Friday, October 18, 2013

The Epiphany, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying & Love My Body


"Write hard and clear about what hurts." - Ernest Hemingway

I saw those words the other day on Pinterest and I stopped and stared at them.

Because these words were on Pinterest, they were written in a super cool font and superimposed over an image of an Instagram-filtered beach or something. I sat there and stared at them and thought, "I don't do that enough."

Then I pinned it and forgot about it.

Two days later an epiphany changed my life. It is still happening now. You are witnessing it.

What happened was this: a photo of a woman with a smokin'-hot body named Maria Kang posing with her three young children and the words "What's Your Excuse?" went viral on the Internet, and not all the response was positive. Incredibly bad-ass blogger Matt Walsh wrote a less-than-bad-ass post about this, calling out all the "haters" and "trolls" who responded negatively to the photo.

My friend Destiny won blogging when she wrote an open letter to Matt Walsh that described her own struggle with negative body image. When I read Destiny's post - much of which I could have written about myself, verbatim - I thought about the Hemingway quote. I realized God was doing that thing where he points me in a direction. But I resisted.

I was not ready to write this yet.

That night, I decided to look up some yoga moves, since I've been wanting to try it again. I was searching Pinterest for some good beginner yoga sites, and I kept seeing all these very bendy, skinny women. So I searched "fat yoga," just for the hell of it. And I started seeing results from all these boards with names like "Body Positivity, "Body Love," and "Fat Acceptance."

I spent the next three hours browsing. I saw photos of fat women in body-conscious clothing looking like they really enjoyed wearing body-conscious clothing. I saw photos of fat women in beautiful dresses with gorgeous tattoos and incredible makeup and exquisite hair. Most of the women were bigger than me - much bigger. They did not seem to give much of a crap.

I saw articles written by physicians about why being fat does not necessarily mean you are unhealthy and might die any minute, and that skinny people are just as likely to be unhealthy as fat people.

I was introduced to the radical idea that maybe I should just eat well and exercise to be healthy now. That maybe - just maybe - becoming thin should not be the ultimate goal of my existence, as it has been for almost as long as I can remember.

Like I said, I am smack-dab in the middle of having a life-changing epiphany, and since I am a writer, I am going to write about it. I am going to follow Papa Hemingway's advice and "write hard and clear about what hurts." It does hurt. But I'm going to say it anyway.

Here goes:

1. I take off my glasses before I walk down the hallway so I don't accidentally see myself in the bathroom mirror. I also take off my glasses before I go into the bathroom and undress to take a shower. I do not want to see myself naked.

2. The first time I remember thinking I was fat, I was eight years old. I was not fat, but I weighed more than the other girls. I've always been thick and muscular and, yes, bigger-boned than many females. ("Big-boned" is a classic punch-line cop-out, but guess what? It's also an actual thing.) My head is big. My feet and hands are big. My face is huge. It's just how I'm made.


3. When I was nine, I had a swimsuit with the belly cut out. They were all the rage in the 80s. One day, while wearing my swimsuit, I said to my mom, "I'm fat." I wanted her to say, "You absolutely are not." (I wasn't.) Instead she glanced at me and said, "You could stand to lose a few pounds." I remember it like it was yesterday. It is one of my clearest childhood memories.

4. Blaming my mother would be blaming the victim. She was tiny all her life until her third pregnancy with my twin brothers. She thinks maybe it's the tubal ligation that changed her hormones forever, but whatever it was, she never got her pre-twins body back. I was eight when they were born and my mother's negative body image began. It persists to this day. I remember her drinking Slim Fast every morning. (I would try the Slim Fast diet, too, at age twelve.)

To this day, my mother talks about how fat and gross she is all the time. Everyone else - including me - thinks she is beautiful.

5. I was going to write about how my mom, all my life, is always dieting, and has only ever seemed vibrant and happy during the brief periods when she has starved and striven herself down to a lower weight. It never lasts, and it probably never will, because dieting statistically does not work over the long term. But as I was writing that I realized I could say exactly the same thing about myself.

