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She's Giving: Confidence

For Plus-Size Girls Who Chose Self-Love When Insecurity Wasn't Enough

27 years...

329 months...

10,033 days...

That is how long it took for the woman in this picture to be born. For over two and a half decades, she has been under construction, surviving the toils of childhood bullying, adolescent insecurity, and a lifetime of low self esteem masked by exceptionalism. Through it all, she persisted and has finally arrived.

Even though I usually aim to present myself through a lens of positivity, the truth is that I've spent a lifetime struggling with self-love and self-acceptance. I used to think all kinds of destructive things about myself; that if I excelled at everything I did, then it would somehow make up for me being big. Or maybe my accomplishments would keep people from noticing. Maybe academic excellence would soothe the scars left by the nasty remarks from my peers. Maybe a hefty resume would make me feel better about the fact that I've been shopping in the women's section since I was a teen; at least I'd already mastered the art of pairing suit separates by the time it was time to start working. Perhaps flexing my intellect would make me care less about the image I strongly disliked in the mirror (spoiler alert: it never did). I remember being nervous to post my first TikToks because they would require me to show more than my usual head-to-shoulders profile, which was an issue for the version of me who believed she had an okay face, but not much else in terms of physical beauty. Yes, some of these sentiments are very disheartening, but it's true. This post isn't about sympathy, though; it's about acknowledging the journey and hard work of loving oneself, especially in a body that the world communicates mixed messages about loving.

Like most others, I've spent a lot of time reflecting during the past few years, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. It's no secret that COVID has altered our lives forever and been a source of inconceivable pain, but without its forced pause, I never would have dedicated so much time to finally looking within to fight my inner demons. Walking in my shoes has never been easy in the figurative sense. The only time I have ever been "skinny" was from ages 3-5. I started to gain weight somewhere around age 6, and my body has been a focus of others' gaze and efforts to fix ever since. My introduction to exercising at the gym was being sent to a program after school to work out several days a week. I was in elementary school and we were even on the news once. Even though I thought that part was cool, I was very clear about the reason I was there. I wasn't going to the gym because exercise is a normal activity that everyone should do to care for their body; I had to go because my body was too big and I needed to work out at the gym in order to fix it. I'm told that it was an expensive investment that was made with the best of intentions, and I know that both are true. However, with the hindsight of adult eyes, I have still struggled with the fact that the teachings of that expensive program weren't necessarily modeled at home, where everyone around me had their own complicated relationships with food and exercise.

By the time I reached middle school, I had played 2 seasons of softball at the YMCA and graduated to sometimes taking a can of Slim Fast for lunch. This core memory wasn't actually unlocked until a random night in November 2020, when I stumbled upon a Twitter thread by a woman discussing her experience navigating childhood as a fat kid. I can't even describe how mind blown I was to find out that there is a whole community of us who had experienced Slim Fast lunches, fad diets, Weight Watchers, and other weight loss programs before the age of 18. It's crazy to realize that at the same time I was reading the infamous "Care and Keeping of You Body Book," designed to guide girls through an empowered and confident pubescent experience, I was also being encouraged to try all these crazy things to change my body, which was already undergoing tons of changes by itself. Don't get me wrong, I'm not mad at anyone in my life for trying to encourage me to be healthy the best way that they knew how; but I think that we create a very confusing and slippery slope for young women when we say that they're beautiful one minute, but then focus our attention, action, and resources on fixing their imperfections the next minute. This becomes especially complicated when we, the adult women, are pressing them to pursue a lifestyle that we have never shown them by example. And then when they are grown, they're left to grapple with the task of trying to unpack the body image issues resulting from their own experience and the insecurities that we projected onto them. Healthy lifestyles are certainly important, but let this post serve as a reminder that we have to practice what we preach when guiding young people, and consistent, hands-on support goes much further than a checkbook in these matters.

