‘A middle-aged woman stopped me at the gym. ‘You are so pretty. You could be a model if only you lost weight!’ I’d just lost 140 pounds.’: Woman urges ‘being fat will never take away my self-worth’

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“I was always an awkward kid. Never popular and in hand-me-down clothes. Nothing ever really fit right because I was tall, and I wasn’t thin. I was the eldest of six children under my mother’s roof, and being in a big family, new clothing was often out of the question. I always felt uncomfortable in my own skin and not just from poorly fitting clothes and the cruel teasing of school children. My mother, always being thin, had gone to a runway modeling school in California when she graduated high school. They had told her she was too short to have a career in it. To be perfectly honest, I think that is why she wanted me to be thin. In the 1990’s thin was in, and, like I said, I was always a tall kid. However, by the time I was eight years old, I was too wide to try on my mother’s wedding dress and wore a size 9 shoe.

My mother has always meant well, and I know she loves me. She gets embarrassed and irritated because I often bring her up when I talk about weight, but she plays a big role in my story. After all, she is my mother. I was never athletically inclined by choice, given my own choices I was most definitely more sedentary. While I didn’t mind playing with other kids, I preferred my books – and still do to this day. I was pushed into sports and choir, and admittedly, I became dedicated to both. Fashion wise though (and I shudder when I remember how confident I was in my choices), I was a complete disaster. Do you remember the Disney teens on the red carpet in the late 90’s and early 2000’s? It was really that bad, and I could have been on that carpet and blended in with those kids. Just awful.

In middle school, I was bullied, often. The best way to describe my style was a tomboy gothic who wasn’t allowed to purchase more than one article of black clothing a year during this time period, so I wore baggy pants and oversized sweatshirts found in the boys section. Because if it was baggy, no one could make fun of my body. I had boobs by the time I was 11 and was starting to have curves, so of course I was bullied for being fat. For being gothic, for being a lesbian (I am bisexual however I did have my first girlfriend who happened to be my best friend at that age), and for being tall. Because at 5’9”, I towered over all but three people.

By the time I hit high school, I was full of rage and completely developed. We moved my sophomore year. In my new little town where my grade had a grand total of 30-odd people, I was singled out for not having been a part of their lives since I was in diapers. I was called a porch monkey, a n*gg*r among other things. So now, I was self-conscious not only about my body, but also about my race.

In high school, I started getting involved in community theatre, since our school was so small it didn’t have a department for it. Theatre became a love and passion of mine I could get lost in, and so I majored in it in college. My freshman year, I entered college with a role in the production of Doubt. Although at the time I was proud, I later realized I was cast because of my race, which would be the very thing that would prevent me from being cast in future productions. Theatre was both the best and most humiliating part of my life. Because I was a plus-size actor, fittings were embarrassing. For productions like Footloose, I had to bring in my own clothing for my character because they couldn’t or maybe wouldn’t find clothing that fit me.

So, of course, as the depression started to settle in, so did the depression eating and the weight gain, along with the help of birth control. My freshman year of college I gained 80 pounds, and when I graduated college, I was about 360 pounds. I believe the highest I ever got was 370. Body dysmorphia does strange things to the mind, and it affects everyone differently. For me, I picture myself skinnier than I am, so when I looked in the mirror, I thought I carried my weight well. Then, I would see a picture and cry because I would think, ‘Is that really what I looked like all the time?’ Is that why no one seemed interested in being romantically invested in me while my skinnier friends where constantly sought after? My confidence when I graduated university and moved to Portland, Oregon was at an all time low.

Courtesy of JaKarra Danielle

I also moved with only $200 to my name. Somehow, and thank you craigslist, I was able to find a roommate. I quickly moved from that situation to the roommate who led me to the apartment I’m still in nearly five years later. In April of 2015, I had a gastric sleeve which is a version of a gastric bypass. I lost 140 pounds, 80 of which dropped in the first three months. I had never felt better, and for the first time in my life, I actually enjoyed working out. Until I plateaued. I started gaining weight again, and I couldn’t understand it. On one of these days, as I was leaving the gym, a middle aged woman looked and me and said, ‘You are so pretty, you could be a model if you lost weight!’

The rage I felt in my teen years surged back right under the surface, and for the rest of the week, I stewed on this backhanded compliment. ‘If I lost weight…’ Hadn’t I just done that? So, I started looking into modeling and photographers on Instagram. And in 2017, I met Renee Lopez of Miss Lopez Media. She was doing a project on people of color in the Portland area, and I volunteered. It was my first shoot, and to be honest, I killed it – in a good way for a first timer. After Renee I met Teddy Oldenburg, who is one of the most talented photographers I have ever met. The second photoshoot I did with her was nominated for Best Plus Size Boudoir and won. Through her, I was introduced to Cobalt Studios, and thus, my modeling career started to blossom.