6. I was a very active person well into high school. I did dance and drill team. As a kid I swam a lot, rode my bike, and played softball. I was never thin. I was always bigger than the other girls. I didn't eat anything my skinny brothers didn't eat. I was just built differently, or less tolerant of carbohydrates, or something. I didn't know that then. I was mystified by my "fatness." I thought I was doing everything right.

7. I remember being twelve years old and wondering why boys didn't like me. I thought maybe it was because I was huge and gross. When I look back at photos of me in middle school, I realize they were more likely terrified of me than disgusted. I looked seventeen. I was a size 8 or so, wearing a C-cup bra, with dance-sculpted legs, and thick brown hair to my middle back. I had no idea I was beautiful, but I was. I really was.


8. When I was fifteen, I was a little slice of hell. Unhappy and rebellious, I asked to go stay with my dad in Austin for the summer. When I was eight, my dad had disappeared without a trace, returning out of the blue when I was thirteen. Did this have an effect on my self-esteem? You best believe. But I was determined to have a relationship with him, and I was mad at my mom because, well, she was my mom, so off to Austin I went.

Even though I was still bigger than the av-er-idge bear, I was figuring out my own personal style as far as hair, clothes, and makeup went, and it helped me feel a little better about myself. Then one day my stepmother and I were talking about my plans for returning home and starting school and whatnot, and she asked me, out of the blue, "What about your weight?"



I didn't know what to say. It was such a vague question. I remember saying, "What about it?" I don't recall the rest of the conversation, but I do recall being devastated. Once again, someone who should have been telling me I was beautiful had decided to do exactly the opposite. Probably because someone - or everyone - had done it to her.

9. By the time I was about twenty I had been on at least twenty diets. Again, I look at pictures of me then and think, "Wow. I was beautiful." Did I know it then? Apparently not. I went to the library at my college and did research on weight loss. (This was before the Internet existed as we know it today.) Somehow I stumbled across information about the fat-burning effects of cocaine. So I decided to try it.

I remember going out with friends one night, coked up, and ordering a salad which I could not bring myself to eat. I felt victorious, looking at my food and not wanting it. But soon I found I also couldn't sit still, or think, or relax. I had to leave my friends inside, go outside and pace up and down the sidewalk. Luckily for me, I found the effects of cocaine unpleasant and I didn't do it for long.

10 I have so many stories like this. So many diets, some unhealthy, some less so. I can tell you about the yoga videos, the Legs of Steel videos, walking the four-mile hiking trail in the 100-degree heat of summer. I can tell you about Weight Watchers, NutriSystem, Metabolife, Herbalife, ephedra, the grapefruit diet, the cabbage soup diet, veganism, raw veganism, low-carb and zero-carb. I can tell you about "inspiration boards:" poster boards covered in pictures of thin women I cut out of magazines. I can tell you about my "diet journals," and the countless time I sat and did math for hours, figuring out how much I needed to eat and work out to be this many pounds by this particular date.

For the record: veganism made me fatter. Also: PETA sucks ass.

I can tell you about how when my husband calls me beautiful, I feel embarrassed. I can tell you that I am guilty of talking shit about people who are fatter than me, for the reprehensible and shameful and awful reason that it makes me feel better about myself, in a small and mean and horrible way.

But I think you get the idea. Since I was a young teenager, I have thought about how fat I am literally almost constantly.

That is not an exaggeration: literally almost constantly.

11. I have health anxiety. It's basically extreme hypochondria. And it has occurred to me just now, during this epiphany, in a "Eureka!" sort of way, that maybe one of the reasons I am afraid I'm going to die all the time is that TV and magazines and Pinterest and everything else are constantly telling me that since I'm fat, I could drop dead any minute.

Is that true? Actually, no. But it sure does sell shit. It sells shit, and it has ruined my brain.

I didn't know I was unhealthy until the people who sell shit convinced me I was.

