I love food, I always have, I’ve been a foodie way before the term was invented and I was proud of it. But there’s another side to food, one that I am not as eager to discuss, nor as happy to mention, its the side that I rather not talk about most days because it makes me sound like I have a “problem”. Funny people like me don’t like feeling like they have a problem, especially when all that’s ever truly supposed to come from my type of people is an encouragement and comedic relief. I’ve perhaps never had the intention of writing about this until today. Similarly to other things that I think about in the depths of my labyrinth of a mind, there are just some things that never leave those depths, and this is one of them.
We see a lot of bodies in our daily lives, I don’t mean the ones you pass on the streets, those are inevitable, but rather the millions of ads, magazine spreads, posters, internet sites, covers, pictures, social media accounts that we see everywhere at all times. I wake up, go through my Instagram and see fitness models, lifters, cross-fitters. I see the constant updates that read from skinny to fit, or fat to fit, or something to something else. I see the constant compliments on the “booty gains” or the “abs” the obsession over the definition, and words like “bloat” and “macros”. I see all of the likes, all of the popularity in these accounts, and how even when I want to live in a world where for a second I’m not thinking about my lack of muscle definition or the fact that I’m “skinny-fat”. I sometimes wonder, have we become obsessed with beautiful bodies as a society? Or is there something seriously wrong with me? I have to clarify something, I’ve not been “obese” my entire life, I’m not obese now, and I can’t even begin to pretend that I know what it’s like to be discriminated because of your weight as an adult, or even as a teen for that matter. I’ve seen what obese and even just slightly “overweight” people go through, and frankly, it’s appalling. It’s very sad that they are discriminated against so badly, and it does upset me that no balance is struck between health, and simply accepting that not all of us are going to be a petite size 2 with rock hard abs. Even though I may not have been an overweight teen or an overweight adult, there was a year… a particular year that has perhaps stayed with me as long as I’ve lived.
It was May of 1998 and I had turned 10-years-old (don’t start calculating my age now). Although I was homeschooled for most of Elementary school, by then I had attended 3rd, 4th, and a good portion of 5th grade in public schools. I cannot stress enough how poorly most of the American education system treated their children in terms of health and nutrition back then, but it was quite embarrassing as an American to remember. On Mondays, we had “sloppy joes”, the most disgusting thing I had ever encountered in my life, my mother never made such foods. At home my mom used our diverse ethnic background to her advantage, creating some of the most wonderful and delicious foods, full of vitamins, color, and flavor. But here, at my public school, we had fatty ground processed beef, dripping in oil, bathed in a heavy artificial tomato sauce on a flimsy white bread. Our carrots? Fresh? Never, they came from metallic cans doused in high fructose corn syrup. I had a slight lactose-intolerance, but I was obligated to drink my choice of either full-fat chocolate milk or full-fat regular milk, otherwise, recess wouldn’t be permitted. Tuesday’s was corn dogs, Thursday’s I remember liking because we had taco salad. I liked taco salads because it reminded me a bit more of what my mom would make at home. Sometimes I had packed lunches (normally sandwiches my mom made) or I would (like every other kid my age back then) beg desperately for those “Lunchables”. They were on every Nickelodeon commercial, the “Capri sun” juices were the thing to drink, and believe me, you didn’t want to be the one sad kid in a corner with a lousy sandwich while all of the other kids had their Lunchables, I was already having a hard time fitting in as it was.
