I was always aware that I was fat. It was as much of a fact to me as the sky being blue. Before I could even form my own opinions, my environment was teaching me to be ashamed of my body wherever I went — home, school, the mosque, and even the grocery store checkout line where garbage magazine covers brought the latest sham diet to my attention. I grew up thinking fatness was the root of all my problems and wishfully yearned for a slim future where everything wrong with my life was magically resolved. My earliest attempt at fixing myself was sparked by an ad marketing a natural, fat melting tea that promised crazy results with little effort. They had me at ‘crazy.’
“Traditional Chinese” weight loss tea sold by white people on TV? PLEASE take my mom’s money. I’d never seen anyone happier than the actors enjoying this tea. The before and after pictures looked like they weren’t even of the same person, which was exactly what I was going for. I could barely spell my name, but I was ready to embark on the journey of becoming a Fit Tea influencer. When I lie awake at night, I’m still haunted by the card I made to convince my mom I needed this tea, complete with hearts that looked like poorly drawn butts. Turns out my lack of talent didn’t even matter because my appearance-obsessed mother was down for anything that would finally make me skinny. So, while other kids were probably eating glue, I was sippin’ TEA.
Imagine my disappointment when the tea did absolutely nothing, though this wouldn’t be the last time I was let down by fad diets or white people. I actually gained weight during that period, and so began my harmful relationship with my body. Like ripping a stranger’s juul at a party I didn’t even want to go to, I couldn’t say no to an opportunity to be self-destructive. My body was a curse, a misfortune, a life sentence to tearing myself apart for the entertainment of others — because how else could I possibly redeem myself? I was the butt of my own self-deprecating jokes and so frequently reduced myself you’d think my name was derived from the Persian word for ‘nothing.’ I hated being fat. I hated taking up space. I rarely raised my hand, held in every sneeze, and avoided doing anything that would draw attention to me. The fact that I physically can’t shut the fuck up now is great character development, but I can’t forget the times when all I wanted was to be forgotten by everyone else as I faded away into my oversized clothing.
Since my introduction to self-hate, I’ve cycled through phases of being big and small, again and again and again. All the while, I could never attain the paper-thin ideal that lived in my head and I hated myself for it. It wasn’t until my first summer in New York City when I began to shift the way I thought about my body. Within 2 years of living in the city I lost 70 pounds, but the greatest transformation took place in my mind. As I began to make lifestyle changes, I made an effort to no longer dislike my body for reasons that weren’t actually detrimental to my health. I started eating and doing things that made me feel good and stopped compulsively checking my weight every day to measure my self-worth. I celebrated the milestones along the way and was grateful for my body as I felt myself getting stronger. Behaviors weren’t all just a means to a skinny end, but rather how I created peace in my life. I carried myself with pride and gave up on waiting around for the day I was skinny ‘enough’ to wear the clothes I’d always wanted. I spent more time alone and found comfort in my company as I worked on not hating myself. I stopped giving a fuck about what I needed to be for anyone but me. I spent all summer listening to Megan thee Stallion, willing my self-worth to be as strong as thee Stallion’s knees. I really liked who I was becoming.
I wasn’t truly aware of the progress I’d made till a recent exchange with a drunk stranger. While I was out one night, a girl started following me stating she wanted to be my friend because, “you walk like you like yourself.” As with anyone addressing me, I immediately wanted to ignore her, but as her words hit me I stopped to think about the implications of what she’d just said. I felt comfortable in my skin, so much so that someone else took notice. Perhaps she was just drunk, and I shouldn’t believe strangers, but maybe she had a point. Maybe I do like myself — at least enough to respect my body and live an authentic life. That night, a drunk girl’s observation became my daily affirmation, as I strive to walk, talk, and exist like I like myself. Because I finally do.
Featured Image: ‘The Confidence Gap’ via The Atlantic