12. You know what? I'm done. Maria Kang, good for you. But I'm done. What's my excuse? My excuse is I have tried all my life to look like you, and apparently it's not going to happen. Maybe it's because I'm not good enough, or I haven't tried hard enough or suffered enough.

Or maybe it's because everybody is different. There's a crazy thought! Could it be that not every human woman is supposed to look like Maria Kang?

13. Maybe I should eat well and exercise because it's healthy, not because I hate myself. In fact: maybe I can be healthy and even beautiful even if I never lose a single, solitary pound.

15. I have let my self-loathing stop me from doing so many things I wanted to do. I let it end my acting and comedy career before it began, because I didn't want to be "the fat girl." I was facing an industry in which women like Melissa McCarthy are seen as brave just for daring to be in a movie, because they are fat. In Hollywood, it is literally a coup for Melissa even to exist. I was too ashamed to face that.

But seriously: how cute and funny is she?

I am one-half of a sketch comedy duo, and the other half, my hetero lifemate, is thin and gorgeous. Again, I let shame stop me from pursuing that wholeheartedly. I decided I would rather be no one than be "the fat one."

Well, not anymore.

I am claiming, owning, and celebrating who I am and what I look like, right now, in this very moment. I am pledging to love myself exactly as I am.

16. I don't have a daughter, but I hope to one day. And I pledge, right now, to not do to her what my mother - out of her own pain and ignorance - did to me. She didn't mean to. I know that. And it wasn't just her. It was being abandoned by one of my parents. And it was the entire world. It was almost every commercial, almost every page in a magazine, or image on the TV screen. Even the well-meaning barrage of diet and exercise propaganda that is hurled at our faces every hour of every day by every branch of the media and every other pin on Pinterest - it all sends the same message:

You are not good enough. You look the way you do because you are lazy and gluttonous. You haven't tried hard enough yet. You will not be fulfilled and your life will not be happy until you look like this.

I may not be able to keep my future daughter from all of these messages, but I can sure as hell counter with the one I am now pledging to impart to myself, every day:

You are beautiful exactly as you are. You are good enough exactly as you are. You can be healthy exactly as you are. You can be happy exactly as you are.




I am more than a "before" photo, I am more than a "success story waiting to happen," and there is not a "thin person inside me trying to get out." There is just me. Take it or leave it.

I have decided to stop talking down to myself, stop hating on myself, and stop obsessing over every bite of food I take. I have spent at least 3/4 of my waking life thinking bad thoughts about my body, and friends, I. am. done.

I deserve better, and so do you. So join me in saying "enough" to a world that says we aren't.

4 comments:

  1. Bravo, Kristen. I'm married to a wonderful, curvy woman and I don't know if I tell her how beautiful she is enough. I don't even know if she is plagued by half of the crap that you have been besieged with. The Hollywood culture is Bunk, Bunk, and double Bunk: TMZ, ET, and Inside Edition sear into girls' brains what they should look like.

    And what can it do to men? Well, It will put body measurements into their top two criteria for their choice of a wife. Which sets them up for a life of selfishness if they see eye candy as one of their "man needs." Remember the saying, "you can look at the menu all you want, but you have to come home to eat." I thought it was pretty harmless till a friend made me realize that it means that you can lust after and objectify any woman as long as you stay faithful to your wife. Guess what, guys? All that crap competes with your married relationship; it doesn't spice it up.

    Congratulations for taking a personal stand to reverse these thoughts that have made your life hell up till now.

    Phil

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  2. I wept. Thank you for being so honest. I swear, if we lived in the same state, we would seriously have to hang. :)

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  3. this is my story....thank you.
    stella rose's momma

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  4. Thank you so much for this amazing comment. I have hated my body my whole life, and losing weight or gaining weight never made a difference for me. I just wrote a post by the same name (http://365daysofhijab.com/day-29-how-i-learned-to-love-my-body/), and came across yours. Every single body deserves love; and women are disproportionately coerced into hating their own.

    Thank you again.

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