I hated the food at school, it made me feel ill, I would sometimes even get headaches. I was constantly sick as a kid, allergies, cases of flu, and even a bad case of bronchitis once. It didn’t help that most of my allergies came from living in Florida and having serious heat, dust, and mite allergies. The public schools never made it any better nor did the medications. At some point, I realized that I was a tired kid, I don’t think I talked about it as much as I thought it, but I felt kind of tired all of the time. My stomach hurt most days, and I struggled with heartburn. My mom was unsure of what was happening, but slowly I had begun to gain a lot of weight. It was a bit alarming, I was swelling up like a balloon and we really didn’t know why. Kids now had a new reason to make fun of me, and so did the ladies at church and even extended family members. I was now a fat kid. The once tiny ballet dancer that was so thin people would worry about, was now a fat and by default a “lazy” kid. I remember that year so vividly, I remember how many times I thought my cheeks were going to get dislocated because people at church would pinch them so hard and call me “Gorda“. I remember how many times girls in my class would poke my belly and say “is it a girl or a boy?”, I also remember feeling bad about it and not saying anything, wondering why on earth I was fat, why I was gaining so much weight. I felt so sick at school, my stomach, the pressure and bullying from the other kids, the allergies, it was all too much. At lunch time I’d give my tray over to a little girl named Abby whose parents couldn’t afford to give her lunch money. I was happy to give her my food because she was thin, I felt she needed it much more than I did. But I usually always did this, which meant that from the 8 am small breakfast I would have, all the way until 3 or 4 pm when I went home I hadn’t eaten a thing and no one knew. I was completely deteriorating my metabolism and immune system but I was a kid, and I only said what was convenient. When I did get home I felt ecstatic, I was finally away from all of the madness at school and I could relax, I could be myself without being judged, and that usually meant bingeing. Whatever my mom made I would eat a lot of because I was starving, whatever ice cream was in the house I could easily eat almost an entire tub, and of course pepperoni pizza rolls… how I loved those pizza rolls. It’s odd to explain but I felt empowered when I ate at home, I felt like no one could call me fat there, and for the most part… nobody ever did. I didn’t know anything about dieting, or fitness aside from the grueling 90+ Fahrenheit jog they made us do at our school gym, most of which I was never able to complete due to allergies and doctors orders anyway. I was made fun of for that too, for being slow, for not being able to run long distance and getting a deep pain in my stomach when I ran. Half way through the year I broke my right arm in 3 pieces, no one knew the real reason why I put on my eldest sisters skates and skirted across the living room floor, but it was all in an ill attempt to be as fit and healthy as she looked, as both of my sisters looked, they were roller bladers I thought I could be one too. They were lean, tall, and beautiful, and I? I was now a fat kid, with a broken arm that needed surgery, and my friends were pretty much my mom, my sisters, and my pizza rolls (that’s goals now by the way). Even when I got back to school, I had probably gained a bit more weight from being at home for almost a month due to the operation on my arm and everyone obviously noticed. I felt I had no hope, and every day the fat comments got worse.
Finally, 1999 came and I was done with elementary school, done with 5th grade, and moving on to the wonderful world of home school and reading all of the travel and geology books I wanted in the comfort of my own home. It’s all I could think about, being away from all of those people, but first, came the vacation to the Caribbean to visit relatives. Up until that trip, I had always looked forward to that bi-yearly vacation. It was fun, everyone spoiled me, I saw people who apparently loved me a whole bunch and had a bonding moment with me as an infant but I clearly didn’t remember… it was nice. I liked going. This trip, however, was the trip that turned it all around for me. This was the trip that changed my perspective not only on my extended family, on visiting the island, but also on myself and my appearance. Up until that trip I was convinced that the comments from other ridiculous pre-pubescent pre teens both at school and at church shouldn’t affect me so much, I was certain that people who really loved me didn’t think I was ugly or fat, but things changed on that trip. Getting off the plane the first faces I saw greeted me with a big “oh my god she has gotten so big and fat!” that’s when I thought… “oh crap, so I am fat, it’s not just the stupid kids from my school that thinks so”. The rest of the days followed a similar pattern, going from store to store with my aunts and attempting the impossible: finding the right size for me in a children’s store. I had to hear from not one, not two, but dozens of sales girls: “That little girl is too fat, nothing is going to fit her here” I could see the disappointment on my aunts’ faces. I could also hear their “dissimulative” comments to my mom about how and why I had gotten so fat, and why she had allowed that and how it was possible, and how I “used” to be so cute. The straw that broke the camels back was the infamous “swimming lesson” day. I didn’t know how to swim, and my mom thought it would be awesome to learn to swim in the same class all of the family’s cousins and sisters and grandmas had learned to swim, it was a sort of tradition. The family was and still is, highly athletic, aquatic, fit, surfers… you get the picture. One of my cousins was the representative beauty queen of the country for Pete’s sake… if you can imagine living up to stuff like that, you’ll know where I’m coming from. I certainly never felt like the beautiful one in my extended family, and I remember what it felt like to care about that. The day of the lesson came and the challenge was finding a swimsuit, I had outgrown the ones at home, so they thought I could get one there. Bad idea, “nada le cabe a esa barrigota!” said one of the sales girls, when she pointed out “kindly” that none of the kids bathing suits were ever going to fit over my giant belly. The thing is, I was a tiny fat kid, so even though I was… what everyone loved to call me “chunky” I was very short, with small thin bone structure, and very delicate so I couldn’t shop in the adults quite yet. By the time we had visited the 4 or 5 stores unsuccessfully, I made a decision, one that I still get nagged about til this day, I decided I didn’t want to take the swimming lesson after all. My excuse? Fear. I was deeply afraid of getting in the water with the other kids and I didn’t want to learn to swim. I wish I would have learned, I still don’t know how, but fear got the best of me, the fear of being continually judged yet again. Although that awful year was over, and being back in home school caused me to drop over 20 pounds in less than a few months, I was still that sad fat kid in my mind.
