiful.
One thing I’ve learned is that we judge ourselves the harshest — but it is not we who manufactured that judgment in the first place. The media is running a constant campaign to keep body standards rather unattainable for many people, especially women. Not to be dramatic, but I feel like those who control the beauty and fashion industries want you to feel bad about yourself so you’ll buy their products. We all know about the airbrushing and the unhealthy dieting, so why do we still believe the suggestion that we’re nothing if we can’t keep up?
I’ve been trying to reclaim my body. I got a tattoo that nobody will see but me, so that every time I look in the mirror, I get to feel like I’ve taken my body back a little bit. I sketched and embroidered my body covered in pink flowers, to confront (and, perhaps, learn to love) the way I look. I follow ladies on Instagram that unashamedly love their bodies, no matter how big they are. I massage sweet-smelling lotion into my legs and stopped wearing makeup, because at one point I didn’t recognize myself without it.
Reclaim your body. This is a concept that you can’t pick up from reading somebody else’s experience. If I had read this post a few years ago, I would have thought, “that’s nice for her; still wish I was skinny.” Getting yourself to a point at which you feel confident is a process — I’m not quite there yet, and you might not be either. The holidays are coming up, so you might be nervous to see old friends and family who knew you before the Freshman 15. I totally get that, and if you need to hear it, I’m here to tell you that you’re allowed to eat whatever you want without feeling guilty, you’re allowed to show off whatever body you have right now and you’re allowed to be confident, no matter how you look.
Man, woman or another gender — you’re beautiful and special. If you’re struggling with the way you look, do whatever you can to separate your worth from your skin and fat. It’s a long process, but nobody, no body, deserves to feel as though they don’t deserve to take up space.