When I was thirteen getting fat was my greatest fear. I was so afraid of it that I pursued thinness at the expense of health. As often happens in such cases, I developed anorexia. In that distorted reality, getting fat really did seem like the worst thing that could happen to a human being.
By God’s grace, I had overcome my eating disorder by the time I started falling ill in 2012. Unexplained rapid weight gain was one of my first symptoms and while it threw my confidence for a loop I managed to maintain my freedom from the obsessive thought patterns that ruled my early teens. It was a struggle but I knew that gaining weight wasn’t the end of the world. I may have been pretty chubby by ballerina standards but I wasn’t fat by any means.
Six months later, I experienced such a catastrophic health decline that I forgot all about my weight. I was in excruciating pain and I felt like my body was trying to kill me. I spent hours hooked up to IVs. I was bed bound. I suffered neurological pain, chronic nausea, headaches, mild seizures, blurry vision, severe sound sensitivity and very nearly lost my mind. Contrary to my 13-year-old self’s belief there were far worse things that could happen to a person than getting fat. Far, far worse. What I looked like was the last thing on my mind.
As part of the illness I continued to gain weight in spurts that seemed to come without any rhyme or reason. It didn’t matter if I was eating almost nothing. I gained weight until I was decidedly fat by most modern people’s standards. But I was too busy fighting for my life to care.
It wasn’t until I started to see some small improvements after two years of IV treatment that I really noticed how fat I had gotten. I wasn’t thrilled about it but it didn’t really bother me until I was well enough to go on short outings in my wheelchair. That was when I really started worrying that others might be judging me for my weight. I was terrified about running into people that knew me when I was thin. What would they think of me?
I remembered how I had just assumed that fat people were essentially lazy gluttons and I was ashamed of myself for being so judgmental. Now I knew that it was a lot more complicated than that. Now I knew that someone’s weight could change dramatically even if they were eating healthy and exercising. More importantly, I knew that every fat body had a real person in it. A person with a story. A person who suffered and hoped. A person who was capable of loving and working and creating.
Remembering how ungraciously I had judged others just a few years earlier, I struggled… I know that being fat doesn’t change who you are or decrease your value as a human being. But our culture still acts like it does. I know that being kind and responsible and honest are more important than being thin. But the media still acts like your appearance is more important than your character. What am I supposed to do?
I was still too sick to be able to lose the weight so I had to find another way forward. Several things helped me learn to be content in a fat body. First, I came across an article talking about reclaiming the word “fat” as a neutral descriptor. The word fat didn’t have to be an insult or an indication of moral failing. It could just be a description of my body size. It didn’t have to be a synonym for ugly and it didn’t have to define the whole of me. It was just a word that described one part of my appearance. It didn’t have to be any more negative than whether I had long or short hair, big or small feet. I could be fat and beautiful.
Now, I’m not saying that there is nothing objective about beauty or that weight never has any bearing on a person’s attractiveness. All I’m saying is that fatness and beauty are not mutually exclusive. And that a huge part of what we consider to be beautiful is subjective. The standards change with time and place.
Not only that, beauty is more than just the sum of your body parts. People talk about inner beauty being more important than outer beauty. While I agree with them, I don’t think they’re as separate as we think they are. We are whole people and the beauty that others see in us comes from all of it. Your smile, your eyes, the things you say and the way you carry yourself put your inner beauty on display on the outside as well.
Which brings me to the next lesson I learned: confidence. Everyone talks about how confidence makes you more attractive and I’ve come to believe they’re right. If you act like your body is something to hide and be ashamed of, others might start to feel the same way. But if you hold your head high and carry yourself confidently people will respond to you in the same way. They will see you as someone worthy of respect whether you’re fat or not. I decided to do my best to stop acting like an ugly person and start acting like a beautiful person.
It feels silly and superficial but it isn’t really. Learning to carry myself confidently helped me to let go of worrying about myself and just focus on living and loving others in the present. I thought of myself a lot less than when I was always trying to hide in baggy clothes and cover my stomach with a pillow.
One thing that gave me a huge confidence boost was getting rid of all my clothes that didn’t fit and investing in bigger clothes that I felt good in. I didn’t say, “Oh, I’m too fat to wear that color or that style.” I just picked out the kind of clothes that I liked and thought were beautiful. I started wearing makeup again and learning fancy hairstyles. I decided that I didn’t have to wait to lose weight to “be cute.”
Now, I’m not saying women have to be cute. I’m just saying, don’t let your weight stop you from doing what you would do if you were thin. Your weight isn’t a good reason not to do something. You can live a meaningful and happy life in a fat body. You can learn to swing dance in a fat body. You can go swimming. You can wear a dress. You can go hiking. You can paint your fingernails. You can eat healthy. You can have a happy marriage and great lovemaking. You can visit with old friends. You can meet new people. You can read. You can enjoy music. I’ve done all those things. I couldn’t do most of those things in my sick body but can do them in my recovering fat body.
Contrary to popular belief, the world doesn’t end when you unexpectedly get fat. You’re still you and the people who loved you for you will still love you. They will still see beauty in you because the essence of who you are hasn’t changed.
The woman in the picture above is my 13-year-old self’s worst nightmare. But guess what? The woman in that picture is far happier and more alive than the obsessed, insecure and tormented anorexic me ever was. It’s not that I don’t expect to lose more weight as I continue to heal from my illness. I think I probably will, but I’m not going to be striving for a specific size or look. I’m trusting that my body knows what to do and I’m not going to put my life on hold in the meantime.
By the way, Brett and I made a beautiful PDF of my favorite resources for suffering souls. I created the content and he made it look fancy with his superduper graphic design skills. It’s available for free to my email subscribers. Click here to sign up and receive 5 Resources for the Suffering Soul.