Aside from a small amount of teasing in school, most of the insults I’d gotten about my body had come from my own brain.
Like many women, weight has been an issue for me for most of my life. I can’t say it’s been on my mind for as long as I can remember, because I can remember a time when I was skinny and had no concerns about how much I weighed. It wasn’t until I hit the age of 11 that puberty began, and my once-scrawny frame filled out, and then some. It was confusing for me to go from being so small to having breasts and curves.
My mother, who was thin enough not to worry about having to wear a bra, wasn’t quite sure what to do when it came time for me to take care of the new mounds on my chest. In sixth grade, I noticed that even the girls who had nothing going on in that area were wearing bras. But I was hesitant to ask about it, until it got to the point where my breasts jiggled even when I walked. I picked out a sports bra on my own at a department store; the ones with underwire intimidated me with their adultness and looked incredibly uncomfortable.
By the age of 13, I was fully aware that I wasn’t skinny and would probably never be skinny again. I tried to hide my body with baggy clothes and loose jeans. I attempted to keep my breasts in place with those tight fabric holsters, but eventually even that didn’t stop the jiggling. I wasn’t horribly overweight, but overweight enough to make me self-conscious and worry that no boy would ever look twice at me. I landed at a size 14, which seemed much too big.
Although I knew I was chubby, I thankfully rarely got teased for it in middle school. There were girls only slightly bigger than I was who the other kids called fat. I seemed to fly just under the radar, too curvy to be the thin ideal, but not enough to be called out on it. Aside from a couple of years in high school when I gained an extra 30 pounds, I’ve been about 25 pounds overweight since eighth grade.
As an adult, I eventually reached the point where I felt somewhat content with my weight. No, I wasn’t skinny, but I wasn’t huge either. A few guys seemed to find me attractive. Doctors stopped giving me trouble about my weight like they had when I was a teen. Still, I frowned at myself in the mirror sometimes, wondering why my body seemed to like being overweight, why it took an extreme amount of dieting, exercise, and other efforts to go below a certain point.
My weight mostly goes out of my mind until I go above what I’ve decided is my magic resting place. After entering into a new relationship last year, I found the scale slowly but surely going up until I reached a number I was unhappy with. Suddenly, I couldn’t stop thinking that I was now FAT. Every time I looked in the mirror I yelled at myself, called myself fat, disgusting, horrible. I squeezed at the rolls on my stomach and felt my pants grow tighter around my waist.
I started complaining about my newfound body mass to my boyfriend, on the verge of tears whenever I brought it up.
“I’m so gross,” I’d say, again and again. “How did I get so fat?”
“You’re not fat,” my boyfriend assured me. “I honestly don’t see any difference.”
I knew he was wrong. I’d been indulging too much—it’s hard not to when you’re in a relationship. You go out to eat, you share desserts, you snack on things with sugar and fat while binge watching Doctor Who. But leaving my happy resting weight scared me. I was afraid of going back to that dark time in high school when I was truly overweight, when even doctors told me I had crossed the line into obesity. Weight gain was a slippery slope. I didn’t want to slide down and end up back in that place.
So, I beat myself up, in my head and in front of my boyfriend. I called myself the worst of names, pulled at every inch of fat on my body, wishing I could just rip it off of me. I had crying fits and bouts of self-pity, would attempt to skip meals but always caved, and had a major breakdown after the evil scale at the doctor’s told me I’d hit a number I hadn’t seen since I was 16.
My solution was to yell at myself, hate myself, and cry. If only such things burned calories. I tried to figure out ways to eat healthier and exercise, but money was tight (as it is for most 20-somethings these days), making Whole Foods visits and gym memberships out of the question. Dance and yoga classes intimidated me, and walking the neighborhood on my own freaked me out.
I wanted to just accept that I’d gained some weight. I wanted to be a rational human being and know that I’d lose the weight eventually whenever I was able to, that I wasn’t disgusting, and that my boyfriend still found me attractive. Unfortunately, rationality isn’t my strong suit. A mean voice took its place in my mind, berating me.
You’re so fat. How did you let this happen? Everyone’s going to notice. Everyone’s going to see. Everyone’s going to think you’re disgusting. You are disgusting. Stop eating. Never eat again. Go run a mile right now. Do some jumping jacks. Go!
Those thoughts ran through my head all day for weeks, getting louder when I put on clothes that now felt tight, or glimpsed extra curves and rolls in the mirror. When I let the thoughts out through my mouth, my boyfriend tried different things. He told me he didn’t see a difference. Then he put himself down, saying he wasn’t skinny either. Finally, he informed me that I was being mean.
“I’d be so mad if someone else was saying those things to you,” he said. “You shouldn’t be such a jerk to yourself.”
I knew he was right, but I honestly didn’t know how to motivate myself without trashing myself. I thought that if I accepted myself for who and how I was, I’d keep gaining weight, happily eating desserts and pizza and burgers without concern.
Was there another way? Couldn’t I be OK with how I looked while endeavoring to improve on it by putting more thought and care into my health? And where was all of this hateful talk even coming from? I’d been the main person to be cruel to myself about my weight. Aside from a small amount of teasing in school, most of the insults I’d gotten had come from my own brain.
Sure, I could blame the media’s objectification of women and promotion of unhealthy and unrealistic standards of beauty in American culture. Maybe that’s part of it. Or maybe judging ourselves and worrying about our appearance is simply a natural urge, something we each have to fight throughout our lives.
Regardless of the cause, I’ve decided to take control by figuring out a workout routine I could actually do (which currently involves walks with my boyfriend and Wii Fit Plus sessions in my living room) and tracking my food intake with the MyFitnessPal app to make sure I stay aware of what I’m consuming. I haven’t lost much weight yet, but right now, I’m more eager to lose the mean talk in my head, the thoughts I keep getting that tell me I’m fat, gross, and not good enough.
I want to focus on getting healthy in my mind and my body instead of hating and obsessing the weight away until I’m back to a place where I’m less concerned. I want to be kinder, nicer, and more forgiving. I want to accept how I look but still care about my health. And I hope that having those goals, the healthiest goals I’ve ever set for myself, will be the first step toward making it happen.
Alana is a writer, freelance editor, and occasional ukulele rocker living in Los Angeles. Her essays have appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Role Reboot, The Manifest-Station, and more. You can visit her website at alanasaltz.com and follow her on Twitter @alanasaltz.
This originally appeared on Hello Giggles. Republished here with permission.