Last August, I did a family photo shoot with a professional photographer at our beach house in Connecticut.
The beach — one of those quiet, private spots where you can actually hear yourself think — was on the Long Island Sound, and the water was calm. My nephews ran around like maniacs the entire time, laughing and having fun. By all accounts, it should have been the perfect late-summer evening with my fantastic family.
But all I could think about was how fat I felt.
I was wearing a white, chiffon dress from Forever21 (let's just ignore the fact that I was 28 at the time) and a bra that was about a half cup too small. My arms felt ungainly, and my underwear was acting like a hellish pair of Spanx — way too tight and cutting into my stomach. I felt constricted and messy and just not pretty.
I had gained 20 pounds over the previous year due to depression, anxiety, and a medication.
I felt out of control in my body despite the fact that, by all appearances, I actually wasn't fat. I wasn't even really that overweight. I was 20 pounds up from a weight I had designated “good enough" back when I was a junior in college. And that weight was even another 15 pounds up from my absolute lowest, at a time when I was 24 years old and eating nothing but egg whites and the like.
When I saw the proofs a few days later after my parents had picked them up from the photographer, I felt numb.
I thought I looked like a monster.
I had been a stocky child, but when I hit high school, I gained more weight. Then I went on to college to a drama program that insisted that fat people were just "butterflies that hadn't burst forth from their cocoons of excessive flesh." My acting teacher, for example, told me that "castability" was paramount and that I needed to get my weight down if I wanted to be considered for more parts.
The first two years of my acting career weren't at all about improving my craft but about the frustrations I felt about having to "discipline" my body. Disciplining, of course, implying that my body was somehow misbehaving by daring to be anything other than thin.
After I finally lost weight through slightly nefarious means (kickboxing twice a day and a diet of tuna sandwiches and green tea), one of my acting teachers said to me, encouragingly, “You look beautiful. But you could lose even more weight around your hips."
One of my acting teachers said to me, encouragingly, “You look beautiful. But you could lose even more weight around your hips."
I thought about that every single time I engaged in compulsive restricted eating and overexercising: "You could lose even more."
Gradually I healed my disordered eating, but the fatphobia stayed present in my mind.
Fatphobia is an invasive, corrosive fear of getting fat and of fat people themselves, and it's a constant presence in our society despite the various efforts of body-positive models, bloggers, and YouTubers.
People tend to assume that fat people hate the fact that they're fat (like everyone on "The Biggest Loser") or that the fat is a stepping stone on the way to a healthy (read: skinny) physique.
My weight had nothing to do with what I was doing or eating. But people see a heavier person and draw their own conclusions about their health. I ended up going to the doctor, where I was told that the weight gain wasn't a result of anything I had done and that I would just have to “wait it out."
That meant I couldn't do anything about it at that second. Normally, I'm a horribly impatient person. But it was actually kind of freeing to realize I didn't have to control what my body looked like. It forces you to see the bigger picture.
Instead of "waiting it out" and locking myself inside until one day I magically became a skinnier version of myself, I decided to try being OK with how I looked. No, that wasn't enough — I would love how my body looked.
I was wasting so much time hating my body.
I looked at people like Tess Holliday, a model and the creator of the #EffYourBeautyStandards movement, and realized I was wasting my time hating my body.
There were so many other great things about me, like my writing career, my vast knowledge of random information about the "Lord of the Rings" movies, and my ferocious love for my family and friends.
I'm someone who always strives to know more about myself — I ended up getting into therapy last year, which proved immensely helpful in my journey to understanding why my hatred for my own body (the glorious, amazing thing keeping me alive every day!) ran so deep.
I realized that I cared way too much about what other people thought of me.
I'm someone who has a bone-deep desire to be liked. By everyone. And I thought the way to do that was to change the way my body looked. To change the way I looked. And I was so, so wrong.
Learning how to love myself changed everything for me.
I started wearing clothes that fit my body rather than trying to jam myself into things that didn't fit. I cultivated space for myself, speaking out and lending my voice to social and feminist issues. Sure, some friends faded away, but others got even closer to me.
I worked out in ways that were fun rather punishment for my body. I started going to spinning classes and got back into yoga. I ate food that was delicious but also healthy because that's what made me feel good, even if it didn't make me lose weight.
And most importantly, I came to realize that there are so many wonderful people in this world who deserve love and happiness, and no matter what size I am, I'm one of them.