Your Self-Love is Self-Hate in Sheep’s Clothing
I am fat. I’ve been fat since grade school. I got fatter in middle school and even fatter in high school, yet looking back, until high school, I wasn’t actually fat at all. I was just bigger. Bigger than the women on television. Bigger than some of my classmates. The children around me ranged in size all my life, and I didn’t give a fuck until someone asked me what size I wore and gasped in disgust when I told them.
I was 10 at the time.
My father, loving sexist that he was, encouraged physical activity to lose weight. He’d tell me things like “guys don’t like overweight girls.” My father, a classic yo-yo dieting Weight Watchers member, loved wielding that knife as an efficient way to stab two targets: me and my mother. My mother who had gained more weight than he liked during their marriage and therefore could not be the trophy he believed his wife should be. My mother who tried every life-threatening weight-loss product to force her body back to her high school figure. She used Fen-Phen, the diet drug that was fatally damaging people’s hearts. There was a two week period where she was hospitalized from when the weight loss balloon in her stomach partially deflated and blocked her intestine. She almost died yet remained focused on seeking solution after solution in her desperation to lose weight.
It was a toxicity I didn’t understand I’d inherited. I mean, sure, some days I would refuse to eat, but that was just natural. Sure, I’d convinced myself that if I fixed this one part of my look, everything else would fall in place. I didn’t want much, just to be a size 12. For me, size 12 has been the holy grail of sizes — I wouldn’t have to reshape myself too much to be unrecognizable to me AND I’d be able to buy clothes in both “standard” and plus-size clothing stores. I’d keep the pieces people found attractive and lose the problematic areas. And ten years ago, I jumped on the Weight Watchers bandwagon with too many others.
It wasn’t my idea to join Weight Watchers. Generally speaking, I’m not someone interested in following rules. But that’s how they got me. They had just revamped the program (again) and made it into a puzzle — a problem solving dilemma. How could I stay within this arbitrary points assignment while still enjoying life and eating but not being hungry? I love a good challenge and there was enough openness to the program that I saw it all as a challenge, and it was more subversive than traditional calorie counting. Plus they had an app. With pictures. It was gamified weight loss and I was hooked.
The most insidious part, to me the biggest problem, was the way they re-framed self-hate and called it self-love. We’d sit in meetings beating ourselves up for eating something we liked. We codified our food choices into emotional eating, then hate ourselves for feeling. We’d say there were no good and bad foods but the number of meetings talking about what we should and should not have eaten or should have eaten instead of, were every fucking meeting.
And every meeting we told ourselves that we were caring for ourselves. That this public flagellation was therapeutic and helpful. That it was us self-correcting our behaviors and becoming better people. And the weigh-ins were the approval mechanism by which we could see progress.
We lamented our rubbing thighs, our jiggling arms, our protruding bellies and told ourselves that we’d get rid of them through this punishing self-love. We’d control every aspect of our lives until our bodies showed the world how much we loved ourselves.
And that’s great as long as you are losing weight. Then comes the plateau, the month, two months, however long where your clothes continue fitting differently but your weight doesn’t drop. Or goes up. I met my plateau like any other challenge — I adapted and adjusted trying to bust through it. Instead, I caused micro-tears in my Achilles tendon, tore up my knees, and strained my iliotibial band. I caused repeated injuries and never gave myself enough downtime to heal because I was afraid of losing progress. My doctor encouraged me to slow down while giving me steroid shots to ease my pain, knowing that less pain meant I’d rest for less time. I increased my workout times and intensity and accepted pain as a constant in my life. I was already eating 1,200 calories a day, mostly vegetables and having constant gastrointestinal pain as a result. But I had a goal…size 12 or bust. And I was intent on getting there no matter what.
I was tired of being my “before” picture and had committed to fighting to be my “after”, all the time telling myself that it was self-esteem and self-love pushing me forward. Pain was the price of progress and I could live with that, as long as everyone else could see how much I loved myself despite the psychological warfare I’d waged on myself. I did this until I had to make a choice between possibly gaining weight and dying. And it was when I realized that I’d been deliberating over that choice for weeks that I finally asked myself what the fuck I was doing.
It’s been eight years since that realization. I’m the fattest I’ve ever been in my life. I wake up with pain in my shoulder, knees, hips, ankles, and feet, all casualties from some sport or athletic activity I undertook with more regard for winning or accomplishing some goal than I had for my body and future health. What they don’t tell you is that small injuries you have when you’re younger become chronic pain when you’re older so all that “loving” physical abuse I heaped on myself has long-term consequences. I’m currently seeking workouts that don’t do that kind of harm and actually help me long-term. I’m still breaking myself of the mindset that intensity equals progress and results. Eight years and it’s still a struggle.
I have broken the belief that my body needs to be a “before” or an “after” for myself. I know I am fat. It doesn’t hurt me to admit it. I look in the mirror and see my body for what it is, but rather than choose to beat myself up for the fact that my belly hangs when it didn’t used to, or that my neck seems to be getting shorter and shorter, I look at myself honestly and find things I like to wear regardless. I’m still at odds with myself about my stomach, but it’s mine and it’s me. I am me. All of these pieces are all me and I like who I am. I love who I am. I’m not going to dissect myself and try to mentally Frankenstein me into what I think will be the most appealing aspects of myself. I hate zeroing in on one part and deciding that I’d be a better human if I reshaped it into another form. This is the form I have and I am fine. I am more than fine. I am amazing.
This is the thing I hate most about the diet industry, the beauty industry, the cosmetic surgery industry…that they have created a culture of self-hate and repackaged it as love. That in order for me to be worthy, I have to force myself into a physical form that other people think is worthy. People are out here slicing and dicing their bodies, literally killing themselves to feel worthy of themselves because this world profits off you hating yourself.
I have yet to witness or partake in a weight/body conversation that wasn’t toxic as fuck, insisting that reshaping themselves into some specific look is positive for their self-image and self-esteem. Conversations that are simultaneously defensive and self-hating while asserting to anyone listening that this is love. That this is what self-care and self-respect look like. That these are positive affirmations rather than a shitstorm to toxic self-hate and derision.
If the only way you can feel good about yourself is to look at someone else and say you want to look like them, you aren’t doing yourself any favors. There is nothing self-loving about that.
If you constantly see yourself as a “before” image, you are engaging in negative self-talk.
If you refuse to accept that your body will change as you age and decide that your biggest goal is to ensure you continue looking the same until you die, well, that is rejecting your humanity for…what exactly? Our bodies change and its natural. We’re allowed to change. It’s okay for our looks to change.
It’s fascinating to witness how my looks change over time, especially as I come to appreciate the things I thought were unattractive when I was younger. If anything, age has taught me that I’m more attractive than I ever thought I had the right to think I was. I was taught that I should never see myself as beautiful, yet I see it all the time, especially when I cosplay. It’s strange how cosplay allows me to appreciate my body and humanity in ways that I’d been socially conditioned not to do…while I’m the fattest I have ever been in my life.
There is a beauty that comes in accepting your physical self as it is. When you can look at yourself and see the beauty that you see in others. Yes, I have shit that folds where it shouldn’t and shit that pokes out where it should be flat or concave, but that doesn’t change who I am in my life. And it no longer informs me that I don’t deserve respect or to be treated well. I know my worth and it is not entwined with my physicality nearly as much as the world would have me believe. And if you feel as though you have the right to treat me as less than human based on my looks, that tells me more of the monster you long to be than anything about myself.
I love me, and I don’t need you to love me back. But you will respect me and my humanity. My self-love demands it.
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Originally published at talynnkel.com.