Weight-Gain Is Not Your Enemy
Once upon a time, I thought losing weight would solve all of my problems.
I know now that this is a fantasy, but I think it’s also a fairly reasonable assumption, given the insidious fatphobia and diet culture we are all constantly consuming (whether we like it or not). Plus, I was raised to believe that fatness was a problem, a symptom of an emotional dependence that needed to be broken, and that thinness was the redemption, my savior.
Thankfully, I know better now. Thinness will never be my knight in shining armor. But our cultural obsession with thinness is extremely harmful, and it, along with some other traumas, birthed my eating disorder and body dysmorphia.
When I was a sophomore in college, I lost a lot of weight, very intentionally. I decided to go gluten-free, and I said it was because gluten gave me headaches, but really it was because I thought cutting out gluten would help me lose weight. I had a very restrictive diet, nearly starving myself with the exception of some binge-eating every now and then, and I was going to the gym religiously. By Thanksgiving break, I had lost 25-ish pounds.
When I went home for the holiday, everyone complimented me on how good I looked, and I relished in the attention. But the reality was that I was severely insecure, probably the most I’ve ever been in my life. I hid it well on the outside, but inside I felt a gaping emptiness that was ripping at the edges of my humanity.
Aside from my obsession with weight-loss, my life was... not great. I fought all the time with my then-boyfriend, I didn’t feel smart in my classes, and I was plagued by a nagging loneliness, even though I had some pretty solid friends. I think I was also experiencing some existential dread about adulthood. But instead of addressing any of these issues in any real capacity, I was convinced that losing weight was the answer. It would solve all of my problems for me.
So I weighed myself obsessively. I restricted, and I binged. I exercised out of sheer self-loathing for my body. My inner dialogue was a constant pendulum swing from short-lived satisfaction at how the weight-loss looked on me, to bullying the shit out of myself.
My life didn’t get better because losing weight doesn’t inherently do that. And when I saw my external circumstances were just as shitty as a couple months ago, and in some cases getting worse, I continued to take out my frustration on my body, furiously drilling into my head that WHEN I AM SKINNIER I WILL BE HAPPY.
Does this story sound familiar? I know that this narrative plays out similarly for way too many people. Maybe you’re even experiencing this right now. I’m certain that all of our stories can have happy endings, but spoiler alert: thinness is not the fairy godmother.
After that year, I slowly started gaining the weight back, and it fucking sucked. Gaining weight is deeply triggering for me: it makes me feel out of control. And when I feel out of control, I reach for my eating disorder because it lies to me and tells me that it can bring control back into my life. It lures me in with the sweet promise of a quick way to a better life. But it’s a deceitful bitch, and only ever brings me more pain and chaos, served up on a silver platter. It had me either surviving off of a spoonful of coconut oil a day, or eating an entire pizza in ten minutes. Talk about a pendulum swing.
After I graduated college, I decided that I needed to change my mindset to something that felt a little radical for me at the time: accepting myself no matter my weight. I was starting a new chapter (~*adulthood*~) and I didn’t want to poison it with the pervasive darkness. I was committed to working through my eating disorder, and learning how to love and respect my body just the way it was.
Over time I saw serious growth on both fronts. It took work, and patience, but my life eventually looked like what I wanted it to. And then I had an abortion.
This fucked with all of my progress (or at least, that’s what it felt like.) After my abortion, I gained a lot of weight. I started to notice it when my jeans didn’t fit me anymore: I could feel them cutting into my stomach all day, like they were punishing me.
In retrospect, it makes a lot of sense that my abortion triggered my eating disorder. I didn’t want to be pregnant, I didn’t want to spend the money on it, I didn’t know how it would affect me or my relationship—the whole thing felt so far out of my control that I turned to food, because eating (or not eating) felt like the only way I still had any agency over my life.
Going through all of this again, after I thought I’d made so much progress, was excruciating. I truly believed that I had finally arrived at loving and respecting my body “no matter what.” But it was clear that whatever I had created for myself was still conditional—those tenets had a weight limit.
This whole time I had positioned weight-gain, and fatness, as the villain in my life, my enemy—it was a shadowy, billowing fiend plotting against my happiness. And even on my “self-love journey,” I hadn’t confronted my internalized fatphobia, and the obfuscated truths beneath my coping mechanisms.
I deserve more than to use thinness as a cop out to not deal with myself—because that’s what it is: a way to avoid getting emotionally honest and neglect the painful. Running away from the pain actually just creates a lot more, and fixating on my weight is a distraction that takes me away from living a fuller life. When my head is full of “ifs” and “whens,” it’s harder to make room for the present moment and all that it has to offer, good and bad.
Vilifying fatness, on the other hand, is a different kind of distraction. Blaming my body for a systemic prejudice that White supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism birthed is exactly how these systems thrive. Little did I know that running on that treadmill out of self-hatred was powering these institutions, like a hamster on a wheel.
Marginalized people’s bodies are inherently political because of the slew of institutional -isms and -phobias that work tirelessly to push us down based on race, gender, sexuality, ability, class, and size.* So instead of shrinking myself to fit into the system, I choose to take up the space I deserve. Literally.
I’m still grappling with my internalized fatphobia, because unlearning something you’ve believed your whole life is hard. But I am grateful to be creating a new story for myself, one where fatness (and specifically, fatness on me) is not the villain, nor is thinness the fairy godmother. Neither of these constructs is even a character, because there are scarier things in this world than being fat, and I don’t need saving.
*Privilege callout: I am an able-bodied cis-het small-fat woman of color. I fully acknowledge that I do not face nearly the same levels of systemic oppression as other women of color, specifically Black and Indigenous WOC. I acknowledge the privilege of my size, because while I do experience some fatphobia, I also do not experience the same levels of systemic oppression and interpersonal bias as larger people of size.