*A quick disclaimer: While I know that my feelings are valid, I would like to acknowledge my privilege. I am grateful every day to be able-bodied. I also acknowledge that I still fit into the traditional clothing size charts, and that my health hasn’t been impacted by my weight. These are all great gifts. I don’t want to gloss over my physical entitlement, but more to focus on my deep-rooted self esteem issues brought on by a stigmatized society, and the transformation of my body over the last year.
The restrictions of quarantine and the trauma of the pandemic affected everyone’s physical and mental health differently. While some people channeled their stress into peloton rides and meal prep, I was on the other end of the spectrum: I spent the last year and a half expanding. Glued to my couch by terror and state-ordered mandates, I numbed my anxiety with wine, and shoved down my feelings with butter on top. I grew from a size medium to an extra large (I don’t use scales, but I believe it to be in the 20-30 pound range.) In retrospect, I knew it was slowly happening, but I didn’t realize to what extent until things started opening up in the world and I was forced to face the reality that only a single pair of pants still fit.
As the promise of actually seeing people again felt tangible, I started melting down. I could no longer ignore the change in my shape. When I should have felt nothing but excitement to finally see my friends and family, instead I was hyper-focused on fear and shame. I worried people would be horrified at how I’d “let myself go.” I was embarrassed that I hadn’t taken better care of myself. I was supremely conscious of losing some imagined competition in my head – one where there was some kind of winner in all of this. Instead of being grateful for the body that had kept me alive and healthy DURING A DEADLY PANDEMIC, I was filled with contempt for it.
On a particularly low therapy call, sitting on a curb sobbing uncontrollably, I said out loud some of the meanest things I’ve ever thought about myself. Things about how disappointing I was and how ugly I felt. After listing out my copious flaws, I started manically detailing how I needed to change my entire lifestyle to get the weight down. Tons of exercise, calorie counting, whatever it took. I would fit into those vintage Levis again from summer 2018. People would think I looked great and admire how I’d handled the pandemic with such discipline and grace. I would force myself to shrink.
My therapist was quiet for a moment, then said something that stopped my racing mind in it’s tracks: “why would you go through so much painstaking effort to lose weight for someone you don’t seem to like very much?”
Holy shit. I didn’t like myself? This was new information.
I’d always thought of myself as pretty confident and not terribly focused on my looks (particularly by Los Angeles standards,) but here I was proving that SO incredibly wrong.
Even though I had done a lot to be proud of in the last year, none of it mattered. My brain had been poisoned by superficial insecurities deeply rooted in warped societal beauty standards. Despite the fact that I’d remained creatively active and become way more ethically awakened, I wasn’t thinking about that. I was thinking about the drawers filled with clothes that didn’t fit. I wasn’t proud of how I’d remained employed in a pandemic, I was thinking about my double chin on display in zoom meetings. I wasn’t thinking about the books I’d read or the kitten I adopted or the flower arrangements I’d made, just that I was so embarrassed that people would think less of me. When really it was just me thinking less of myself.
I decided that the most important weight I needed to lose was the negativity weighing on my mind and spirit. I still wanted to get healthier, but I would do it in my own way, on my own timeline, and that I would start with mental health first.
Here are some of the things I’ve tried on my journey towards self acceptance.
Change Up the Feed
The first and easiest place to adjust what I was consuming mentally was Instagram. Although the phrase “comparison is the thief of joy” has been a mantra of mine for years, I spend so much time in the digital space that the comparison gremlin invariably sneaks in. So I tackled my feed. I unfollowed or muted anyone who was making me feel even slightly bad about myself, and started seeking out new people to follow. I discovered body-positive accounts and writers, mid and plus-size influencers and models, and accounts focused on self love and mental wellbeing. I also started paying way more attention to the body representation on display by brands I liked. By diversifying my feed, I began to see people with bodies that looked more like mine. I started finding more size-inclusive fashion, links to essays and blog posts about body image, and a larger community of other women feeling the same way I do. I created a saved folder called “body love” and began digging for inspiration for who I am now, not a future hypothetical version of me. The simple step of recalibrating the images I see and engaging with an online community I support has been immensely helpful and eye opening. Giving your feed a refresh leaning towards whatever it is you want more of in your life is a great way to cultivate a new world while simply scrolling. The algorithm is tailored to what YOU choose to engage with.
Also, body positive TikTok is a wonderful place.
The act of reframing our thoughts is one of the most powerful things we can do. Simply reframing an “I can’t” to a “I will try” creates an astounding domino effect on our mind-waves. I began forcing myself to reframe the negative thoughts I was having about my body. If I started getting down on myself for my jeans not fitting, I adjusted my thinking to thank my body for keeping me healthy during the spread of a deadly virus. It also really helps to write these down. Don’t underestimate the power of sticky notes on walls or a good journaling session. Sometimes if I’m in a particularly negative spiral, I force myself to fill up three entire pages of things I’m grateful for, or list out 20 things I like about myself.
