I don’t acutely think about my body these days -- not in the same way I used. In the past, I’d try to hide it, living in shapewear and avoiding full length mirrors at all costs. Basically, I pretended my body didn’t exist while simultaneously loathing its existence. (Logic was never my strong suit.)
I’m so grateful to be out of that headspace. Not only have I done the work to accept my fatness, I’ve embraced it. Most of the time, you’ll find me smack dab in the middle of a love affair with myself. So, when someone refers to my size these days, it catches me off guard.
And it happened again, just last week.
I was making groceries at Rouses and facing down some long checkout lines. I settled on a young male cashier with cute white glasses. If I had to wait in line, at least I’d get a pro tip on some new frames. Finally, it was my turn. I placed my items on the conveyer belt, poised to chat him up.
Before I could open my mouth he said “Congratulations”
I felt my face turn warm. He thinks I’m pregnant.
photos by Jennifer Zdon, Twirl Photography
I have been in this situation more times than I care to remember. Sometimes it’s an offered seat on a crowded subway or out-of-the-blue prenatal tips. One time, a lady wanted to argue my due date with me. But above all, I’ve received countless congratulations for a child I have never conceived.
In my younger years, I deflected, ignored, lied or shot back with wicked sarcasm. In one not-so-proud moment, I told a well-meaning stranger that I was going to put the baby up for adoption and promptly lit a cigarette. As I matured, I would quietly say, “I’m not actually pregnant” as my eyes filled with tears and my face turned beet red.
Strangers no longer thinking I was pregnant was one of my top five motivations for choosing weight loss surgery.
When it happened again post-surgery, I was devastated.
The first time I thought, “Maybe it’s okay to be fat,” I was walking down Rodeo Drive of all places. On my West Coast hiatus, I’d picked up the nasty habit of comparing my flawed self to the perfectly groomed strangers of Beverly Hills – then browsing all the designer labels I’d never fit into. Nice, right?
Most of the time, an all-out war raged in my head between the brutal voice of criticism and new thoughts of self-worth trying to break through. At the time, my therapist (the one who eventually helped me graduate to the full-fledged, self-loving badass before you today) had me working on tuning out the negative self-talk.
As I peered into the Prada windows, a very loud new voice came into my head.
“Maybe I have it wrong. Maybe I don’t have to try to be a skinner, prettier, more anything with the latest handbag.”
And that’s when the miracle happened – I actually believed my own thoughts.
“What if I am perfect exactly as I am today? Maybe I never have to diet again.”
I felt lighter. I really was starting to love myself, including my body.
A few weeks after that, I began playing with the word “fat” in my mind. For years, I’d admired women like Virgie Tovar, Lindy West, Jes Baker and Marilyn Wann who all joyfully self-describe as “fat.” I understood the concept, but I couldn’t connect with it. The word “fat” made me squirm.
Saying quietly to myself over and over slowly helped me get more comfortable with it. But to self-describe as “fat” to another human? Squirm factor overload.
On my next Rodeo Drive self-torture sesh, I found myself in Lanvin staring at a sleek textured black dress. A young, gay man asked if I would like to try it on. I looked at him, tilted my head slightly confused and said “I’m pretty sure they don’t make that for fat girls like me”
I’m still not sure who was more shocked by that truth bomb, him or me!
I turned slightly red and pivoted towards the door. It would have been my greatest triumph if only I hadn’t walked straight into a mirrored wall.
Regardless, I felt a new kind of happiness. There was freedom in the word “fat,” especially using it out loud to another human being. I knew I would try that again (without the mirror trick, if I could help it).
Reclaiming your body doesn’t happen overnight. Like everything good in this world, it takes time.
I practiced slipping the word “fat” into casual conversation with close friends. I practiced responding to their protestations of “No you’re not!” or “Why would you say that about yourself?” I said things like, “But I am. It’s my truth” or “It’s just an adjective. And in my case, it’s an accurate one.”
And every time I did, the word held less power. Soon, I felt nothing when I said it. I’d neutralized the word for myself. (At this point in my life, I even get a little joy out of unapologetically lobbing it into conversation and watching how it lands.) Describing myself as “fat” has become as neutral to me as self-describing as “tall” or “brunette.”
photos by Jennifer Zdon, Twirl Photography
Here’s the thing about shame: The only way to move through it is to talk about it. For me, this meant claiming fatness. Self-love on this level is radical and scary to most people, myself included. But putting on my big girl panties and doing it anyway has brought me to a level of happiness I didn’t even know existed.
Today, I have a very accurate list of adjectives that I can freely use to describe my body. They feel good when I say them. My body is “luscious,” “soft,” “strong,” “tall,” “sexy,” “beautiful,” and yes – “fat.”
So, last week at Rouses, I was presented with another opportunity to speak my truth.
I met the clerk’s “Congratulations” with a soft spoken, “I not pregnant, I’m just fat.”
As he blushed and apologized, I was careful not to add more shame to the situation by scolding the young sales clerk. I tried to use it as an opportunity to explain that even well-meaning comments about women’s bodies can be body shaming for the recipient. That it was best to keep his small talk away from body comments. And no matter what, never assume a women is pregnant again.
And yes, I fumbled through my little speech and my cheeks turned a bit red.
And that’s okay. I know I will be better practiced for the next time. And that’s something I really do deserve congratulations for.
 It’s perfectly okay for me to describe myself as “fat.” But because our culture still has not normalized the word, I am mindful not refer to others as “fat.” This way I can honor myself and still give others the dignity to travel their own journey with the word.
 I strongly encourage you to write a list of truths about your body. Be mindful to avoid negatives. Start with “maybes” if you need. Or borrow from mine if you are struggling for adjectives. Read the list out loud to yourself every day in the mirror until you start to believe it in your core.
Please share your own stories in the comment section. Just speaking it out loud relieves years of shame. If we have learned anything this past year, we know that the most healing words anyone can ever say are “me too.”