So, yeah. I am "full figured". I am "curvy". I am "voluptuous".
I have big breasts and full hips and thick thighs and a little extra belly fat that made my preschool-aged cousin ask if i was having a baby.
For most of my life, i have fought the word "fat".
Because fat is unhealthy. Fat is unattractive. Fat is gross.
Except that it's not. And i'm not sure when or how or why we came to believe that it was, or how this belief has been sustained for so long. What about Melissa McCarthy? What about Queen Latifah? What about Oprah? What about Christina Hendricks? What about the fact that, even among these women (called "plus-size" and "curvy" and "full-figured" every time they are mentioned), there are few who are actually all that above-average in their weight? Christina Hendricks has larger breasts and smaller waist and hips than me. She's also slightly shorter, and almost certainly weighs less. (Also, i'm about as straight as it's possible for a lady to be, but Christina Hendricks makes me awfully tingly. Hubba hubba, is what i'm saying.) Queen Latifah and Oprah fluctuate in their weight all the time (because they're, you know, human beings), but Queen Latifah still got to be a CoverGirl.
For most of my life, i have been "fat".
There was a while there when i was a rail-thin little kid, but as i hit puberty and began to feel awkward and uncomfortable in my skin, and as my shape began to change and shift and expand, i put on some extra weight. And since then, i've been on a roller coaster that is familiar to pretty much every female person in the world, and plenty of male persons too. I've tried dieting. I've tried not eating. I've tried exercising. I've tried cutting out meat. I've tried counting calories. And for a while, everything is going great, and then i feel good and i relax and it all comes back and then i hate myself.
I wore hand-me-downs for a long time. When i was in high school and had my first job, i bought myself a pair of jeans. They were daring: low-slung waist, flared leg openings, and fitted smoothly to my thighs and ass (which i was just brave enough to call "butt" in my head, and nowhere near brave enough to even mention to my mom). They were a size 13.
I'm 23 now, and it should be a point of pride to me that i can still fit into a size 13 pair of jeans, except that once again, my body has changed.
There was one change, near the beginning of college, where the jeans i had owned before still fit flawlessly but the new jeans i tried on in stores were way too snug. And this was partly, i think, because fashions had changed since i'd last bought jeans, and they were designed to be tighter than ever, and also they were new and hadn't been broken in yet. But also, i had changed and hadn't noticed it, and this was the beginning of the end.
Since then, i've lost and gained weight over and over every year. And while i can fit into size 13 jeans, i have had to accept that they give me a muffin-top. Regardless of how thin or fat or straight-figured or curvy you are, no one looks good in a muffin-top.
I started noticing this change when i started buying "professional" clothes. Because "professional" clothes, you know, generally fit higher on the waist than casual ones. So when you're wearing low-rise stretch jeans that are really too small for you, you can scrunch them a little lower and button them under your pregnant-like belly and ignore everything until your little cousin starts asking awkward questions. But when you're wearing tweedy dress pants, or a stylish new pencil skirt, it's a lot harder to ignore the fact that you can't even drag the garment over your oh-so-juicy ass, let alone zip it up.
I've tried Spanx. I've tried Spanx with control-top pantyhose. I've tried Spanx with control-top pantyhose and not eating very much. The conclusion was inescapable, and yet i kept searching for a way out.
Recently, i bought a new pair of jeans. I went to Marshalls and tried on lots and lots of pairs. I finally found one by a brand i hadn't heard of (Denizen, by Levi), and was amazed at the comfort and perfection of their fit. I could easily slide into them! I could easily zip them! They didn't give me a muffin top! "It must be this new brand!" i thought. "They must use a different fabric, a more honest measurement, a more attractive cut!"
It wasn't until i got home that i saw the tag: 18. They had been hung on the wrong hanger, sorted into the wrong section. They were not 13/14. They were not even 15/16. These perfectly fitting jeans were an 18.
I almost cried. And i know how shallow and silly and vain and self-involved that is, but if you're a woman i think you understand my deep and visceral and immediate feeling of shame and disgust and disappointment. I wasn't supposed to be an 18. I'm supposed to be a 14 at the most. Buying those size 18 jeans felt like a disgusting failure, like an alcoholic or drug addict falling off of the wagon. I wasn't supposed to be like this. I was supposed to be better than this.
Luckily, this moment came in conjunction with me discovering lots of hilarious and smart and incisive and empowering blogs where all kinds of "women's issues" were discussed. Yes, i've been reading about feminism, and i'm going to start linking to some of these amazing women soon, never fear. And here's the thing: fat is not automatically bad. I know we all think it is, but it's not. You know what is bad? Hating your body. Being disgusted by yourself. Crying because you're ashamed of the size of the jeans that fit you really well and look amazing on you.
Allow me to repeat and elaborate on that point: the jeans i was wearing before made me look five months pregnant. I only had about three shirts i could wear with my old jeans that minimized and hid my protruding belly; all the other ones were too tight and only exacerbated the problem. I was wearing ill-fitting clothes, and they looked bad on me. I found clothes that fit, and nearly cried from the shame of it. It wasn't that i woke up one day and discovered that i had gone up two sizes. I had been an 18 for a few years. I had just continued to buy clothes that were too small. I was crying because i had discovered that, for at least three years now, i had been two sizes larger than i thought. Again: this situation had been going on for a long time! It wasn't sudden and shouldn't have been all that surprising! Also, it was only two sizes, not ten! I'm still pretty healthy, still have a well-defined waist and firm (if meaty) thighs, still feel pretty in jeans and dresses and even naked. I feel exactly the same as i always did. I look different, but mostly because i'm older and i got my hair cut and sometimes i wear eyeliner and i have tattoos and, yeah, my curves are more billowy than they were a few years ago.
I'm fat, basically. I have more fat on my body than i need to have to survive. I mean, i do live in New England, but i'm not a polar bear or a whale or something. I don't need insulation from the frigid temperatures. I have a space heater and a cat. I will survive. But i'm also not a marathon runner or a body builder or something else where i need to trim my body fat down to zero. I'm allowed to have full, rich curves. I'm allowed to jiggle a little when i walk.
I could be healthier than i am, and i'd like to be. I could be less jiggly than i am, and i'd like to be. I could trim myself back down to a size 13, and i'd like to do that, but mostly because i don't want to buy a whole new wardrobe, because i'm lazy and broke. I probably will lose a lot of weight this fall and winter, when i am student teaching and therefore a) can't afford lots of fancy food and snacks and will eat lots of beans and rice and tofu and drink water and tea and b) will spend lots more time walking around and lots less time sitting. I'm losing weight now, as i work out semi-regularly and am more aware of what i eat. But really, truly, in my heart-of-hearts, i don't care that much about being thin. Which is good, because i have a naturally large and full frame and want to have kids some day, so without drastic surgery including things like bone-shaving (is that really a thing? i've always been too afraid to find out), i'll never be what the world calls "thin".
But i have curves that make women jealous and men drool, and i have to admit that i like them, too. I like the fullness of my breasts, even though they constantly get in my way. I like the curves of my ass, even though it's hard to zip into a pencil skirt. I like my heavy thighs, even though they rub together when i walk, ensuring that my jeans always wear out in the crotch. I like my roundness and fullness and ripeness. I like the way my body looks, naked or clothed. I like the way it feels to be in my skin. I like the way it feels when my boyfriend looks at my body, or runs his hands over it, or talks about how much he loves it. And if looking and feeling the way that i do means that i have to wear a size 18, then that's what i'll do. After all, there are worse things in the world than being incredibly sexy. The only thing i have to get over now is the word "fat". But i'm a writer. I'll find a way to make it work.