Last week I treated myself to a “gratitude massage.” I booked a spa appointment with the intention of making the experience about physical and mental replenishment. Each part of the body the therapist reached, I silently meditated on gratitudes. As she worked on my calves and feet, I repeated things in my head like I am grateful to be able bodied. Thank you legs for helping me get my steps each day. Congratulations, feet on walking over 300 miles this year. I also pushed myself during this to repeat things in my head I like about my body. I like that my waist line curves in there as she worked the muscles in my lower back. I am grateful for my curly hair during the scalp massage. Treating my body while practicing this focused meditation left me feeling zen, confident and thankful from head to toe.
My entire life I’ve never been incredibly in-tune physically. I’m clumsy, modest, always more in my head than feet on the ground. Gaining a lot of weight relatively quickly in an already dissociative time exacerbated this detachment in a lot of ways. In an effort to reconnect with myself and my body, I worked with a photographer to take some portraits.
I designed some floral installments which, in retrospect, seems a bit on the nose for the idea that I am blooming into a new version of myself, but I do love a theme.
The process of the shoot itself was a great experience, forcing myself to let loose and just be in my body. Twenty minutes in, I had stopped worrying – I wasn’t sucking in my stomach or jutting my hips at odd angles, I was talking about things that light me up, going all in on silly poses, and embracing being a part of a collaborative project. Putting myself out there felt surprisingly empowering, and I’m glad to have these photos to remember a time I took confidence into my own hands.
There was one rule: If it didn’t fit, it was gone.
After being silently terrorized by my closet for months, I decided I needed to accept the weight gain and empty my home of the piles of clothes that didn’t fit anymore. I sat overwhelmed and crying in the middle of an entire bedroom floor covered in things that clearly were not sparking joy. After letting too-tight clothes be beacons of depression, enough was enough. I was going to PURGE.
Out of all the steps in this journey so far, emptying my closet was both the most challenging and most rewarding. Getting rid of pieces of clothing I loved but didn’t fit anymore seemed radical – telling myself I deserve clothes I love that FIT. I had to shift my mindset that the only options for me were sweatpants or shrinking. To expel the idea that I’m unworthy of cool outfits until I get smaller. This toxic thinking is incredibly common, almost every woman I know keeps goal jeans in their closet. I was going to break out of the mentality I’d harbored for ages.
I forced myself to post to Instagram about a closet sale, giving myself two days to commit. And the more I cleared out, the bigger the sale could be. I held my breath as I shared over 40 pieces. Within an hour I’d made enough money to replace my favorite jumpsuit in the next size up in two colors. And even better- I got to see women I love and admire get excited about adding new pieces to their wardrobe.
Instead of sitting in my closet resented and unattended, these clothes were getting a whole new life. The wrap dress I wore to a wedding in France is going to a new one this summer. The seafoam jumpsuit that never quite worked with my skin tone went to a friend who collects pieces from that designer and had been hunting for it. The little black dress my mom bought for me is going to attend cocktail parties in San Francisco on my cousin who she used to speak French with.
I also received lots of messages saying friends were buying pieces from me due to their own Covid-weight experience, which added an extra layer of solidarity and community to the effort. The feeling of shame about not fitting into these pieces anymore was almost immediately replaced by pride that I could provide people with things that would make them feel good about themselves.
The two biggest things that helped me do this were the reminders to detach the memories from the pieces (thats what photos are for,) and that I deserve to have fun getting dressed no matter what size I am.
The way we dress is an extension of our personality – a way we can silently and immediately tell the world a little bit about who we are. We’re not attached to the clothes themselves, we’re connected to how they made us FEEL at certain times in our life. The romper I was wearing when ben said “I love you” for the first time, the denim jacket i bought the week my mom died that made me feel even the tiniest bit better for 5 minutes. The jumpsuit that made me feel like the coolest girl at the party.
We attach idealized version of ourselves to these pieces of fabric. If I was wearing those jeans when I felt really good about myself, all i need to do to feel good about myself again is fit back into them.
In doing this, our closet becomes a ticking time bomb of emotions ranging from euphoria to self loathing, and if we can extricate the land mines that make us feel BAD, we create space for NEW memories, NEW versions of ourselves.
Instead of being depressed every morning now and not even wanting to open the closet door, im excited to decide which version of myself I want to express.