By my late teens, I had made a discovery, I was “skinny-fat”, years of haphazard eating, allergies, and lack of proper fitness had me looking thin but with “subcutaneous fat” on my stomach, my new favorite word. I had a cousin see a picture of me in a bathing suit and say “your body is ruined with that fat stomach, I hope you lose weight” that was the last photo of me taken in a bathing suit until last year. After discovering that word I remember talking about it incessantly, I still call my sister sometimes and mention the word to her so she laughs, she always laughs at how much I mention it. In London I had struggles, London is an expensive city, and everyone knows the student life is sacrificial. That means fewer meals, less sleep, and all-around poor habits. At some point I had gotten ill, was eating less and less and had gotten to the most wonderful looking shape of my life, I was super thin. I still had the blasted bit of fat but it was almost gone, I was wearing the smallest of sizes and I felt good, really good. I still have the bad habit of looking at those London photos and thinking “man I looked so good”, I have a habit of ignoring the days I went with just a bowl of cereal and almond milk so that my stomach wouldn’t poke out in the tight pencil skirt I had gotten only to later eat an entire box of pizza because I just couldn’t take the hunger.
Moving to Spain things changed, I couldn’t focus as much on what I looked like as I usually had, which helped. But last year, last year I was alone, and I find that during those times it’s very easy for me to fall into the habit of under-eating and losing a lot of weight. A few people were mentioning their concern of me looking too thin, but all I can ever think is: “as long as that belly fat is there I’m not too thin, I’m still fat” It’s tiring, It’s tiring to feel like you’re still not there. What can I say, we like beautiful bodies, this is the truth. We drooled over Gal Gadots workouts and her wonder woman body, we love to talk about Jessica Beals bum, Victoria Secret models, Beyoncé’s magically flat post-baby abs, and we love to both marvel and insult Rihanna’s recent weight gain. We are obsessed, we are clearly obsessed. We love to say what’s healthy, what’s not healthy, what’s fit, what isn’t fit. We love to look at pictures of bodies and like them, and judge the fat percentage, we love to judge people’s diet, and their intake of carbs or whether they are vegan or not, whether they should eat more or eat less. We love to say things without knowing, without actually really knowing.
All I can say is, I’m tired of being obsessed with beautiful bodies and having a tortured mind that goes along with it. I’m tired of having people remind me of when I was thinner or when I was fatter, I’m tired of reminding myself. I’m tired of saying I look good but I don’t have a flat stomach. I’m tired of wanting a flat stomach. I’m tired of people telling me that I’m already thin and don’t need to lose weight, and feeling like I’m hiding a huge secret because I’m unhappy with the fat I do carry. This post was written because today I tried on a dress at H&M in my usual size U.S 4, and it was way too small, the H&M here in Spain runs extra small because to be honest everything in Spain runs excessively small and they’re huge about excessive thinness here. Even knowing this, I felt bad, but I felt even worse when I tried on a U.S size 10 and that’s the size that fit me better. I looked at myself in the mirror and laughed, for the first time I realized that this is what society has done to me and to all of us. I realized that perhaps a taller, bigger built, actual size 10 woman will walk in today and try on that same dress and go home feeling horrible about herself, all without knowing that a petite, tiny-boned size 4 girl who is only 160cm fit perfectly into what should be her “size”. I don’t think it’s fair anymore. It’s not fair that we’ve built a world for our future generations that say thinness or muscles, booties or six-packs are the thing that gets you to be liked. That the thing you need to watch out for most is what your body looks like because other wise you’ll have or won’t have friends, you will or won’t have a lover, or you will or won’t get a job. Today I bought a dress that was twice my size but fit okay, all because I want to keep telling myself until I get it. I want to say it doesn’t matter so much, you’re fine, their “perfect” doesn’t have to be your perfect. Before you worry about whether you’ll ever get rid of your skinny-fat syndrome, perhaps unfollow the fitness models that bring out those tortured thoughts, delete the videos that talk about belly fat and abs all the time, and think about the fact that you’re alive and well, and that’s beautiful in itself. That being said I got to go, my mamma is making some seriously good Italian Spaghetti and I’m going to eat Tutta La mia pasta!