This next guest post comes from the beautiful Cara Hill of I Like Pretty Clothes.
I’m happy to say that I’m, well, happy with my body these days (at least for the most part – EVERYBODY has off days once in a while, and that is ok). In fact, I would say that I am the happiest with my body that I have ever been. I am also the heaviest I have ever been. That may sound weird to some – happy AND heavy? Happy and … FAT? That’s not possible!! It’s actually still pretty amazing to me that I feel this way, so I can understand if it sounds weird. But it is absolutely the truth; fat and happy are not mutually exclusive.
It took me a long time to get here, a really long time. I am 36 years old, and I would say that of those years, at least 28 were spent actively hating my body and obsessing about my weight. That is a really unfortunate waste of 28 years, in my opinion. I have always been on the chubby side, and some of my earliest memories were of being teased about it or being told to suck in my stomach so it didn’t stick out. It made the notion that fat = bad one of the earliest ideas I had. All the women in my family were concerned about their weight and the weight of others in our family; my grandma used to pinch our sides to tell us we had gained weight and needed to go on a diet, my mom and aunts were always talking about dieting. I of course don’t blame any of them for this or have any hard feelings about it now – it was normal, it was what women were supposed to be concerned about, it had been passed from generation to generation in an ongoing cycle of societally imposed body policing that was both accepted and not questioned. By all women, or nearly all, not just my family.
I remember as a teenager being obsessed with my weight and looks – like most teenage girls, I’m sure. I would stare in the mirror and criticize every minute detail of my body and face; no part of me was ever good enough. But this continued throughout my 20s: I would look at my reflection – wherever and whenever I saw a mirror – and think horrible things about myself. I suppose I didn’t always even need a mirror, it was just an endless flood of vitriol about myself, all the time, for years. And I hate to admit that it extended to other people too. Although I was never as critical of others as I was of myself, I still rejoiced in tearing other women apart, women in magazines, women on the street, women that I knew, putting their flaws under the same microscope that mine were under. But again, this was normal behaviour – all girls did it, right?
There were a couple of times in my 20s that I attempted and successfully lost significant amounts of weight. I had always wanted to lose weight – not to be healthier or be in better shape or anything like that, but because I thought it would make me look better and that the only way to be happy was to be thin. I joined Weight Watchers because points counting made sense to me – reducing food to numbers and sticking to a specific daily number spoke to my control freak sense of organisation and order. And it worked! I counted, counted, counted all the points, every day, and the weight came off and I felt awesome. If I could do it, anyone could do it. But then when I got down to my goal weight and was so sick of counting that I stopped and starting eating normally, the weight came back – all of it, and then some – and I felt like such a failure. So after getting my nerve up again and steeling myself that this time, I would do it right, I joined Weight Watchers again – again I was ‘successful’ and the weight came off and I felt great, I was finally happy! Until I got to my goal weight and plateaued and then immediately felt ‘fat’ again. I had lost 60 lbs, but it wasn’t enough to combat that feeling of ‘fat’, that feeling that I perceived as ‘fat’, which was actually just me feeling not good enough. It came back before I stopped counting, it was the reason I stopped counting. And then all of the weight, and then some, came back.
I met my husband when I was 23. Well, he didn’t become my husband until much later, obviously, but we met at the height of my self-imposed war on my body. Anyway, he loved me and it bothered him to no end how awful I was to myself. He would often tell me that he wished I would stop, that he wanted me to feel good about myself. That he loved me and thought I was beautiful. I appreciated his concern, but would just scoff at his words. He supported me whenever I endeavoured to feel better about myself, which were of course the Weight Watchers fiascos, but he never thought I needed to lose weight or even wanted me to. He just wanted me to be happy. And it made him so unhappy that I wasn’t. I can’t imagine how much of a drain it was to listen to someone tear themselves apart daily for as many years as he did with me, I am just really glad he stuck through it with me.
It wasn’t until I was in my early 30s and we had moved across the planet from Canada to live in New Zealand that I had a bit of an epiphany. I had always lived my life with the idea that I didn’t want to look back in my 80s and have any regrets. But it occurred to me that I wasn’t living up to this – I knew then that I would regret wasting so much time obsessing about my weight and not allowing myself to be happy because of it. It occurred to me how senseless it was – here I was living a new life in a great place, with my best friend and love of my life, I had great friends all over the world and a family who loved me. I was ignoring how fortunate I was to concentrate on something arbitrary. The kicker was the realisation that I might NEVER be thin. I might always be big, I might always be fat, so if I continued the way I was going I would waste the rest of my life obsessing about something I would never have. And I was so very tired of being unhappy, so I made the decision to no longer equate happiness with thinness and just start allowing myself to be happy in my own right.
