Not One More 2024 | Equip

February 19, 2024

I remember the first time the word fat was used as an insult to me — kindergarten. Recklessly thrown at me for just existing as a 5-year-old in a large body, the word fat became the thing I feared most. I began to see my body only as something to shrink. My love for cheese and apples turned into apples only, and then just water. I stopped loving soccer for the joy I felt scoring a goal or the pride I felt being a good teammate, and instead saw it as a way to make my body smaller.

The older I got, the more times I heard the word “fat” used against me: on the playground, in hallways, from strangers nearby. Like others around me, I began using that one word to describe my mood, my body, my goals. I spent my childhood daydreaming, not of being a doctor or a teacher or a mermaid, but of one day not being fat.

Weight Watchers at age 11, countless fad diets, and no results. I stopped painting and singing, and focused solely on taking up less space. If I couldn’t get smaller, I was going to be smaller in other ways. I talked less, asked fewer questions, and tried to act as thin as I could, or at least what I thought “acting thin” was. I blamed myself when my body weight didn’t drastically change overnight or in the first week after starting a new diet. I was the problem: I wasn’t trying hard enough, didn’t have enough motivation to change my “lifestyle,” wasn’t enough, period. These thoughts only pushed me deeper into the eating disorder I didn’t know I had, perpetuating the binge-and-restrict cycle.

My life with an eating disorder was small. So many of my high school memories are centered around how I looked and how thin I wanted to be. No one thought I was starving myself because I didn’t “look” starved. I was told that I was eating too much when, in fact, I was not eating enough. Everything doctors and nutritionists said validated what my eating disorder was telling me: I was too fat and losing weight should be my only goal.

My sophomore year in college provided me a way out of the toxic relationship I’d built with my eating disorder. I finally learned in an Abnormal Psychology class that you do not have to lose weight or be considered “underweight” in order to be dealing with an eating disorder. I was lucky and privileged enough to access treatment, work towards recovery, and build a life on my terms, with no weight loss plan in sight.

The further into my recovery I got, the more I began to unpack my relationship with my body size and the word fat. That word was especially tough for me, because it was used to hurt me for so long. It was the first thing people noticed when they saw me and often one of the first words used to judge me, whether that judgment came from my eating disorder or other people.

I followed fat activists on social media, read articles with the word fat, and exposed myself to other ways this word was used. The more I saw the word in a neutral or positive manner, the more neural pathways that were created to help redefine my association with the word. My relationship with the word fat really shifted once I started questioning my assumptions around it. Who benefits from anti-fat bias? Why is this word demonized in society? What systems are at play?

I started to try on the word, seeing how it felt to define my body as fat, without the negative association attached. I am fat. And that is one fact about me. Identifying myself as fat doesn’t tell you anything about my health status, my favorite activities, what I eat, what I can accomplish, or my everlasting love for Hannah Montana karaoke. You can’t tell what kind of art I make, what kind of a friend I am, my favorite movie, how many disco balls I own or how deeply I love puns. The word fat has become a way to describe myself and, much like any other description, it does not encapsulate the wonderfully complex human I am.

Processing your own relationship with the word fat and your relationship with your body can and will take time. A lot of the messages we receive about our bodies and how they “should” look start at such a young age: we all have systematically rooted, deeply entrenched beliefs about how our bodies “should” be, and what health looks like. But health doesn’t have a look, nor is body size a prerequisite for respect, not to mention the fact that body diversity is such a cool part of the human experience.

Now, many years into my recovery, I’ve dreamt of and experienced magical moments: my wedding last August, my future plans of writing a book, decorating my first house, moving to new places. I share my experience in hopes that other fat girls like me see the ways life can open up when we live boldly, speak loudly, and exist joyfully despite those trying to shrink us.

Not one more person should have to limit their existence based on the thin, white, cishet ideals that society pushes us to chase. We all deserve the space to dream and imagine all that life can hold for us –—but we also deserve to see ourselves, as we are today, in those dreams.

Equip is the leading eating disorder treatment program on a mission to ensure that everyone who needs it has access to treatment that works. Built by clinical experts in the field and people who’ve been there, Equip provides virtual, evidence-based treatment through a dedicated care team including a medical provider, therapist, dietitian, peer mentor, and family mentor. Learn more about Equip here.