‘People yelled from their cars, ‘Fatty!’ It was clear I was the ‘fat one.’ I thought if I lost weight, the bullying would stop.’: Woman shares self-love journey, ‘I deserve love at any size’

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Trigger Warning: This story contains mention of eating disorders that may be triggering to some.

“My first memory of ‘feeling fat’ was when I was 6 years old. I was too young to understand this term fully but old enough to understand my body was different. I was getting ready to go to the local pool with a friend from school. She put on her bikini and I put on mine. I saw myself in the mirror and started to cry. My stomach stuck out when hers was flat. I was soft in places she wasn’t. My body jiggled when hers didn’t move. I felt fat for the first time.

When I was 7, my grandmother asked when I was going to lose some weight. I went on my first ‘diet’ at 8 years old after walking home and people yelling from their cars ‘Fatty’ on multiple occasions. By 9, it was clear I was ‘the fat friend’ when I found a note the other kids were passing in class. I was ‘Sarah the fat one,’ and the butt of the joke.

Courtesy of Sarah Kay

At 10, I joined my first gym where I could only do classes with my mum. I thought if I lost weight, people would like me and the bullying would stop. It didn’t. My eating disorder was in full swing by the age of 11. Everyone kept complimenting me on losing my ‘puppy fat,’ not realizing I lost this weight was from an eating disorder. By 12, I was secretly exercising at night, restricting food, and also binge eating when I was sad. While I was slimmer than I previously was, I never looked like a had an eating disorder. That’s the thing about eating disorders, though. You can’t actually tell someone has one by looking at them.

Navigating high school and puberty was hard enough at the best of times, let alone with the weight of society’s expectations on your shoulders. I started a new high school where I didn’t know anyone, which meant it was a chance to reinvent myself. My only point of reference was that scene in Mean Girls where they explained the different cliques in the cafeteria, which was a little too accurate to my high school. Older girls shared tips on how to lose weight quickly. I was introduced to diet pills, skinny teas, purging, calorie counting, and extreme exercise. Everyone’s body was changing and suddenly how we looked and what other people thought of us became extremely important.

Courtesy of Sarah Kay

With the rise of the internet, home was no longer a safe place. Cyberbullying and rabbit holes of Tumblr ‘thinspo’ became a daily occurrence wearing away an already fragile self-esteem. Social media became a new way to compare yourself to others. Another place where you saw other people happier, skinnier, richer than you. When Myspace had a top eight friends list or when MSN was king, all of a sudden, we had to project this image of our best selves 24/7. We had highlight reels before we even knew what highlight reels were! I’ve lost count of the number of times I got a ‘revenge body’ or the number of diets I’ve been on to try and show people how much better I was going now I was skinnier. Uploading photos where I looked happy and skinner despite being lost in the depths of depression. It was more important to be attractive and shrink yourself than it was to be happy or healthy.

As I neared the end of my teenage years, I was exhausted, mentally and physically, from trying to fit these unrealistic beauty standards. After recovering from one eating disorder, I developed another. Diets don’t heal our relationship with food. They are a business profiting off our insecurities. Diets don’t work. If they did, there would be no fat people. There are so many contributing factors that can affect someone’s body that only addressing food and exercise is bound to fail. I started to realize I needed to heal emotionally to rebuild my relationship with my body.

Courtesy of Sarah Kay

My whole life, I have had this inherent feeling being fat is the worst thing you could be. That it’s something to feel ashamed about, something to be hidden. Before bullying at school, before strangers yelled names at me. Before my eating disorders took hold of my life, I believed being fat was bad and something I should avoid at all costs. But how did I come to this belief? How could I feel this so young?

From magazines to how we speak about ourselves to how we speak to others perpetuate the stereotypes about being fat in our society. ‘Fat people are lazy. Fat people are unhealthy. Fat people couldn’t possibly be happy or loved. Fat people don’t love themselves let alone people love them.’ Discrimination against fat people is still rampant in our society when no one should be discriminated against or attacked for how they look. You do not need to be attracted to someone to respect them. You do not need to agree with someone’s life choices to treat them with basic human decency.

Courtesy of Sarah Kay

I started questioning my beliefs I held about the word ‘fat.’ Questioning where I got this notion that to be fat is to be unlovable, to be less than smaller bodies, to be unworthy. Questioning why I valued thinness over happiness. Why I only saw one type of body represented in the media. Researching about diet culture and how integrated it is in our society made me more determined to change. Learning the history of the body positive moment and how its roots are from marginalized people of color. Reading about the incredible people before me who walked so I could run. Seeing Tess Holiday and Ashley Graham being unapologetically themselves in an industry that is opposed to everything they stand for.

After unraveling years of internalized fat-phobia and beauty standards, I was able to rebuild myself on a stronger foundation. I finally understood health looks different on everyone. Healthy to you could be unhealthy to someone else. You could eat and work out the exact same as someone and your body would still look different. It’s okay to have different priorities to others and I don’t need to explain to anyone my choices.

Courtesy of Sarah Kay

Slowly I began accepting I deserved love, respect, and happiness, no matter what size I was. My body will change and fluctuate and that’s okay! Even if I overeat one day, I still deserve to eat the next day. Food has no moral compass. There are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods, but foods that fuel our bodies differently. We don’t need to earn food by working off its calories. No one will be at my funeral talking about what a great thigh gap I had or how much weight I lost. I want to be remembered for my kindness and achievements, not the body I lived in. Most importantly, anyone who loved me did so unconditionally, not only if my body looked a certain way.

Courtesy of Sarah Kay

I questioned my self-talk and replaced it with things I would say to my best friend. I need to treat my body like it was my friend after years of mistreating it. My body still embraced me with open arms. I started to be kind to myself in ways I never had before. Moving my body because I  want to and enjoy it not to work off food or lose weight. Eating to nourish my body and cravings not restricting and counting calories.

I focused on loving the person I was on the inside until, without realizing, I started to love who I was on the outside as well. Every scar, stretchmark, hair, freckles are just a brushstroke on a work of art.

Courtesy of Sarah Kay

The journey started by unfollowing anyone who made me feel bad about my body. I created an Instagram to keep myself accountable and celebrate my wins, no matter how small. I wanted to be the person I wish I had growing up. I want to challenge the way people see themselves and others.

Courtesy of Sarah Kay

I started making videos about self-love, body image, and my journey. This let me connect with people all over the world! I created a video series where I would dress up as Disney Princesses if they were a size 16, have stretch marks, cellulite, and all other lumps and bumps. Fat people aren’t villains or there for comic relief. They can be the main character of the story and have love interests. You don’t need a fairy godmother to make you beautiful and worthy of love. You already are. The only way to dismantle these unrealistic expectations is to be the change you want to see. Be the person you wish you had growing up.

Courtesy of Sarah Kay

I want to show people even though it can feel like you are alone in these thoughts and feelings, there are so many of us on the exact same journey right beside them.”

Courtesy of Sarah Kay

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Sarah Kay. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more stories about self love journeys here: 

‘Mom! You have gray hair!’ I’d pluck them. I believed my best days had passed and felt rooted in shame.’: Woman goes on self-love journey, ‘My beauty is more than my hair’

‘I’d hold my breasts in each hand. ‘Who would I be without these?’: Woman opens up about her journey to self-love, ‘My body wasn’t a temple. I definitely didn’t treat it like one.’

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