The summer before my senior year of college I found myself in my hometown living with my mom and stepdad and focusing solely on one goal: to lose weight. For as long as I can remember I had understood that the world loves pretty. Not only that, it serves pretty. And at no point in my 26 years has the world ever lost its obsession with weight and weight loss. Sure, in recent years the fashion and entertainment industry has allowed sizes 6-12 to enter the show-but they are still relegated to the back. And although the body positivity movement and fluctuating trends helped create some progress, we still have a long way to go. “Curvy” and “plus-size” are only acceptable categories if the bodies representing them are curvy in all the right places. Big butts and boobs are in! Except not if they have cellulite or sag and not if your boobs are bigger than a size triple D. Even the more inclusive brands like Savage x Fenty or Arie still only carry “standard” bra sizes, and stores catering to plus size women take advantage of our limited options by hiking up prices and claiming it’s necessary for “extra fabric” or better quality. Body positive or plus-size influencers, as well-meaning as they may be, tend to only rack up viewership if they are actually “mid-size”-literally the average size American woman. And even then, those influencers and models often show off small waists and almost entirely flat stomachs. Those are non-negotiable it seems. And it’s discouraging.
Don’t get me wrong I am in no way trying to shame any influencers who match the body types I’ve mentioned above. I’m only pointing out that it’s an issue that societal standards continually ignore or belittle those who don’t match what’s trending. The hope that many of us were holding out after we started to move on from the early 2000s obsession with double zero sizing hasn’t been crushed. It’s just still a ways off. True body positivity can’t be reached until ALL sizes are not only represented but also uplifted. This goes hand in hand with ensuring that it is not a novelty to find all clothes available in plus sizes. Plus size women are sick of being relegated to their own sections where they can only find maternity style or business casual clothes in their size. They should be able to buy trendy items too! This also goes for luxury brands. If a designer or major retailer can’t make clothes that fit normal bodies then how talented are they really?
You can probably hear the frustration in my writing. Recently I’ve felt so defeated. Since we’re still in the midst of a pandemic a lot of people are still using social media to connect to the world and their loved ones, including myself. This is such a double-edged sword for me personally. I find a lot of comfort on sites like Twitter, Instagram, and Tik Tok. However, as someone who struggles with poor body image, I can sometimes have a hard time indulging in content. No matter how hard I try to curate my feeds in a way that is healthier for me, there are always reminders of how intensely our society values beauty. Since this is a personal struggle of mine, (and I can’t just blame social media for my problems) I have been spending less time on it. While that helps, I cannot escape my own brain, and unfortunately, it continues to parrot out shitty takes at me regarding beauty standards.
One of the voices I hear in my head is that of a girl I barely knew in college. She lived on the same hall as me my junior year, so we saw each other in passing a lot. However, I only ever had maybe two conversations with her that entire time. When I went home for the summer before my senior year I decided that I was sick of being fat and I was going to lose a bunch of weight before school started up again. In a few months I lost 30 pounds by going to the gym for 2-3 hours a day 5-6 days a week. Then I had to have double jaw surgery and lost another 10 pounds from being on a liquid diet for weeks. The irony of it is, I had lost 40 pounds by the time I moved back into the dorms, and I still thought I was fat. I looked in the mirror and hardly saw a difference. It wasn’t until I ran into this girl in the student center on north campus one day that I knew I looked different. I’ll never forget how surprised she looked, and her voice as she said, “Oh my gosh Emilie! Did you lose weight? You look so good now!”
A lot of people may think, “Okay? Big deal. It’s a compliment!” Those people don’t understand at all. Her words cut me like a knife. I thought to myself “This is what you wanted isn’t it? To lose weight and come back to school looking beautiful?” I just didn’t realize how painful it would be to have so many people comment about how much better I looked. And she certainly wasn’t the last one to weigh in on my new size. Even five years later I remember what she said because all I heard was “You didn’t look good before”. In fact, recently it hurts even more than it did then because I’ve gained almost all of that weight back. It doesn’t matter that my skin is clearer than it used to be, that I got my braces removed, or that I have a wonderful boyfriend who loves me just the way I am. When I look at pictures of myself from my trip to visit him in December, I will sometimes cry, even though we had an amazing time, because all I see is my body fat. I will get dressed in the morning, see myself in the mirror when I get out of the shower, or go on a jog and I will cry. I will get stuck in an endless loop on social media of looking at weight loss tips and progress videos that people post and I’ll cry again.
I realize that the tone of this post isn’t great. When I started writing I was on a soapbox about how all bodies should be loved and represented and then dissolved into a puddle of emotions writing about how I hate the fat on my body. It’s a ridiculous rollercoaster, and a weird post to write. I can’t bring myself to be bothered right now though. This is the direction my thoughts go. They take a wild path from positive to negative and back again, bouncing all over the place from morning until night. I’ve been trying so hard lately to focus on self-care and trying to be healthy without letting diet culture ruin it. It’s hard though, especially because I am currently unemployed with nothing better to do and I am trying to treat symptoms of my PCOS (more on that later). I suppose I’m hoping that by being honest and vulnerable that perhaps I can help others by giving them something to relate to. I think I’m also desperate to get my thoughts out somehow.
I’ll definitely write more on this later, hopefully with some positive updates, but I’m wondering if anyone out there is feeling the same way. Do you struggle with body image issues? How do you fight off intrusive thoughts? Are you trying to be healthy and having a hard time avoiding the influence of toxic diet culture too? Let me know if you’ve found things that have helped you, and hopefully, I’ll have some healthy suggestions to give you soon.