How I Learned to Live in My Body
According to a study published by UNESCO in 2021, physical appearance is the most common reason why children are bullied at school. Psychological bullying is the most common type in Europe. Girls are the most likely to suffer this type of harassment. It’s carried out via verbal violence, emotional abuse, and social exclusion.
Society today values thinness. Therefore, being overweight results in devaluation. If this idea isn’t conveyed through bullying at school, it’s seen in comments from family, friends, or even strangers. Also through the media and advertising. Or, even certain professionals. Moreover, as a rule, these agents participate at the same time and feed off each other, resulting in a vicious circle of devaluation.
There are inevitable psychological consequences of this kind of aesthetic violence. Lack of self-esteem, social isolation, feelings of guilt, lack of self-acceptance, eating disorders, body dysmorphia, etc… the list goes on. In fact, the consequences are so numerous and affect so many levels of the sufferer’s life and mind that they even start to believe that they deserve all the contempt that’s being piled upon them.
I know these consequences all too well and have been fighting against them for 31 years.
My body, my life
When my sister asked me to write my story, I asked myself a question. “When was the first time I became aware that my body was a problem?” After much deliberation, I came to the conclusion that it was made known to me from such an early age that I’ve no memories of my body being just a body.
In fact, I’ve been overweight ever since I can remember. And my weight has marked my life more than any woman deserves. I know that the first derogatory comment wasn’t made in my house. At least, I was lucky in that respect. However, I can’t point to a single culprit, since there were so many people who, with their comments, some ‘without malice’ and others with too much, wore down my self-esteem.
I have some really vivid and concrete memories. Like that time at a family meal, when I was about seven years old, I asked for one of my favorite dishes: baked fish. Several relatives took it upon themselves to let me know that I’d done really well going on a diet. I also remember when, in gym class, someone yelled that I was going to break the scale when the teacher was weighing us.
I recall being in the locker room, changing my shirt, when several of my peers decided to have fun throwing balls at my stomach. Then, as a teenager, when I wore shorts for the first time, I remember my friend looking at my legs with a look of utter disgust. There was also the time that I was coming back at night on the bus from a party and a whole group of people called me a disgusting fat woman while the rest of the passengers just looked on.
My brain has stored these memories, along with many others, as examples of how cruelly a person can suffer because of their physical appearance. Fortunately, with the perspective that time has given me, I can now talk about them, from a distance. That said, I know that they form a part of my life and that, inevitably, they’ve scarred and considerably conditioned it.
Fighting with myself
Beyond the explicit anecdotes, lay the subtler ones that permeated my unconscious. Being overweight all my life, I’ve basically been told that I don’t deserve to exist. I was told that if I wanted to be part of society, I must lose weight. If not, I’d never be loved or desired, would be denied access to many jobs, my opinion wouldn’t count, and I wouldn’t ever deserve anything good to happen to me. I believed all of this. Then, my fight with myself reached its peak.
My already shy and introverted personality became extreme. Many social situations became insurmountable obstacles. Meeting new people, going to the beach or the pool, eating in front of other people, and many other ordinary activities became sources of anxiety that paralyzed me.
I wore bigger clothes in an attempt to disguise my body and make my fatness go unnoticed. Anxiety, shame, and fear were such a part of my daily routine, that it bordered on the ridiculous.
Food – my refuge and torment
Along with the anxiety, came my love-hate relationship with food. For me, eating has always been a pleasure. I enjoy food and flavors. This is completely normal for many people and they’re not judged for it. However, when your body doesn’t fit in, what you eat becomes the focus of social debate and the cause of your fears.
In my case, food became both shelter and torment. When I was studying at university, I began to secretly binge eat. Eating compulsively and uncontrollably helped me calm my anxiety. While I ate, nothing else existed, and if nothing else existed, nothing could harm me.
But the remorse and guilt I experienced over those binges and the calories I ingested, along with the fear of gaining even more weight, meant that, when the anxiety ended, it came back to me in a completely devastating way. I fell into the center of a vicious circle that was spinning increasingly faster and dragging me inside.
Learning to reconcile with my body
One day my brain just clicked. After one of my binges, consisting of several bags of potato chips, two hamburgers, a pizza, and several ice creams, I threw up. On this occasion, it wasn’t intentional. In this instance, the binge had been so great that my body wasn’t able to accumulate so much food and it expelled it.
At that moment, I told myself it all had to stop. Subconsciously, I already knew that the momentary relief that binge eating gave me wasn’t real relief. However, as I say, the vicious circle had completely dragged me down. My first step was to tell my story. Until then, no one knew the truth. To my surprise, I felt more relief than I could’ve ever imagined.
I also started working on myself. I decided to surround myself with those who represented a safe space for me, people who didn’t judge me on my physique. Along the way, I cut off my relationships with the people who’d hurt me and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to forgive.
Finding my feet
I started looking for my own references. Since television and advertising never gave them to me, I turned to the Internet and social media in search of strong women to whom I could relate. I started looking for a narrative completely opposite to the one I’d known all my life. The kind of narrative that accepted me as I am. The kind in which all bodies are seen as equally worthwhile.
Gradually, I became able to look at myself in the mirror without feeling disgusted with myself. For instance, I started to enjoy going to the beach and swimming in the sea. I even overcame my fear of reliving the bullying I suffered as a child and started going to the gym.
I decided that staying cool in summer was more important to me than not showing my legs. Moreover, if someone didn’t like it, it wasn’t my problem but theirs. I became aware that my voice deserved to be heard, just like anyone else’s, and I started to become strong in my opinions.
No easy process
Regarding food, well, I can’t say that this was my last binge. There were more, both isolated and longer relapses. That said, I began to learn how to distract my anxiety. I looked for ways to free it. I was also gradually facing my fears.
As I did so, the binges lessened. I don’t remember when the last one was. I still like eating, it remains one of my pleasures. But, now, I see food as a pleasure to be enjoyed and not a mental escape route for running away from my problems.
I can’t say it’s been an easy or fast process. After all, when you’ve hated your body all your life, to the point of torturing it, setting yourself the goal of not only loving it but accepting it, is a painful process with many ups and downs. Today, I still have to put up with certain comments and opinions about my body and they still hurt. But I’m strong enough not to believe them.
Finally, I can’t honestly say that all my scars have healed. Indeed, at times, fears that I thought I’d overcome resurface, but I’ve learned that they’re part of me, part of my being, and I carry them with pride. They sometimes still hurt, but they no longer paralyze me.It might interest you...
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Allende, I. A. A. (2020). Gordofobia, una lectura desde (y para) el Trabajo Social. Perspectivas: revista de trabajo social, (35), 109-133.
- Cuadro, E., & Baile, J. I. (2015). El trastorno por atracón: análisis y tratamientos. Revista mexicana de trastornos alimentarios, 6(2), 97-107.
- Mancuso, L., Longhi, B., Perez, M., Majul, A., Almeida, E., & Carignani, L. (2021). Diversidad corporal, pesocentrismo y discriminación: la gordofobia como fenómeno discriminatorio. Inclusive, 4(2), 12-16.