Invest in Intimates
Nothing makes you feel your weight gain quuuiite like tight underwear waistbands or bra underwire digging into you. After months of subconsciously physically punishing myself, I invested in new bras and underwear and LET ME TELL YOU the difference is insane.
I’d been meaning to upgrade my lingerie drawer for ages (my nine year old Victoria’s secret PINK underwear have served their time) – but somehow, it took gaining weight to show myself this act of self love and care that I’d been putting off. It was a helpful perspective shift about investing in something that’s completely just for you.
Because our bodies are also so intrinsically tied to our sensuality, it can be a real mind-warp when your perception of your own desirability wanes. The cruel side of our mind tells us not to invest in lingerie for our new body because what’s the point? No one really sees it, and we don’t particularly want anyone to see us that stripped down (literally and metaphorically,) so might as well save our money and dignity and keep strapping ourselves into the same snug underwire day after day.
I’m here to tell that side to fuck right off. I was floored by how much more confident I felt in a new black satin bra that fit and flattered me. Aside the fact I wasn’t peeling off a bra to reveal indentations in my flesh anymore, I actually and actively liked the way I looked in it! I didn’t run from the mirror, I started walking around in my new bra with pride.
*If you’re looking, I love these bras by CUUP and underwear from the sustainable cotton company Knickey. Next on my list to try are parade and ARQ. (It’s pretty incredible what buying from body-inclusive companies can do for your shopping experience.)
Stripping Down in Public
Along with a handful of life-long body image issues, I’ve also always been extremely modest. There are photos of me after ballet class around age four with underwear sticking out of my leotard because I felt too uncomfortable without. As I got older, this bashfulness merged with insecurities about the parts of my body that I thought didn’t “deserve” to be seen. Even in the heat of Arizona summers, throughout college I wore tights under short dresses for fear of showing my legs.
After the flash of insight that I needed to reimagine myself from the inside-out, I decided to get a little brave and try some things I hadn’t done before- in the name of psychological science. I began to bare more of myself to the world.
I started going out for my neighborhood walks in leggings and a sports bra – no shirt.
I wore shorts in public for the first non-beach activities ever.
I went into a jacuzzi naked. (At a European style spa, not just out in the world.)
And the big one – For the first time since childhood I went to a pool and just sat around in my swimsuit. (A big hug to all my fellow teeshirt at the pool party kids.) I laid out in the sun exposed. No coverups, no towels over me, no shorts. I didn’t hunch and race from the water to my lounge chair, I walked like a normal person. I ordered nachos and felt like a chlorine drenched kid again licking my fingers as I enjoyed the strange decadence of eating lunch in a swimsuit.
It’s not easy to condense how I felt in all these situations – liberated, nervous, proud. I don’t know what I expected to happen, but no one pointed and stared, no one said anything… no one really gave a shit. If anything, I created a new narrative in my head where they were admiring me for how confident I was.
Only YOU hold yourself back. Most people don’t notice or care, and if they do – it says everything about them and nothing about you.
(Quick rec: I HIGHLY recommend You Swim – Their ribbed suits are one size fits all, flattering your figure in any form it takes on. Also a big fan of workout sets from Girlfriend Collective. Both brands are size inclusive with great sustainability practices.)
Appreciate yourself exactly as you are – now.
EASIER SAID THAN DONE I KNOW.
This isn’t an overnight process. On top of the pandemic weight gain, I have thirty years of experiences to overcome, decades of cruel self-talk to rewrite. But every small step does it’s part towards self acceptance. Thanking my body each morning to quiet the bullies from middle school. Having my picture taken to cancel out the casting directors who said that as a size 6 I needed to lose weight to get hired anywhere. Wearing shorts in public as a fuck you to the college boyfriend who told me how much prettier I would be if I were thinner. It is an act of rebellion to love ourselves the way we are. An exercise in grit.
I found this quote recently from Marilyn Monroe, the iconic example of an idealized female figure, that really struck a chord:
“A woman is often measured by the things she cannot control. She is measured by the way her body curves or doesn’t curve, by where she is flat or straight or round. She is measured by 36-24-36 and inches and ages and numbers, by all the outside things that don’t ever add up to who she is on the inside. And so if a woman is to be measured, let her be measured by the things she can control, by who she is and who she is trying to become.“
I am trying to become a person unfazed by physical insecurities. To measure myself by the important and the invisible. How often I laugh, how I channel inspiration, how I make people feel. The things that I value in others.
I wish I could wrap this up by telling you how unflinchingly confident I am and that I’ve totally accepted myself and my body, which I have not. But I’m doing a hell of a lot better than I was a few months ago. And. what I WILL say, is that whether I lose the weight or not, I’m now doing it for someone I like a whole lot more.