Downsize & Downsides
I have never not known a life void of struggling with my body image.
Even when I was little, people used to squeeze my cheeks so hard I’d tear up from the pain because they were “OMG SO JUICY!”
I am constantly aware of every curve, crevice, and cellulite crater that I’ve been taught to hide away from the eyes of the public who, in their spare time, all seem to serve as my personal Miss America judges. I am always concerned with how much space I take up, from the sound of my voice to my hips in a bus seat.
I’ve been living on the borderline of fatness since I was 12, when I stepped on the scale and the doctor declared I was overweight (sidebar: doctors should NEVER do this to kids directly). Not long after, I *still* remember buying my first pair of Mudd jeans and being ashamed that I had to buy a Juniors Size 13. I also remember being measured for my uniform pants at age 14 and the woman making an unsavory remark about the size of my hips being 40/42 inches.
We can pontificate for HOURS about the different factors that played a role of my personal body politic. Yes, media and well-meaning yet hurtful people would be at the top of the list. But it wasn’t until I came to Ecuador and went through a pretty radical body change that I fully understood that all of these factors were borne out of one thing that even I’d bought into: FATPHOBIA.
It’s time we all acknowledged that we all participate in discrimination against fat people, that it is pervasive in everything we do, and we all need to actively combat it to make our world a better place and help more people live whole and vibrant lives.
Club de Adultos Mayores, Centro de Salud, Cascól
My biggest work in Paján is around Physical Health & Wellness, which, is to say, that I am the town PhysEd teacher. I conduct charlas on nutrition and exercise, I have done workshops with adolescents by using soccer to talk about sexual and reproductive health, I instruct exercise sessions for elderly men and women, I have led walking groups for women of all ages, and then there is my pride and joy: teaching free bailoterapia to a workout club almost nightly in town.
Yet without a doubt, there is a constant push for me to focus solely on weight loss. From people who ask me for my secret diet to rapid shedding, to those who have asked me to lift my shirt to prove that I do not wear a waist trainer.
While I’m grateful for the engagement from my community, I often feel like I’m a broken record every time I respond: “It’s a process, exercise is about your overall health, not about body size. In order to reach your personal health goals, it is important that you learn to first love yourself just as you are, today.”
But fatphobia, a form of bigotry that knows no borders, feeds the idea that the only way to see if someone is truly healthy is by looking at their bodies. There is no consideration for the person who loses 15 pounds in a month because they are going through a mental health crisis or the little girl or boy who has been fat for their entire lives. There is no love for the woman who chooses the Copper IUD instead of the Hormonal IUD because she's afraid of the weight gain, let alone the postpartum mama whose body never returns to their pre-baby dimensions. There are only insidious comments made by doctors and loved ones alike who have expressed openly that I don't appear as healthy as my vitals profess.
We are a fatphobic society. It is visible in our personal desires, documented in wage gaps, hiring discrimination practices, and even in doctors' visits. We laughed our way throughout Avengers: Endgame at Thor's expense and celebrated Beyoncé’s “recovery” in time for her Coachella performance by eating almost nothing for 5 months, barely registering the fact that she clearly stated in her documentary, HOMECOMING, that she’d never do that kind of destruction to her body ever again.
It took me actually watching the documentary a second time for it to fully register that her dedication to not being fat was the sole motivator of her ridiculous (and borderline anorexic) diet, and how scary that kind of messaging that is for kids watching her example.
What do we teach ourselves and each other when we have language for people based on their body size? In Ecuador and other parts of Latin America, kids as young as 4 and 5 are lovingly called gordita if they show signs of fat. Me, a grown woman, is often called “delgadita” as a cheeky joke because of all the weight I’ve lost since moving here.
Speaking of my own weight loss, it has led to a new struggle: body dysmorphia. I stare at my naked body in the mirror constantly trying to make sense of my body’s changes over the last 2 years. I go back and forth between pictures trying to convince myself of the changes that draw a lot of color commentary from a lot of people (true story: a guy that was interested in me recently exclaimed: "wow you were fat!" after looking at old pictures of me)
From cheek-squeezing to hair touching to unwanted skin caressing to cat-calling, I am aware that my appearance matters. I’ve learned my body is not always my own, accessible to anyone who wants to decide my value and my worth. I am misnamed by an often vicious world that sees the combination of my black skin, kinky hair, deep voice and larger body as a threat to public safety. With my own internalized fatphobia, I found myself trying to shrink myself both figuratively and physically in order to fit what people desire me to be instead of who I already am. Survival tactics, I guess.
I do not have an answer about how to eradicate this pervasive sore spot in our society; I guess all I’ve got is my broken record.
I’ll continue to encourage people like you to seek out physical health and personal wellness for yourself, to love your bodies right now, and to stop accepting well-meaning "compliments" that dehumanize your bodies more than celebrate the fulness of who you already are.
I loved who I was then, and I am still figuring out how to continue loving myself now.
Que aprendemos a amar a los demás, ya nosotros mismos tal como ya somos.