Monday, April 23, 2018

Three Dreadful Letters: F-A-T

Until I went to university, I was petite in every sense of the word, under 5 feet and less than 100 pounds. While I thought my arms jiggled too much and obsessively awaited the day I would feel comfortable in a bikini, I did not think too seriously about my relationship with my body. According to everyone around me, I was fine. No one taught me about the importance of living a healthy lifestyle because on the outside, I looked “healthy” even though my diet consisted of Nestea and Ruffles. It just didn’t matter.
Until it did.
It happened quickly. I gained a few pounds, and then a few turned into a lot. It's incredible (read: fucked up) how much of a person's worth is tied to numbers on a scale. And as the number grew larger, I somehow became smaller.
People can be unkind to "fat" people. It was not a word I would have used to describe myself, but it was there underpinning how I felt about myself. How I was made to feel about myself. F-A-T. Three letters that ironically weigh so much.
Three summers later, I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, which comes with an awful set of symptoms created by a hormonal imbalance that can cause acne, weight gain and the growth of unwanted facial hair. (Fun, right?) At first, however, it was a relief to know that it wasn't just the Nestea and Ruffles, that it was actually out of my control.
Then came the self-pity. It was out of my control. I did not choose this; I could not do anything about it. I honestly can't tell you which order it happened in, whether my confidence faltered because of my weight gain, or if my weight gain continued because my confidence began to falter, but it all amounted to the same. Feeling stuck.
I clung onto the idea of having been "skinny" for most of my life. I felt the need to tell people I wasn't naturally this big, it just happened to me. And as I did, conversation by conversation, I gave away my agency.
People took it away from me too. My culture can be even more unkind to "fat" people. After all, what man would want to marry a girl who is overweight? And what value do I bring to society if I am not married? Questions that intrinsically began to tie together my body and my worth.
At the start of every year, I would proclaim that that would be the year I would finally lose weight. As if losing the weight would finally allow me to be seen. Some years, I would lose a little bit. One year it was 10 pounds, but then the following year I gained 18.
So I yo-yo-ed. Back and forth, back and forth. Feeling more defeated each time I failed. And as my body got away from me, it felt like all the other pieces of my life did too.
It's sad to look back now because I realise how much I was accomplishing in my life during this time. I was travelling. I was working hard. I was on TV. I was completing a distance learning post-grad program. I was spending time with my family and friends. I was paying off debts. I was saving up.
But I don't really remember all those wonderful experiences as they were. What I do remember is feeling fat.
One year though, I actually did something about it. I wish I knew what was different that time, because if I could sell that secret, I'd literally be a billionaire. The truth is that there was no magical moment.
But I did it. I took back my agency. Not conversation by conversation, but action by action. One day at a time. Day by day of making better decisions about what I ate. Day by day of making better decisions about how much movement I made. And as before, I honestly can't tell you which order it happened in, whether losing weight made me more confident, or confidence helped me lose weight, but it all amounted to the same. Feeling empowered. Somehow though, the sadness remains. It feels like people see me better when there is less of me. I don’t know if that is a byproduct of my confidence, or my body. It leaves me still not knowing how to unlink the two: my body and my worth.
And it continues. I’ve gained back some of the weight I had lost. The compliments stopped. My confidence faltered. So here I am, trying to remember that I am worth so much more than my body. That being in control of my body is about agency, and that is where empowerment comes from. It is about so much more than what I look like. And in case you needed to hear it too: you are worth so much more than just your body.