‘My aunt said, ‘I hope you grow up and not sideways.’ I was the ‘fat kid’ and my father was disgusted with me.’: Woman learns to embrace plus-size body, ‘Fat is not a dirty word’

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“While I was growing up in the 90’s, fat was stigmatized to the point where it seemed to be the worst possible trait a person could have. In movies and on television, fat people were never the heroes or the love interests. Especially not fat women; men were given the occasional pass. For the most part, fat people were the funny sidekick or nutty relative, and hardly did anything important in their roles. Never taken seriously, it seemed the fat person was always the punchline to an inside joke they weren’t aware of. I was surrounded by this stigma.

There were no fat models or celebrities in the magazines geared toward my age group. None of the musicians I liked sang about fat girls. Everyone seemed to be obsessed with weight and, as a chubby child, I internalized this. Back then, I never questioned why things were the way they were. I guess I just accepted that I would never be valued as much as a fit person. It took me until my late 20’s to finally look that stigma in the face and see the lie.

I didn’t realize I was ‘the fat kid’ until 5th grade when a classmate so helpfully pointed it out to me. That’s when my carefree childhood ended. From that time on, I was constantly thinking about my body and how ugly and unlovable it made me. It always played on a loop in the back of my mind. And, as an easy target, school bullies loved to remind me of how worthless I was, utilizing the word ‘fat’ as a weapon laced with poison that would seep into my skin and linger. I couldn’t even find peace from the shame at home; my mother seemed obsessed with her weight, having gained it after birthing three children, and her self-hate only perpetuated my own.

Young girl stands outside with grandmother and three siblings
Courtesy of Nicki Guerra

One of my aunts told me she hoped I ‘grew up and not sideways’ as I got older. And my father seemed constantly disgusted with me, his fat child, as if I had done something unforgiveable. There was no escape. I was a bad, fat person, and I was constantly reminded of it.

I became sad and shy, ashamed of myself. As the years passed and I came into my teens, I withdrew more. Completely uncomfortable in my own body, I used anger to hide my sadness. I wanted to be like everyone else. I wanted to date and go to parties. I wanted to play a sport and be in the school play, but I held myself back and pretended not to care about any of those things. My mind became a very, very dark place.

Woman who struggled with her weight stands smiling in front of race track with two friends
Courtesy of Nicki Guerra

In 2004, high school finally ended and I (just barely) graduated. After what seemed like six thousand years of vacillating between boredom and abject torture with no in-between, I was free. And then I did nothing.

Teen who was self conscious about her weight smiles
Courtesy of Nicki Guerra

I just existed. It didn’t feel worth the effort to find something to do, and my insurmountable depression made it extremely difficult to try. I didn’t go to college, and for about a year I didn’t get a job either. Eventually, I did get a job. Once I started working, I was forced from my shell a little bit. It was empowering and gave me a small sense of purpose. I started to find my way in the world. However, I was still plagued by my negative body image. My solution? Find a man to validate me.

Now, I wasn’t cognizant of this ‘solution.’ This was the second powerful and toxic thing that society taught me in my youth. That I will be worth something if I can find a man to validate me. That if I get married and make babies then I can justify my existence. Doesn’t that sound messed up? Well, that’s because it is.

Alas, armed with nothing but this toxic notion and my self-loathing, I began the desperate search for The One. But every romance failed and I kept on going, determined to reach my goal, until I landed in an abusive relationship. I was so tunnel-visioned that I ignored red flags and moved in with this scumbag. Thankfully, less than a year later, I got out of that and landed on my feet. Safe and secure once again, I was so grateful and completely shaken. I was so rattled that I felt the need to examine how in the hell I ended up in that situation so that it would NEVER happen again. I took a good, hard look at myself and found some answers.

While I don’t take the blame for the horrible things that my ex did, I do take responsibility for how I got to such a low point. After taking a step back and questioning everything I thought I wanted, I realized two things: 1, I don’t really want those things, I just thought I did because I was under the impression that they would make me feel better about myself, and 2, I am not the only person who has been brainwashed this way. Enlightened and, to be honest, a bit mind-blown by this discovery, I began a new journey – one of strength, independence, and self-love.

My journey has luckily coincided with the epic movements occurring around the world that teach body positivity and healthier mindsets, respect of self and of others. It’s truly a beautiful time to be learning how to love myself as-is, fat and all, along with so many others. There is an overwhelming amount of support available at this point, and I see things changing for the better. I see that stigma fading away and being replaced by love, acceptance, and inclusion. I also see my sister taking an active role in teaching her young daughter to respect her body. I see my friends enjoying all life has to offer without guilt. I see myself shamelessly showing up to the beach in skimpy swimwear and enjoying my time there without worrying about what others might think. It’s pretty freakin’ cool, and I’m pretty freakin’ proud of us.

I have learned that fat is not a dirty word. It’s just a physical descriptor and cannot be used to describe one’s character. It’s not a personality flaw and is not necessarily an indicator of health status. Most importantly, fat does not render a person unworthy of love and respect. My body is the vessel that carries me through this life, regardless of how it looks or how much it weighs. It is my home, and in order to be truly happy, I must appreciate it. The most beautiful thing a person can be is happy. So enjoy life, indulge a little – laugh when something is funny, try new foods, have the sex (safely!!), wear the clothes you like (not the ones you hide in), love yourself and others unconditionally, and don’t hold back.”

Woman who has struggled with her weight takes selfie in front of pool at home
Courtesy of Nicki Guerra

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Nicki Guerra of Massachusetts. You can follow her on Instagram here. Submit your story here, and be sure to subscribe to our best stories.

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