As someone born into a naturally round and large body, the rules placed on the amount of space that I was allowed to take up were made very clear to me starting at a young age. Messages that I was too big, too loud, too strong, too confident, too smart, or too seen were flung at me from most angles of my life. I remember very vividly at the age of 8 standing in line with my entire class to be weighed by the school nurse, in a panic that someone would see my weight; and then lying when all the other girls stood around and casually shared their numbers. While I don’t remember the number I shared, I do remember frantically subtracting in my mind to find a number within a believable margin based on the numbers my classmates had shared. Shortly after that, I went on my first diet in an attempt to control my body size, with the “too big” aspect always being the hardest for me to control and what seemed to be the most socially unacceptable.
Throughout my growing up years, I was reminded of being “too big” at the doctor’s office, by the “plate watchers” in my life who hovered around to make sure I wasn’t eating too much, in the clothing stores that didn’t carry my size, by desks that I had to squeeze into in order to fit my body, by the “successful, healthy people” who looked nothing like me, by hearing praise given to my friends who could “eat whatever they wanted and not gain a pound”, and the constant inner conflict of the hunger to eat versus the hunger to be smaller.
Early in my college years of nutrition education, when I was the slightest I had ever been, through calculated disordered eating patterns of counting calories and fat grams, I was reminded by the Body Mass Index (BMI) that I was still “too big” because I was in the “obese” category. I blamed myself and decided I needed less calories and to lose more weight. But then, like divine intervention, I moved, on a whim, to Seattle and found myself at Bastyr University in the undergraduate nutrition program. There, I learned about health in a new way that didn’t involve the scale. And while I was aware that generally I was the only person of size in my classes, it mattered less because there was an emphasis on health over size.
It gave me permission, that previously I didn’t realize I needed, to begin to listen to and trust my body’s wisdom. I started eating more whole foods, stopped counting calories, and stopped pretending that I liked the taste of diet soda and fat free sour cream. I started to feel really good in my body, in my large, round, fat body. I threw out my scale, found movements and foods that produced energy and joy, and stopped pretending that running felt good to my body. I began a yoga practice that was about connecting to my body instead of about burning calories. I read books about body acceptance and fat positivity. I started to show up in a way that celebrated my body through dress, acceptance, and advocacy for body diversity.
I went on to get my Master’s degree and completed a thesis on the impact of weight stigma and discovered the importance of decreasing internalization of weight bias to protect people of size, including myself, against the impacts of weight discrimination. I worked to change my internal dialogue that included acceptance and celebration of my body in order to talk to my body in a nourishing way. I began to distinguish between my personal values and the values that society and my family of origin placed on body size and shape and empowered myself to choose my own values more often.
It is not always easy or smooth for me, especially in times of weight discrimination that I am required to move through on a regular basis when assumptions are made about my health, my worth, my eating habits, and my exercise routines based on the size of my body. A recent example that stands out was during my pregnancy when a concerned nurse practitioner asked me why I was gaining weight. When I told her “because I am pregnant”, she went on to inquire about how much fast food I was eating and how much soda I was drinking. Seeming unsatisfied with my answers, she then asked for a 24 hour recall and then a 48 hour; it was as if she were on an exploratory mission to find the reason I was gaining weight outside of this being a normal part of pregnancy. It turns out, I had already gained the entire 10 pounds that I was “allowed” to gain in pregnancy as a “obese” person by the start of my second trimester. To her, this was a problem, my body that was engaged in the beautiful process of creating life, was a problem. Luckily at this point in my life, I did not consider this to be a problem and I was able to show up in my round, large, fat body and refuse this advice and continued to eat and move in nourishing ways which lead to continued weight gain and the birth of a healthy baby.
I feel a bubble of anger as I write this. Some for myself in that my ability to care for my body and my growing baby was questioned in the flash of numbers on a scale, but mostly in the fact that this happens regularly and often unquestioned within our medical communities despite growing evidence that weight does not equal health and that there are detrimental impacts of weight bias and discrimination. I am also reminded that my many areas of privilege, outside of my body size, such as living in a white, cis gendered, able body which was protected by a middle class status, yielded me more freedom to show up in my body in this act of “defiance” against medical advice to restrict my food intake in this time of growth. Showing up and engaging in social justice advocacy within my community and health care systems to make health accessible by normalizing all bodies through focusing on health over size, ability, or commonality in effort to reduce discrimination and marginalization experiences feels equally important in this work.
Connecting to my own body’s wisdom through intuitive eating and movement, body connection, holding gratitude for my body, and showing up in advocacy for all people to find freedom through trusting their bodies is work that I plan to continue for the rest of my life. I feel grateful and honored every day for this work, especially in the times my toddler rubs my belly and lovingly compliments “so squishy” and I am free to take in and relish this tribute to my body.