When you think of Latinas in the media, who do you think about? The first people who probably come to your mind are white and thin Latinas like JLo, Shakira, and Sophia Vergara. The media tends to perpetuate the hypersexualization of Latina women by lacking representation of dark-skinned or plus-sized Latinas. The expectation of being the thin, white, ‘spicey,’ sexy Latina is real. And when you don’t meet up to these expectations, you’re being shamed.
All my life, I had thin privilege. I always got compliments for my body, so I never really knew much about fatphobia.
Then about 5 years ago, I went on antidepressants for my mental health. I was in a place in my life where I decided I needed the extra help to function in everyday life. I was absolutely okay with taking the extra help because that’d mean I’d be able to enjoy my life to the fullest. But because of this, I gained about 30+ lbs. I didn’t notice the weight gain at all at first.
Then slowly, people around me started noticing and I started getting body-shamed. I was being called ‘fat’, ‘pregnant’ and told that I ‘looked different.’ One family member even messaged me on Facebook asking me, “Are you pregnant?” Another person I bumped into that I hadn’t seen in a long time told me, “I wasn’t expecting you to look like that”.
I went from having thin privilege to being body-shamed, and that hurt.
Seeing myself unable to fit into the clothes I once wore was a reminder that I wasn’t thin anymore. I had to donate most of my wardrobe and buy new clothes. There were so many times where I cried because of the shaming. I desperately started going to the gym multiple times a day. I’d even go to the gym in the middle of the night! I was so desperate to lose weight.
Looking back, I now realize how naive and fatphobic I was being.
For support in losing weight, I turned to people who were considered ‘fit’, such as people in my network who were personal trainers. All of them encouraged me to work out more and really perpetuated fit culture by shaming those who didn’t work out as much or go on diets.
After many failed attempts to lose weight, I started to get depressed again.
Then one day, I started scrolling through Instagram and saw a post that really changed my perspective on things:
I got on antidepressants so that I could enjoy my life. And yet I was letting how people viewed my body take away from that.
As I continued to follow fat activists on Instagram, I realized the problem was not me: it was society. This was a learning experience for me because I didn’t realize how fatphobic I was being. I thought that I wasn’t beautiful, enough, or worthy all because of my weight.
This didn’t hurt only me. I’m someone who is an outspoken social justice activist. So I couldn’t encourage others to fight for liberation.
As a woman of color fighting for the liberation of all oppressed people, I had to be aware of how the -isms and -phobias intruded in my life so that I could learn to dismantle them. This includes fatphobia.
Fighting for liberation means that I should fight against all oppressive systems. And the fight started with me. Society teaches us that being fat is a bad thing. It teaches us that you are automatically not worthy of love or respect.
When looking at media representation, fat folks are never the love interest because it is assumed that they are not deserving of love. They are also assumed not to be healthy because society says everyone should be eating right, working out, and aspiring to be thin.
Furthermore, women’s bodies are already constantly being policed. And for women of color, there’s a history of birth control experimentation and sterilization. Fatphobia is just another way to police people’s bodies.
Once I realized the harm that fatphobia caused in my life and the broader scheme of society, I stopped obsessively going to the gym and limited gym time to what I could mentally, emotionally, and physically handle. I started taking care of myself the way I felt the best fit.
I started gaining back my confidence, wearing clothes that still showed off my body for what it was, and stopped listening to what people had to say about my body.
In fact, I realized the importance of loving my body for what it is now instead of what it should be. The biggest lesson I learned was that just because I am no longer thin doesn’t mean I have to put up with people’s crap. I’m still someone worthy and deserving of respect.
So I’m done with my obsession trying to be thin, it’s a waste of time and valuable energy that I could be spending somewhere else. I go to the gym when I can and thank my body every day for being able to perform at its best. Loving your body takes time and it’s a process, but I’m thankful every day for it.