Courtesy of Miss Lopez Media
Courtesy of Teddy Oldenburg Photography

I have had the opportunity to work with some amazing fashion designers like Sloane White, Minnie Opal and O’Field. Cobalt owners Tammy and Bill Linn opened more doors for me than I could have discovered for myself and put me into contact with aforementioned designers, as well as makeup artists and photographers. I have walked runway and been published in web and print magazines. All while learning to deal with my body as it changes, and as I did start to gain weight again. I made sure a strict ‘no body alternations’ agreement was in place, and if any such alterations were made, I would not give permission for it to be shared, posted, or sold.

There was one morning, about a year ago, when I woke up and asked myself, ‘Why am I doing this? I don’t make good money, it is a lot of time and effort with little reward other than pictures for my portfolio.’ I did a lot of trade work. Then, I started getting a lot of messages on my Instagram and my Snapchat from girls and women of all ages telling me I inspired them to start loving themselves. Seeing my body and my confidence made them want to take steps towards loving themselves. The word ‘fat’ lost its barbs. I call myself fat, as it is a state of being, and being fat does not make me ugly. Being fat does not take away from my confidence, my intelligence, my ambition, and my self-worth.

Courtesy of Dijana Szewczyk Photography

So, when I got called a ‘fat feminist’ on a Tiktok video of mine which has over 2.3 million views – I laughed. I laughed so hard my eyes started leaking and looked at my coworker and said, ‘WHERE DID THIS COME FROM?!’ I jiggled my arm fat at her through laughter. ‘Where did these tree trunk thighs come from?! I had no idea I was fat!’ Comments like these amuse me because its not like I spend every second in my skin and am unaware of what I look like – I just don’t care anymore. I would rather be a fat feminist – who believes in equality and ALL people being treated like decent human beings than to be a chiseled arrogant jerk who gets off on wanting to bring strangers down every single day of the week.

Being fat does not mean you are ugly or undesirable. You can model at any weight, you just need to have desire and confidence to back it up because insecurities do come across in film. My advice for those who do not feel confident is, fake it until you make it. Cliché, but it worked for me. You feel more confident if you walk with your shoulders back and your head high. Practice a confident walk – this is not to be confused with your cat walk. A confident walk is the first step in finding confidence for yourself, and trust me, it works.

Courtesy of Photo Bruja
Courtesy of Dijana Szewczyk Photography

If you or I have confidence in ourselves and in our bodies, someone else needs to take a look in the mirror because you and I clearly are not the issue here. Self-love is not an easy journey. It will be hard, and you will have to fight for it. Much like you would for any relationship, but here is the kicker. This will be the hardest and most important journey/discovery of your life. You are in your skin every second of every day, and nothing will change that. Once you learn to love yourself, everything changes.

Personally, it took me a very long time to get where I am today. To love myself and not wish every single time I look in the mirror to change something about my appearance. The beautiful thing of it is there is nothing a single soul on this planet can do to take that away from me. They do not have that power, as it resides solely in me now. As a kid and young adult, I never understood, but if that is the only thing you take from this, then that is okay. Never hand another person the ability to make you feel any less than what you are.

Courtesy of Bekka Björke Photography
Courtesy of Dijana Szewczyk Photography

I’m still doing what I do for the young girls and adults who need to see someone and think, ‘If she can, then I can.’

So this, this is for the young girl who wanted to cry when she looked at the mirror and criticized the cellulite because it wasn’t smooth like every one else’s. For the girl who was too tall or too short. Who matured early and matured late. Who needs to take that step or is on their journey of loving themselves. I do this for you, you are beautiful. You are strong, amazing, intelligent. You need to realize and believe in yourself too because once you do, well, as cliché as it sounds, there is not a damn thing you cannot do.”

Courtesy of Teddy Oldenburg Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by JaKarra Danielle of Portland, OR. You can follow her journey on Instagram and Twitter. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read more beautiful stories about people learning to love their bodies here:

‘Gah, you are so skinny! I hate you! Don’t you eat? Just go get a hamburger!’: Woman describes how much ‘hate’ she felt for her body after being ‘skinny shamed’

‘Why are your legs so fat?’ She laughed. I took my headphones out. ‘Pardon?’ Passengers watched.’: Woman brought to tears by stranger’s rude comment, realizes her ‘fat’ legs have ‘done her well’ in life

‘Why are you fat and your parents aren’t?’ It was so hurtful. I didn’t have an answer for her.’: Woman discovers unexplained weight gain due to ‘fat disease’ diagnosis called ‘Lipedema’

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