Hi there. I’m Maggie, and I’m…what do the kids call it these days? #thick?
I started out life as a plump baby with rolls galore, and not much has changed since then. My pre-boob, middle school years were spent living as a body double to the rotund Oompa Loompas of Willy Wonka origins. (Okay, maybe that’s kind of mean to say about myself, but it’s still a lot nicer than the stuff bullies used to say and humor is a coping mechanism). When puberty struck, the extra fluff shifted around a bit to slightly more presentable areas—but I could never shake that extra layer of padding. As a short-waisted lass who enjoys food and doesn’t like to turn it into a series of complex calculations, my tummy was there for the long haul. And of course, that was the worst possible thing I could struggle with…right?
For about 10 years, my culture told me that I could not possibly be satisfied with myself. I watched the older women in my life meticulously try diet after diet—weight watchers, Atkins, Keto, no-carbs, no sugar, nonstop exercise videos— only to fail their crazy high standards and then fall straight into deep shame and binge eating. My school friends, cousins, and sisters talked nonstop about calories and “being bad” that week or “being good” the next. They would all say I had such a pretty smile, but would be so much prettier if I lost X pounds. But hey, this isn’t a sob story because they were constantly saying the exact same thing to one another and if nobody was around to hear it, they’d say it to the mirror.
It was a toxic way to live, and clearly unsustainable. Because out of that culture frenzy came an even uglier beast full of eating disorders, body dysmorphia, terrible self image, and a rapidly-building tension simmering below the surface where larger people were desperate to be recognized as normal and to stop having to search through severely limited styles in their sizes. They wanted to be free to just live their lives and not be subjected to unfair treatment, looks, commentary, or critique based on their size.
And then something magical happened.
When I turned 20 and entered college, Body Positivity was suddenly blazing across all forms of social media. The tension broke. Long-standing brands had to reconfigure their entire design lines and model lineups, TV shows were called out for their treatment of “fat stereotypes”, the word itself was reclaimed, and people—largely women—felt suddenly free to simply be without the pressure of fitness and expectation of constant diets weighing on them!
It was glorious and necessary, and a little revolutionary. I suddenly saw so much damage in myself that I’d never recognized before thanks to the rhetoric being tossed around. I began to heal, along with many others I’m sure. I am so, so grateful for the body positivity movement at large and hope that those same female relatives who constantly cycle into guilt and punishment might see themselves as beautiful, worthy creatures no matter their size.
But as in all big issues, I tend to fall somewhere in the middle. Because so many issues or movements that start out good can take things too far.
Lately, I’ve noticed a trend across my social media pages that is confusing and seems counterintuitive to the idea that everyone is on their own path and we shouldn’t judge what we don’t know based on others’ sizes.
Suddenly, the desire to commit to a lifestyle change, to eat more whole foods and less processed sugar, to exercise or attain a certain body size/muscle mass/health goal has been deemed toxic and wrong. I’ve seen friends post before/after pictures, or about their health changes and how excited they are and how good they feel get blasted in the comments for focusing on those things or for posting about that content at all.
It struck me as odd and pretty unfair at once, how you could preach body positivity and self image and then immediately try to shut someone down when they share how they are interpreting those messages for themselves. I’ve seen those friends get “canceled” and then stagger in confusion and hurt as they try to be sensitive to those who’ve been harmed by diet culture while also trying to find community with others who enjoy fitness and healthy eating.
I recognize that, of course, before/after photos used to market new fads and sell products are not only wrong, but kind of gross. I empathize so much with those who’ve struggled with eating disorders as a result of those cultures, and with those who may not wish to see such posts litter their feeds because of what they can trigger. But in the same breath, I have to wonder…why does that mean those who take joy in such events must be automatically shut down? Should we then police posts about expecting mothers or birth announcements for fear of upsetting the parents who’ve recently been through a miscarriage, or posts about the blessings in life and their travel and excitement out of worry that we may trigger one who struggles with depression and suicidal tendencies?
I don’t think that’s attainable, nor should it be desirable. We are creatures of joy as much as sorrow, and that is what I believe the end goal of body positivity should and must be.
I believe we can support the sufferers of eating disorders and shower them with love while also celebrating with those who have found self-love through fitness or joy in attaining their goals. We are just as capable of cheering for the large woman who goes out in a two-piece swimsuit for the first time in her life as much as the man who can now lift 200lbs and make his pecs jump like Terry Crews.
Everyone should have their own goals and feel no fear in sharing their joy when those goals are achieved, whether that goal is being able to eat a meal without counting down the caloric intake, or savoring the piece of chocolate cake, or even cutting out foods that you feel hold you back. In sharing this joy and opening up this platform, we leave more room for negative thinking or disorders to be spotted and then respectfully, gently confronted in private by loved ones while also showing everyone what a healthy relationship with one’s body looks like across the spectrum.
I’m thick. I’ve never been able to shake the soft layer around my tummy, and I may never do so. Once upon a time, it caused me extreme anxiety. Now, I kind of giggle when it jiggles, dress however I like, and move on with my day without letting it hold me back. Sure, I’d like to cut down my bread/sugar intake because I’ve noticed how it can slow my mind and body down, but I have no interest in extreme diets because thinking about food in terms of numbers just irritates me and removes any hint of joy. I’d love to be able to climb someday soon—cliffs and mountains and rock walls, you know? I want more upper body strength and more stamina to chase after the Little Ones in my life, and if that means the extra tummy layer shrinks once I manage that then hallelujah. If not, well, I’ll just remember that my favorite artist Renoir loved to paint chubby women, and carry on to live my best life.
I have friends across the body spectrum—skinny, fat, somewhere in the middle, tall, short, pregnant, post-partum. Some of them have struggled with severe eating disorders in the past and I do my best to support and love them. Some of my friends have lost or gained significant weight, and I still tell them how lovely they are and the only difference it makes to my life is that there’s more or less person to hug tight at the end of the day. Some of my friends hit the gym any chance they can get and are absolutely shredded, some love to bake and have chocolate running in their veins, and some are still stuck in that self-shaming mindset that I will work in sneaky ways to dismantle so they can recognize their wonderfulness and then move on from there to live however they wish.
Don’t be afraid of the unfollow button, either, if you need a break from constant food/health related stuff. Social media does not define friendship, and if it’s toxic, don’t be afraid to turn your eyes away. But don’t forget to love.
Chase joy. Embrace life fully. Support one another.
And do more yoga. Just trust me, it’s for all sizes and people and it’s just the best thing ever.