It wasn’t easy, especially at first. I had almost 30 years of conditioning to undo. But I found a lot of things that helped. My dear husband – who was so happy with my newfound decision – sent me links to a bunch of body positive blogs written by women who had already come to this realisation and were living proof that it could be done. I started shopping online, opening my clothing horizons up so much with all of the choices that were available around the world that were not available in brick and mortar stores in New Zealand. I decided to take risks with my wardrobe and try things that I had always wanted to wear but had believed I needed to wait until I was smaller to try. My first dress from Pinup Girl Clothing was a revelation – it was beautiful and well made and looked awesome on me, at my size. I looked beautiful in it. Clothes looked good on my plus size body. Seriously, I cannot stress how much of a revelation that was, as I had never thought it possible. That one dress opened a floodgate of online shopping joy that has led to my now having a whole closet full of beautiful clothes that look great on me and that I feel great in. They have been such an important part of my body positivity journey.
But one of the biggest and possibly hardest things I have had to do is change the way I think. I had to stop the vitriol against myself whenever I looked in a mirror, and it had become so ingrained that I almost didn’t even realise I was doing it half the time. So it became my new task to stop the thoughts whenever they occurred. I would catch myself thinking something nasty and literally think, “NO!! I’m not going to do this anymore.” I would only let myself think and say positive things about myself. It was hard going, but I did start to notice that the negative thoughts eventually started happening less and less until finally I realised that they didn’t happen at all anymore – even on my occasional bad days which, as explained above, everyone has and that’s ok, I just feel a little down in the dumps but never dump the hateful self-abuse on myself that I used to. And that realisation, after it being second nature to hate on myself for so long, was a beautiful thing. I felt lighter spiritually and emotionally. And much, much happier.
There was one other thing I had to do in order to ensure my own self-acceptance: I had to stop judging and criticizing others as well. I realised that it was a cycle: I hated on myself, turned it on others, internalised that poison and turned it on myself, then turned it back on others, and so on and so forth. I could NOT feel good about myself and still make snotty judgements about other people for their hairstyle, clothes or any aspect of their physical appearance. Thinking otherwise really was a poison that I had to let go of in order to let myself be happy. Because if I was entitled to dress and look however I wanted to make me feel good about myself, then everyone else is entitled to that too. So, I started trying to change that ingrained thought behaviour as well. When I walked down the street or was out somewhere and saw someone wearing something I didn’t like or sporting their hair in a way that didn’t appeal to me and my first reaction was to think, “Ugh! Why are they wearing THAT?” I would make sure that my next thought was, “Well, if they are happy, who am I to criticise?” It may sound silly, but it worked. It’s been a slow process, reteaching myself how to think – I still make those split second judgements sometimes and still have to think “ … as long as they are happy …” – but I think it is really important. Further to this, I firmly believe that ALL bodies are good bodies, and everyone is entitled to feel good about theirs. No one is too fat or too thin or too anything, everyone should just be allowed to be.
I had the epiphany and made the decision to allow myself to be happy in my own skin about three years ago now. I no longer obsess about my weight, in fact I hardly ever think about it. I have no desire to lose weight and don’t think it will ever be a priority for me again. I think that wanting to ‘lose weight’ in and of itself can be an unhealthy and harmful thing, depending on what it means for you, because it always was for me. That said, every person needs to make their own decisions about what is right for their body – no one has the right to impose their own opinions about that onto anyone. Personally, I think focusing on being happy and healthy are the important things – self-care, whatever that means to you. For me, it means working in a job I enjoy, travelling when I can, wearing clothes that make me feel great, spending time with my favourite person and our friends, talking to and texting my family in Canada whenever I can, eating and drinking and having good times, walking and aqua jogging and doing other activities I enjoy, watching too many nerdy TV shows, going to a lot of live theatre, burlesque and other performances, and laughing as much as humanly possible. And my body, just as it is now, is perfectly capable of doing all of those things.