I had just hit my Weight Watchers goal weight, which I hadn’t done since I was a high school gymnast. My weight normally fluctuated between 20 and 60 pounds heavier than that, but that year, I was focused and determined. I counted every point, ate all the brown rice and grilled chicken I could get my hands on, went to the gym five times a week, and successfully dropped around 40 pounds.
Teddy* was a really quiet, sort of brooding, emo-boy character that mid-20s me really gravitated toward. He was actually so quiet that I’m not entirely sure he had any interests besides drinking beer, smoking weed, and having sex with me. What I do remember was that he happened to be — ahem — fairly well endowed. To be fair, at 23, I did not have a vast history to compare it to, but that is beside the point.
Teddy ran his hands over my stomach and said, "I just love your body so much." No one had ever said that to me before. In that moment, I felt as if I had won an award. Like the Oscar of being thin. Finally, all the things that I had worked so hard for, literally starved for, were coming true.
It honestly had nothing to do with Teddy. I wasn’t sure I even liked him very much. I mean, who would know — the guy barely spoke, for Christ’s sake. The validation really just deepened my false belief that the fat me wasn’t, and never would be, worthy of such a compliment. The skinny me would be the one who would be successful, loved, desired, and most importantly, happy.
A month later, I’d be crying against the steering wheel of my shitty Dodge Aries parked outside an even shittier strip mall after learning I gained two pounds at my weekly weigh-in. Life at my goal weight was so short-lived and the failure was palpable. The façade of my skinny happiness was crumbling before me. Teddy’s words rang through my mind — no longer as a confidence boost, but as a painful reminder of what I couldn’t maintain. I wasn’t a skinny girl. I was a fat girl masquerading as one.
The validation really just deepened my false belief that the fat me wasn’t, and never would be, worthy of such a compliment.
After that, the two pounds crept up to 10, which then became 20. It didn’t take long before I took to hiding how obsessed I was with my weight. As a burgeoning feminist, I felt as though I shouldn’t ever admit I cared about what other people, especially men, thought of me. As an aspiring thin person, I was supposed to pretend like being thin was utterly effortless. It felt pathetic to admit I was trying too hard or caring too much.
I struggled to stay with Weight Watchers and go to the gym in the face of a demanding job and increasing student loans. And there were more than a few occasions over the years where, in a moment of panic, I’d turn to entirely unhealthy and borderline-dangerous tactics. These are things that hurt me physically and mentally, things that no one should do to themselves, ever.
None of this worked. Turns out, it’s really fucking hard to fight against the genetics of a curvy body built to haul around 38DDDs. By the time I moved to Brooklyn in 2010, I’d gained about 70 pounds.
Luckily, some of the first people I met in my new town were from the local women’s rugby club I had immediately joined. My teammates were the first truly body-positive and unapologetically confident human beings I have ever met in my life. I had never before encountered women who not only self-identified as fat, but were damn proud of it and had no plans to change a thing. Surrounding myself with people like this was one of those life-changing moments you don’t realize is happening at the time, but when you look back on it, you can’t imagine how your life would have turned out without it.
They reminded me on a daily basis that truly incredible athletes come in all sizes. When you see a woman over 200 pounds run faster than you ever did in high school, or score a try with two women half her size hanging off her legs, you really start to question your warped idea of what "fit" is supposed to look like. My teammates introduced me to local stores that specialized in plus-size fashion, something that utterly transformed my shopping experience from one of horror and embarrassment to excitement and a much higher credit card bill.
I had never before encountered women who not only self-identified as fat, but were damn proud of it and had no plans to change a thing.
With this newfound comfort in my own skin, dating was no longer about accommodating any dude who showed interest or trying to win some kind of award for being deemed fuckable. And in the world we live in today, it’s a goddamn superpower to care more about yourself than what the guy you just swiped right on thinks of the size of your arms.
Sid** was the first guy to tell me he loved my body the way it truly was. He didn’t say it, though. He just adamantly insisted we keep the lights on when we had sex — not dimmed or candlelit, but, like, overhead lighting all the way on. A shitload of light all up in there and all over my naked, fat ass. He would even put on his glasses, so as not to miss any details due to his poor eyesight.
What the fuck? Dude, it’s hard enough to wrap my head around liking my own body, but I’m pretty sure you are not supposed to be that into this. But he was that into it. And spoiler alert: He wasn’t the only one.
I stopped trying to be the person that I thought guys wanted to date and started dating guys who liked women with my body type. I would put my size and body positivity out there in the open. I started to attract men that were just as body positive as I am (even if they didn't know there was a word for it).
Sid and I didn’t have some typical rom-com ending in which I now tell you we’ve been married for 20 years and had tons of little body-positive babies. He moved back home to another country and we’ve both dated plenty of other people since. Our relationship didn’t work out, but I’m really lucky to still call him my friend. And even though it’s been a few years since we’ve dated, we still frequently send each other random messages of support. I like to think that’s a pretty awesome version of happily ever after, too.
When I think about who I was and what I was doing to my body six years ago, it’s clear what radical self-acceptance and self-love can do to a person. It’s still a daily goddamn struggle. But approval of my body isn’t something I seek out anymore from men or anyone. And when it does happen, I know it’s genuinely about me — not some version of me that I’m hurting myself to become.
Now, when a guy tells me he’s into my body, it’s not some great revelation or some golden validation. It’s just another thing we have in common.
* His real name is not Teddy
** Actually his name, because he’s rad.
It's your body. It's your summer. Enjoy them both. Check out more #TakeBackTheBeach, here.