I was 10 years old when I was first called fat.
I’d been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and prescribed Prednisone, which is a type of steroid to fight the inflammation caused by the disease. One of the most challenging side effects from this drug was the weight gain, especially around my face.
I can remember the whispers; I can remember the looks; but most of all, I can remember the first time I heard those words, “You’re fat.” I remember the name of the boy who said it and I remember the feeling inside my chest when I heard it, the shift in my brain.
My weight gain had nothing to do with eating or laziness. It related to a chronic illness I was struggling to come to terms with at the tender age of 10. But neither of these things were anyone else’s business.
I remember wanting to wear a shirt that said, “I’m not fat from eating; it’s because I’m on medication.” But this was, once again, nobody else’s business. I shouldn’t have felt as if I needed to justify my appearance, especially while already experiencing the usual growing pains and struggles we face at 10 years of age.
I wish I knew then what I know now.
From Year 7 to Year 9, most girls’ bodies change; we change from girls to women. This usually means wider hips, bigger boobs, and weight gain. This is normal.
Throughout my high school years, the majority of girls were insulted by someone in one way or another. The boys in my school seemed to thrive on grouping together and putting girls down. “Fish lips,” they’d call my friend who has beautiful, luscious lips. As if the shape of her lips had ANYTHING to do with them. They would date my friends, then break up with them and insult them and their appearance purely to entertain themselves and their egos.
I can’t count the number of times people called me fat at school. It was a lot. It was so often that it became sewn into my brain that that’s what I was. That was my identity.
One of the most significant times I remember is a boy screaming across the playground for hundreds of students to hear, ‘Holly Searle, you are a FAT C**T!’. Can you imagine what that does to a person? What that does to your heart? Especially while already experiencing the usual growing pains and struggles we face at 16 years of age.
I wish I knew then what I know now.
I’ve punished myself with food. I’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster in trying to balance nourishing myself with not feeling guilty, not restricting myself, and not bingeing. I know I am not alone.
If you have ever put a woman down for her appearance, I urge you to look within the depths of yourself and ask where that hate comes from. I urge you to heal whatever negative thing is inside you that makes you feel as if you need to project that dark energy into the world. You’ll feel better for it. Every negative thing you put out into the universe settles somewhere with someone.
Women do not exist to look one kind of beautiful. We do not exist to look sexy. We do not exist for the male gaze. We exist to be whoever we want to be, in all our different ways, and that is it. Healthy doesn’t always need to be “thin”. Healthy means having a stable relationship with food. Healthy means regularly moving your body. Healthy means not being consumed by diet culture. Healthy is having the grace to accept that you are already doing your best, regardless of what the media, magazines, and diet culture has told you your whole life. Your post-baby body does not need to look the same as your pre-baby body. You have changed—that is normal. Please recognize that you are already BEAUTIFUL. Be kind to your body, give it the proper fuel it needs. Nourish it. Speak kindly to it. Move your body to reward it for keeping you alive, not to punish it for not being what it isn’t. Eat well regularly but don’t beat yourself up for having fries with your meal every now and then.
Talk about the things you were told when you were younger that hurt you, whether it had been from others or yourself, and remind yourself that you didn’t deserve that. Don’t allow the echoes of words insecure people said to you to consume you. Don’t listen to the whispers of doubt you tell yourself. Be the change you wish to see.