“Even though you’re chubby, you’re still beautiful,” a sweet older lady said to me after my performance as Dancing Girl No. 4 in Tacoma’s finest community theater production of Crazy for You. The woman said it with such heart, as if I needed to know how remarkable it was that I managed to perform the spectacular feat of being presentable while fat. I knew this lady didn’t mean anything cruel by her backhanded compliment, but the sad truth is, I agreed with her. I think I have a terrible body. I hated it then, I hate it now, and the truth is, I probably always will.
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I’ve always been a chubby girl. I remember being 5 and feeling the pain of my legs rubbing together under my shorts (it’s safe to say a thigh gap has forever eluded me). My weight fluctuated through my teenage years, until I made a real effort to lose weight in my late 20s, which I did. I was never precisely thin (I plateaued around a size 12), but I was smaller than I’d ever been. But after moving cross-country and becoming besties with clinical depression, all that weight came back… plus an extra 30 pounds for good measure.
Now I’m back to living a healthier lifestyle, and my mental state is much better—but guess what? My body issues are still here. I try to eat well, go to the gym, and not obsess about my weight. I know lots of girls have cellulite and stretch marks—they’re perfectly normal—but that doesn’t make me like them on my body. My hope is I’ll learn to like my body if I can just focus on being healthy. Who cares what my weight is as long as I feel good, right? But if I’m being honest, healthiness isn’t what I really care about; if you offered me a magic pill that made me thin but less healthy, I’d swallow it before you could even finish listing the potential side effects.
I’m not advocating this line of thinking; I know it’s a terrible way to be. But that doesn’t change the fact that in my screwy brain, my body can only be a good body if it becomes a thin body. Why do I feel this way? Nobody comes out of the womb thinking, “Hi, I totally need some milk ASAP, and also, fat people are gross,” but years of seeing slender people dominate the entertainment industry has created some pretty unrealistic expectations. And when we spend our whole liveshearing other women snipe at themselves for all their imperfections, that behavior makes us look for all the “imperfections” in our own bodies. Every female figure we come across, from politicians to models, are subjected to comments based on their looks… which makes us internalize the idea that looks are the most significant thing women have to offer.
After a while, all those little signals add up. A study published in the June 2017 Pediatrics found that 9- to 11-year-olds held a significant negative bias against fat people. An earlier study from the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology found the fat bias started as young as 3 years old. Three! Clearly, the message of body hatred gets out early and only gets harder to overcome the older you get.
Here’s one thing I want to be very clear about: Just because I hate my body doesn’t mean I hate yours. I see other girls my size or bigger and often find myself thinking, “She looks great,” or, “That woman is awesome, but I could never pull off that outfit.” I don’t think you need to be any specific size to be beautiful, and if you’re a bigger girl who loves her curves, I think that’s wonderful.
My inner “thin = good” equation applies only to me. I hope everybody loves their body—cellulite, stretch marks, and all. But if you’re one of the girls who still feels inferior no matter how many body-positivity articles you read, I want you to know you’re not alone.
When I see article after article about how important it is to love yourself and your body, it makes me feel like I’m not only failing at being thin but also failing at being the right kind of fat person.
Though I don’t love my body and its various stretch marks and globs of cellulite, I am trying. I go to therapy and try to practice self-love meditation. These tools don’t necessarily help me love my actual corporeal form, but they help me stop negative thought patterns.
Since I would never, ever tell another person “Good Lord, you look like a gross, fat mess,” I shouldn’t tell myself that, either. By changing my inner narrative to a more positive and accepting one, it helps me generally be less critical. I can more easily focus on all the things I like about myself, rather than obsessing over the things I hate.
Hopefully one day I’ll truly love my body, but until that day comes, I’m not going to waste any more energy hating it. I’m going to move on and focus on what really matters to me. The little devil of body-shaming may always sit on my shoulder, but he doesn’t have to overtake my life.
Amber Petty is a freelance writer in Los Angeles who writes for Bustle, Elite Daily, Thrillist, and a lot of other random sites. If you like easy crafts and Simpsons gifs, check out her blog Half-Assed Crafts.