‘Don’t eat too much, boys don’t like FAT girls.’: Woman shares journey from eating disorder to body positivity, ‘My weight may fluctuate, but my worth will not’

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Trigger Warning: This story mentions eating disorders that may be triggering to some.

“To exist in a fat body and a thin body in the same lifetime is a truly profound experience. And while living in a smaller body certainly comes with certain privileges and perks that I no longer experience as a size 16, I wouldn’t trade my fat body for anything in the world.

woman with red hair
Courtesy of Hannah

For the women in my family, body dysmorphia and eating disorders are practically a generational curse. Weight loss was always complimented and carbs were always demonized. I vividly remember my grandmother setting a plate of brownies in front of me when I was 7 years old all while instructing me not to eat too much because ‘boys don’t like fat girls.’ So it should be no surprise that I eventually made my own descent on the diet rollercoaster.

To make a long story short, when I was a teenager I developed an eating disorder and lost 60 pounds in a year. I became addicted to the shower of compliments and praise. Suddenly people were making eye contact with me, opening doors for me, and just generally acknowledging me in a way that I hadn’t experienced as a size 12. As if I had crossed some invisible threshold and people were really seeing me for the first time.

One thing that no one tells you about rapid weight loss is you will not be able to recognize yourself. Even though I had achieved conventional attractiveness, I had no self-esteem. I avoided looking at myself in the mirror at all costs and cried when I saw photos of myself. I would feel physically ill going out in public wearing anything that was even remotely form-fitting.

All my life I had believed that to be thin was the be beautiful, and to be beautiful was the key to happiness. But the reality was that all the problems and emotional baggage I carried as a chubby teenager came with me as a thin adult. In fact, I was more miserable than ever before. I was tired, emaciated, and anemic. My body was run absolutely ragged from working out for two hours every day with nothing but raw fruits and vegetables to fuel me. My mental and physical health were in complete shambles, but everyone around me praised me constantly and wanted to know my secret.

Eventually, I sustained an injury from over-exercising that prevented me from my usual daily jog. In an effort to stay fit and build some confidence I impulsively decided to sign up for a six-week burlesque class. What I didn’t realize was that by signing up I had agreed to perform in a showcase, on a real stage with a real audience, at the end of those six weeks. At that point, I was ready to surrender my money and back out altogether… but I didn’t. And that decision changed my life.

Over the six week class, I learned to face a lot of ugly truths about myself. The instructor was a voluptuous woman that absolutely oozed confidence and sex appeal. In the beginning, I found myself feeling resentful of her. I had worked so hard to make my body worthy of a magazine cover and I still hated the way I looked. She, on the other hand, was much larger and clearly confident. Why did she deserve to feel beautiful but not me? I’m ashamed to look back on this toxic point of view, but I think it’s important to admit those feelings were very real for me.

woman in burlesque show wearing a black and red dress with feather boa
Meneldor Photography

I was forced to look at my body in the mirror for long periods of time while I learned to dance. Every time I met the gaze of my reflection I only saw the ‘flaws’ that still lingered despite my weight loss. Cellulite, fading stretch marks, hip dips, the way my torso looked like a rectangle instead of an hourglass. But as I got used to seeing myself and normalizing my body, I started to focus more on really throwing myself into the choreography. I am a very competitive person, so if I was going to do this whole performance thing I wanted to dazzle.

Being the high-achieving type, I also wanted to attend other burlesque shows before my big debut and learn from seasoned professionals. I came away realizing that the best performances were ones that focused on entertaining the audience- which meant charisma, charm, and confidence. Body size didn’t factor in at all. I was blown away by the variety of bodies I saw on stage, each one impossibly beautiful as they strutted across the stage to uproarious applause. Up until that point, I don’t think I had ever seen the female body in all its glory without photoshop, shape-wear, or plastic surgery. I often wonder that if I had gotten to see other women this way before if I would have been able to see myself that way too.

