I start with the admission that some make proudly, some make shamefully, that I make somewhere between the two. I am fat. Chubby. Curvy. Overweight.
It is a shadow that has been creeping over me for years, since before I even knew that ‘fat’ was a word to be ashamed of. From younger years of “has she put on a bit of weight?”, “Don’t have too many sweets, it’ll ruin your figure!”, to now where my mother calls me in tears, desperately worried about my health and, although she doesn’t admit it, my appearance too. She always says that she thinks I’m beautiful, but she’s just so afraid of me falling ill because of my weight. I don’t think she realises that there are times that those phone calls cause me to eat more.
My relationship with food in my youth was always one of pleasure. There was nothing I enjoyed more than a satisfying hot meal, a tasty sandwich, a sweet pastry. You could not pay me to eat horrible mushrooms or soggy broccoli. I loved the sweet, the savoury, the decadent. Food was something to be enjoyed, appreciated, savoured. I did all this, still do this. But for me, the slow slide into overweight began in my teens. I was a clumsy child, not sporty and not very interested in exercise when I could curl up inside with a good book instead, so even though my eating habits didn’t change, I began to. It was a slow crawl from size 10 to 12 to eventually 18. And even then, at each size I cried and hated my body, never picturing that it would continue to expand. But still, I loved myself. I didn’t change my relationship with food, as I saw no reason to. Wasn’t I still young and pretty? What did a size 16 dress matter to me?
It was university when all that began to change. Adrift from the eating schedule of home, of family meals and healthy food, I began to do what all students do. I ordered take-away, snacked on junk food, drank fruity drinks with 10 times the calories of others. This was the first change in my relationship with food. The excess, the indulging. For the first time, I had my own meal schedule, my own choices. I had money from a student loan and many freshers events that called me to spend it. A long day at class? Let’s get a chow mien. Coming in from a night out? Pizza sounds amazing. Don’t fancy cooking? Let’s order in.
I came home for the summer a good deal heavier, and thus began the crusade from my mother to lose weight. At times her words would crush me, they still do in fact. But it was hard to argue when I saw the devastation in her eyes, the worry for me. For first time, I resented my lack of willpower, I hated the delicious food that tempted me. In my eyes I was weak, disgusting. I realised that I couldn’t remember the first time that I had looked in the mirror and hated what I saw, but that there was no denying I felt that way now. I returned for my second year determined to lose the weight, stay strong against it. It felt almost like a presence I had to battle and fight back. The weight. THE weight pushing back at me.
It was here that my relationship with food soured and honestly, my relationship with myself followed. I would cut down my meals to tiny portions, convinced I didn’t deserve more than 2 meatballs with pasta, thinking that breakfast was a pointless meal, pushing through to my lunch of soup and sadness. At night I cried standing in the dark and staring at my silhouette, praying and wishing it would shrink. It wasn’t until years later that I realised that this toxic relationship with food did not just exist in my own little bubble. Recently, I opened to a friend about these issues, only for her to tell me;
“Darling we already knew. That why we would invite you to dinner, give you snacks when we ‘bought too much’.”
These acts of kindness long past brought a tear to my eye, both in happiness at the unknown support I had had but also tears of sadness. My friends had loved me, no matter what my size. Why couldn’t I have given myself that love, that kindness? Why couldn’t I have let go of the shame I felt?
Despite not knowing what my friends were doing, I managed to break away from the spiral of my thoughts. I also gathered my courage to speak with my mother, an honest, brutal conversation of disappointments, expectations and eventually love. My mum said that I was beautiful and that no matter how she worried, she wanted me to be healthy more than she wanted me to be skinny.
It is still hard. I still struggle at times after I’ve had a treat or a good meal. But things are better.
Three years after university, I am still proud and ashamed to say I am fat. Chubby. Curvy. Overweight. But I balance it now. Exercise, good food, and the occasional treat never hurt anyone. I would still die before I’d eat mushrooms but broccoli is bearable now.
I’ve finally realised that my relationship with food has to be second to my relationship with myself. I have learned to love myself exactly the way I am. Everything else is just small details.