I haven't been weighed in months, but I know I'm the fattest I've ever been. My stomach is fuller, my clothes tighter, and my nipples face totally downward. There was a time when this was what I feared most, when I thought being fat was the worst thing I could ever be. At the time, how I look now is how I thought I looked then.
Body dysmorphia is an anxiety disorder, often linked to depression and eating disorders, that causes the sufferer to see their body in a totally warped way. It's not just solely low self-esteem — although this can contribute to it — but not seeing part, several parts, or even your entire body as it actually is.
Combine that with my struggles with depression, self-harm, and disordered eating — well, the entire experience shaped my teenage years, and I've never felt more alienated from my body. I hated what I saw in the mirror, and I hated how I saw myself. Mostly, I hated being me.
It feels ironic to me that I have the body now that I thought of as grotesque then, but a mindset I never thought possible: I'm happy with all of it.
In 2013, finally coming to terms with my real frame.
I have never been a thin person. I come from a long line of non-thin women, who loved their chubby children. A mom who rewarded us with chocolate and soothed our problems with ice cream. Food could be a punishment, food could be a reward — but most of all, food was a constant in my life.
But the brutal beginnings of puberty made me question my body, my relationship with food and, worst of all, spawn numerous mental health problems. Suddenly, my body was more than a body. It was an object of criticism — from the world, from my peers, and most often, myself. So much so that I didn't even see my body for what it was.
In 2014, fully feminist and fully fat.
At my smallest, when I was tracking my calorie consumption with fitness apps and slowly saw myself down to eating only 300 calories a day, I still saw myself as the fattest person I knew. I was teetering between a size six and eight, but I saw myself as much, much larger.
When I finally left school and moved on to university, it all changed. I gained weight, but I grew happier. Learning about feminism and myself outside of the tiny town I grew up in made everything simpler. I had friends who supported me no matter what and a growing understanding that my weight meant nothing about my worth, I was revolutionized. I had a new body, or rather my own body, that I'd been avoiding this whole time, but I had a new mindset too.
In 2015, wearing bodycon and loving my body.
The process of coming to terms with my body didn't happen overnight. It's been a long time coming and it's taken a long time to achieve. When you're braless on your friend's floor giggling uncontrollably at three a.m., you're not worried about the direction your tits are going. When you're learning how to have sex like an adult, instead of a nervous teen, you're not scared of your partner touching your stomach. When you're running through the city on legs that will carry you anywhere, with your fat body encased in fabulous clothes, being plus size isn't even an afterthought, let alone a worry.
When you share images of your adventures online: to your friends, your family and a newfound feminist community, they aren't just celebrating your adventures, but how brilliant you look while doing them. Suddenly, it's hard to remember to hate yourself. When said community is sharing images of you and commenting on how your body inspires them, it feels impossible to not be full of pride for your puppy fat.
In 2016, embracing my favorite part of my body.
Admittedly, it would be irresponsible of me to claim that discovering feminism, fat positivity, and online activism changed everything for me. Positive thinking is too often toted as the answer to mental health struggles, and it's not an action that is possible for many, let alone one that helps them. But these things worked for me, and they're worth acknowledging for that.
I also can't claim that what worked for me will work for everyone: Weight gain and weight loss mean so many different things for different people, and I can't offer advice. What I do offer, however, is the stance that sometimes, the way your body changes your mind can truly surprise you. In regards to my own body image, positive thinking and positive representation made my fat body a lot easier to confront.
In 2016, no longer comparing myself to my friends.
It was liberating to accept myself not just as a fat person, but allow myself to exist as a fat person without questioning every little action. Because of this, I gained a lot of weight. I've been steadily gaining weight since I was 19 and with each change in clothes size, I readjust my wardrobe, readjust my attitude, and carry on carrying on.
As a legitimate fat person, one who sees herself as fat, sees her body as fat, but finds nothing wrong with it — even enjoys it — I am happier than I was five years ago, and I believe that my story could, in some small way, give anyone struggling with the same issues some perspective. Yes, your body might change — but then again, so will you.