When high school started, I'd pretty much already accepted that boys weren't looking my way. After my 6th grade crush had roasted my ass on the school bus for wearing Sketchers and cussing not-quite-fluently yet, I knew that I preferred invisibility to attracting the wrong kind of attention. And invisible I remained to the male species through 12th Grade. I was an awkward, Black orchestra kid at a predominantly white high school who spoke to everybody that didn't get on my nerves, told off folks who did (when needed), and ultimately flew under the radar with my eclectic mix of friends the rest of the time. Life also threw in a moderate identity crisis of not feeling Black enough to hang with the cool Black kids, for a little extra dazzle dazzle. I went to prom with a group of friends instead of a date, and met my best friend who I'm still tight with today. Despite the things I was confident about - my studies, my authentic friendships, and getting a full ride to college - unfortunately, my self-consciousness regarding my appearance was at an all-time high.

In college, the invisibility had somewhat worn off, but by then I was placing myself in a box. I was very secure in not allowing anyone's knuckle-headed ass son use me for sex behind closed doors, especially knowing they'd never be seen with me in public, but that didn't stop the grimy inquiries from coming to my DMs anyway. It didn't stop the toxic masculinity that made me cute when they wanted something and a "fat bitch" when I told them no. By this point, my skin was THICK. One benefit to growing up with people criticizing your body is that by the time you're grown, you don't care about anyone's attempt to throw an insult your way. Chances are you're probably always ready to toss back something better. So being called out of my name for refusing to satiate someone's objectifying sexual advances didn't bother me at all. But somewhere along the way, I started closing myself off to people. I didn't feel attractive. I made less eye contact. I put my head down more than ever before. My "Freshman 15" had turned into a College 50. I was diagnosed with the beast known as PCOS, which is known for making it extremely easy for women to gain weight and a hundred times harder to lose. Black became more prevalent in my closet. I was depressed my senior year and didn't tell anyone or seek help. I made friends, lost friends, and made a mark on campus through organizations that I loved. I graduated with Honors, and then my career started lower than expected.

The post-college years have been their own journey. I've tried and failed at several health kicks on my own. The summer after I graduated, I pushed through my gym-aversion to workout 3-4 times a week with my best friend. Largely due to that childhood introduction, I still hate the gym to this day, but that summer, I sucked it up and went anyway. After not losing a single pound, despite losing inches, I quit. Metaphorically, if my life was Tyler Perry's Diary of a Mad Black Woman (2004), the gym was Charles and I was Helen, mad as hell and wanting him to stop making those bubbles while I stared him down in the bathtub.

With time, I decided to try something different. For the the first time, I diverted my attention to doing the inner work of getting healthy: learning to look in the mirror and love the person looking back no matter what a scale said about her weight; learning not to tear myself apart in photographs; learning that there is no such thing as "good" or "bad" food but that everything can be enjoyed in moderation; learning how to listen to my body; learning how to eat until I'm satisfied rather than eating until I'm "full." I accepted that healing from all that weight-related trauma would take time, but that Kristian deserves to feel good about herself and receive the same love that she gives to everyone else.

That is why I am proud of the woman in the picture that started this post. She waited for such a long time to get here. And even though she still falls down sometimes, and doesn't always get it right, she still isn't where she used to be. She knows that she is an attractive woman whether or not a man is looking, and his gaze doesn't measure her beauty. (But for the record, she's also figured out that THEY DO look, baby!! Halleluuuujah!) Things got so much better when I learned to stop stressing over the body I don't have to focus on loving the body that I do. Mastering this now will allow me to continue practicing self-love at any size going forward. That's what's fueling me to finally start having fun with my clothes again and welcoming the full spectrum of the rainbow into my closet. It empowers me rock a two-piece to a concert at my heaviest with a smile. Never assume that someone's not putting in work because you don't see them pumping iron or walking in circles on someone's track. Some work can't be seen; it can only be felt by the person doing it. I'll get to the rest when I'm ready. And even if I don't, that's fine, too, because every fat person isn't obsessing about losing weight (chile, let us be!). For now, I'm just grateful that I didn't let the challenges of a plus-sized life break me. She's giving CONFIDENCE, and that can't be bought. What a privilege it is to finally arrive.

Thanks for reading! #StayKultured

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