The First Time I Felt Fat
I was seven-years-old the first time I felt fat. I can barely remember my first day of school, my first airplane ride, my first kiss, but I remember the moment that I realised the size of my body equated to the size of my worth.
I had climbed onto the school bus that day, red-faced and smiley after endless games of tip and handball. I had never wondered how I looked before that, my appearance was only what stared back at me in the mirror. I had more important things to worry about: spelling homework I didn’t want to do, keeping my Nintendogs alive, fighting with my sister. Two boys sat at the back of the bus. One was a skinny, knobbly boy, who’s name I can’t remember for the life of me. He was the one who started it.
Did you see how Ellie was running today?
I heard my name, and I turned toward the back of the bus. The skinny boy had lifted his hands to his cheeks.
He began to push his cheeks up and down, a mime of how my chubby seven-year-old cheeks bounced while playing tip. With each bounce, I felt something rise within me that I hadn’t before: shame. Shame about the way I looked, and shame because I wasn’t as skinny as the girls in my class.
The other boy just laughed.
From that moment on, I realised how closely my body and my self-worth were linked. I noticed at age eight how my thighs got bigger when I sat down, so I sat on my tippy-toes, not letting them flatten out. I decided to not wear bikinis at age nine, they showed off how my belly stuck out. I was ten when I decided that I would only wear shorts and a t-shirt, my own ‘fat girl uniform’, because I deemed that I was too big for anything else to look good on me. My twelve, thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen-year-old selves, fuelled by an incessant social media obsession, couldn’t look away from influencers. I became convinced that it was my body which was unnatural and wrong, that a fourteen-year-old should have a thigh gap and legs the width of an arm. At seventeen I learnt how to contour, to cancel out my ‘chubby cheeks’ with the makeup to which I was now addicted.
Although I have never been told I was overweight by a doctor, I had self-diagnosed myself as disgusting. Unworthy. I stopped speaking up, my shyness became a part of who I was, convinced that no one wanted a friend with chubby cheeks and thick thighs. I changed and moderated my behaviour, adding on more and more restrictions for myself until I had conditioned them into my way of being.
I’m not alone in feeling this. The 2016 Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report found that four in five women have low self-esteem surrounding their bodies, with 89% of those women choosing to opt out of engaging with friends and family or leaving the house because of how they look.
People like me change the way they do things, because they are ashamed of their bodies.
All of this falls out of line with the feminism that I have come to embrace, and that I bombard my friends with whenever they have worries about their weight. Size doesn’t equal beauty. Your body is your home, learn to love it. If someone has a problem with the way you look, then they aren’t worth your time. And so begins the sticky double standard; of course I would never judge another woman for her weight, but it’s different for me, everyone thinks I’m a fat cow. I was opting myself out of body positivity and empowerment.
Of course, there have been times where I have lost weight, where I’ve seen my thighs shrink and felt that I was on the way to becoming the ‘right size’. I lost seven kilos at the end of 2018. Almost to confirm what I discovered at seven years old, I was bombarded with compliments about how good I looked. Your waist! It’s so small. Wow you’re looking absolutely amazing. How much have you been working out? What’s your secret?
I hadn’t eaten in five days.
Coming out of that cycle, to the dismay of the well-wishers of my weight loss journey, meant coming face to face with both my mental and physical health. For too long it had been a whiplash inducing seesaw between the two. It took a long time for me to start accepting those feminist mantras, something I still struggle with to this day. Slowly, I realised that my body isn’t wildly different to those around me, that no one’s body is ‘disgusting’, let alone mine. I realised that I don’t need to massively sacrifice food, or time slaving away at the gym, to be happy. It’s still a work in progress and I don’t know if I’ll ever entirely be able to stop looking at my size in the mirror, but I’m slowly starting to love the body I have.
In all, I’ve come to realise that my body is just where I live, something that gets me from place to place, and something that I used to play tip with when I was younger. I just wish seven-year-old me would have realised that.