April 13, 2017
This essay was written as part of an empowerment campaign, “Wear Yourself In,” led by eco-luxe skin care company Kari Gran. In response to the beauty industry pushing an impossible idea of flawless youth for years, the campaign encourages women to be kind to themselves, and their skin, as they reflect on beauty, aging, wisdom, and self-acceptance.
Gina Cohen is a featured writer for The Washington Post, MSN, The Huffington Post, POPSUGAR, Scary Mommy, Good Housekeeping, and more.
When I say that to friends, their knee-jerk reaction is to deny, to say, “No you’re not!” or “Stop! Don’t say that about yourself.” And, listen, I understand why they do that. The word ‘fat’ is so commonly used a weapon. But I’m not intending it that way. I’m not fishing for compliments or asking you to lie to me. When well-intended friends say, “Don’t say that about yourself,” they’re inadvertently suggesting that it’s not OK to be who I am in this moment, in this body, at this time. That being fat equates to being unworthy, unlovable, undesirable, unattractive. It’s what we’ve been conditioned to believe. But I already know that I'm not those things. I'm simply making a statement about the current size of my body. Not about my worthiness as a human being.
Getting here hasn’t been easy. From my youngest years, I was told by my grandma that I’d be pretty if I just ‘lost five pounds.’ I was shamed by my family for having thighs that rubbed together, for wearing shorts that rode up in the summertime. My father sat me down once and told me that boys would never find me attractive if I didn’t lose weight. Well into adulthood, those memories, those words shaped my feelings about my body and kept me from loving and accepting myself when I carried extra weight, and in turn, kept me from accepting love when it was given to me freely by men who didn’t care about such things. See, turns out my father was wrong, men would still find me attractive. The problem was, *I* wouldn’t.
And so, I created a world for myself in which my fat didn’t exist. I perfected my selfie angle. I didn’t own a full-length mirror. I bought stretchy clothes. My photos highlight my shining eyes, my nice smile, my flowing hair, my ample cleavage. But in those moments when the self-facing lens was off, and the crown of flowers filter didn’t follow me around, I’m forced to see my body for what it is: fleshy, curvy, an hourglass with too much sand. I see the double chin, the stretch marks, the belly. I've compulsively avoided -- for most of my life -- coming to terms with the reality of my full figure. And where has that gotten me? To 43. And still, fat.
But not for long. Not forever. It may have taken me my entire adult life to figure this out, but I believe I finally understand why THIS, out of all things, has been the one aspect of my life I haven’t been able to conquer. That despite being a good mom, a proud homeowner, a successful professional, and an accomplished writer, I haven’t been able to be the thin, healthy woman I’ve always wanted to be: I hadn’t ever wanted to fully face it. And by avoiding it, I’ve given it more power than it ever deserved.
I recognize now the importance of facing my fat, of recognizing it for what it is – the temporary state of my body, nothing more, nothing less. That it doesn’t define me, but is simply the form my body has currently taken. Until I call it out for what it is, without self-shame and judgment, my fat will undermine every effort I’ve made to get rid of it, every low-carb meal I’ve eaten, every workout I’ve tried, every great intention. It won’t go away until I yank it – and the power I gave it to affect how I feel about myself – from its roots.
So here I am, fat, I see you. I recognize you. I’m in my forties and I’m finally OK facing you. You’re not the terrible, horrible, powerful beast I’ve always thought you were. You’re just three letters. And now, it’s time for you to go.