It started when I was just 12-years-old. I’d always been a heavy kid; I’d never been smaller than a large and even had to shop in the “Junior Miss” section in clothing stores. I’d spent many times crying in the fitting room, wiping my tears away before joining my thin friends in the food court.
I learned to hate my body before I learned how to do long division. Being the only fat black girl in elementary school was (for lack of a better word) traumatizing. To be fat was to exist in a paradox: I was both invisible yet hypervisible. Nobody paid attention to me, I was never seen as the object of desire nor one worthy of love or protection. Yet the rolls of my size 18 body could not go undetected. The colossal wall of flesh that was my stomach used to get poked, prodded, and openly laughed at. I was literally the elephant in the room. The “concern” for my health was never-ending:
“You don’t want diabetes, do you?”
“Losing weight will be good for your health.”
“You do want to be healthy, don’t you?”
Eventually, in my final year of elementary school, I caved. I demanded that my parents buy me cans of Slimfast (a meal replacement shake) and I started dieting. I had been told by my older brother’s friends that I, a fat black girl, wouldn’t survive in high school. I learned quickly that in society’s eyes, to be a black woman already meant that I was the direct antithesis of white beauty standards. Fat black women in media get relegated to being either asexual Mammies or Sassy Black Friends™. I believed every word my brother’s friends told me and thus began my journey into anorexia.
I began substituting my breakfast and lunch with meal replacement shakes. For dinner I would have only a handful of vegetables and chicken. I began running on the treadmill for fifteen minutes a day, and slowly worked my way up to running a full 60 minutes E V E R Y single day (sometimes even twice). I went from 200 lbs to 130 lbs in a matter of 6 months.
But it wasn’t enough. nothing was ever enough.
With each pound I’d lost, my perception of how I viewed my body became even more skewed. Despite my smaller frame, my mind would subconsciously project images of my old body into the mirror. Like a drug addict chasing a high, I chased a distorted image of perfection. I would eat even less and run more. I used to make charts where I would calculate the amount of calories consumed vs the amount of calories burned. If that number wasn’t in the negatives, I would either cry or force myself to vomit. I spent my nights crying, wondering why I’d been cursed with my body. Why did I have to put my body through such extremes just to be worthy of love?
Finally, at the age of 15, I cracked and decided to stop dieting and exercising. My aching body could finally find rest. Or so I’d thought.
Fast forward to my second year of university when my weight had ballooned to 300 pounds. I decided to lose weight, but this time I vowed that I would do it differently. I created a healthy new eating regimen and exercise program that focused heavily on weight lifting.
In a short span of a year and a half, I lost 175 lbs. I’m now down to a size 6-8 (give or take a donut) and I truly am healthy. There are many days where my anorexia and body dysmorphia rear their ugly heads, but I’m taking it one day at a time.
Through my recovery I found that everyone’s “health concerns” for me were bullshit.
When my weight loss became visible, the health concerns stopped and the comments based on my appearance began. People would gush over how great I looked. The worse my eating disorders got, the more praise I received. I remember once in a fit of tears, I told a female teacher that my period had stopped because of starvation. She put a firm hand on my shoulder and said with a warm smile, “well the important thing is that you’re losing weight. You look really good!” I was 13, by the way.
The cycle became vicious: I would worry about my weight, I would get encouraged to lose more weight, I would starve myself, and I would be given praise for my efforts. There was no concern for my health when I vomited in between classes. There was no concern for my health when at age thirteen I contemplated taking my life in order to end the battle.
The bottom line: the concern for the health of fat individuals is rooted in fatphobia and beauty standards. It’s nothing more than disgust in disguise. It’s an attempt to mold your body into something more “aesthetically pleasing,” wrapped up in the guise of concern.
Regardless of whatever number I see on the scale, I am and always will be enough.
Featured Image via Brandy.