The day of my big debut finally arrived. My stage fright and low self-esteem made me a prime candidate for cold feet, but I was committed to seeing it through to the end. To say that I was a nervous wreck would be an understatement. Up until that point, my uniform was oversized sweaters and loose dresses. Now I was about to go out and strip down to pasties and a thong in front of hundreds of people.

My music began and through sheer force of will, I walked into the spotlight. I didn’t have a thought to spare about how I looked, or how other people perceived me. At that moment, for the first time in literally years, I didn’t care less where I fell on the attractiveness scale. Everything was singularly focused on my routine, my position on the stage, and most importantly not passing out. Muscle memory and survival instincts are what got me through that first performance of my burlesque career. When the music finally stopped and my body was laid bare for the world to see, I fell in love with myself for the first time.

This turned into a four year stint as a professional showgirl. Recovery from my eating disorder was not instantaneous or easy, but burlesque was an essential tool in my self-love journey.

woman in black and green corset top at burlesque show
Andrea Ramirez Maciolek

I learned to eat until I was full, not when I hit some arbitrary calorie goal. I started prioritizing movement I enjoy when it feels good, not scheduling punishing workouts. When I socialized, I focused on having a good time with my friends instead of making myself miserable avoiding temptations.

Over time, I was finally able to detach myself from the idea that my value as a person is tied to the size of my body in any way. My career flourished even as my waistline expanded. The more accolades I received for my skill and style, the less I cared about how much I jiggled. My weight may fluctuate, but my worth will not.

This gave me the confidence to accomplish so much more than just success as a burlesque performer. I went back to school and got my Bachelor’s degree, left an unhealthy marriage, and moved to another city by myself to start my career. None of that would have been possible for me without the self-worth I feel today.

woman in graduation cap and gown
Courtesy of Hannah

I am fat, but I am happier now than I have ever been. That’s a really hard pill for some people to swallow. My lifestyle is one that I enjoy and is sustainable for ME. I believe everyone deserves to cultivate a life that has value and purpose at whatever weight they feel most comfortable. Having been at least 80 pounds lighter than I am now, I can tell you that I wake up with more energy and zest for life than I ever did back then.

Unfortunately, getting naked on a stage is not the most practical way for every woman to start her own journey to body confidence. That’s why I decided to create a body-positive space on my social media. I know the power it holds for a woman to see someone her size (or larger) living their best life and loving themselves. I want to help others take that first step and un-learn all the toxic unhealthy rhetoric that is engrained in diet culture.

It shouldn’t be radical to believe that everyone is deserving of respect, regardless of whether or not they are at a certain weight range deemed acceptable by society. By being bold and unashamed in the very public eye of social media, I want to help normalize bodies like mine. I know it’s a cliche, but life is short and it feels ridiculous to spend it trying to meet a beauty standard that’s impossible without making it your full-time job.

woman smiling in checkered shirt
Courtesy of Hannah

In November 2020 I posted my first video on Tik Tok. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I joined the platform, but I have been blown away by the response to my content. Today I share my thoughts on body positivity, plus size style, and fat liberation with 130,000+ followers.

I’m also a passionate advocate for making fashion more size-inclusive. Many retailers, even those that cater exclusively to plus size women, don’t carry beyond a size 28. Being able to express yourself through your personal style is so important when it comes to building confidence and self-esteem. We all deserve to be able to find clothing in our size, our style, and our price range without having to literally beg brands to include us.

woman in magenta jumpsuit
Courtesy of Hannah

There is not a single road to success when it comes to body positivity. People ask me all the time how I learned to love myself. The answer isn’t easy, but here are the things I urge all women to do on their journey to unlearn diet culture:

–       If you find yourself comparing your body to someone else’s on social media, it’s time to unfollow them.

–       Wear clothes that fit your body. Don’t try to squeeze yourself into a size you’ve grown out of.

–       Look at yourself. Spend time every day seeing your body without a baggy shirt, without sucking in, and without shapewear.

–       Set realistic expectations. Changing your mindset won’t happen overnight and progress isn’t always a straight line.”

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