Originally published on The Huffington Post on October 14, 2015
I feel like crying every time I see an overweight child.
This is a weird reaction, especially as someone who's currently walking the journey of a Plus Size model--I believe that people should feel beautiful, happy, and loved in their bodies regardless of size. I encourage myself and others to celebrate their bodies, no matter what kind of shape they're in. So why should I feel sad when I see a child who is overweight?
I remember vividly my own feelings of unworthiness, loneliness, and rejection from growing up as a "fatso." I've touched on this in previous posts, such as my flagship post, "Confessions of a Recovering Fat Kid." I learned from an early age that being overweight meant that you weren't loveable, and these feelings have played a big part in shaping my behavior as an adult.
Being overweight or fat or big-boned or Plus Size (whatever term you want to apply to it) can be a purely physical issue, but it can also be due to a combination of learned emotional and behavioral patterns. For me as a child, weight and size were never NOT part of the conversation.
From a very early age, even three or four years old, I remember others commenting on my weight and my eating habits. In school, I endured relentless teasing about my size. When I wasn't being teased, I was being singled out due to my size in other ways, such as well-meaning coaches and teachers who would assign different expectations to me than my peers. They expected me to be able to perform better and be tougher than the other, more diminutive girls around me, because I was physically bigger, and outspoken to boot. I wanted to be normal, but as a born extrovert, I also wanted to express myself, which proved to be a lethal and self-defeating combination.
The attention I was receiving, sometimes invited and sometimes thrust upon me, just intensified my feelings of discomfort in my own skin. And let's not overlook my very unfortunate "Save the Whales" tee-shirt wearing phase, which just gave ammunition to some of my tormenters. Why couldn't I have wanted to save the gazelles?
These childhood experiences left me feeling unworthy, unloved, and like an outsider. Those feelings are still with me as an adult woman, even one who is receiving constant validation that I'm beautiful, loved, and that I belong because of my profession. Maybe that's why every time I see an overweight child, especially a little girl, I want to cry.
I want to tell her that she's beautiful, even if she's bigger than the children around her. I want to tell her that if she is more interested in picking flowers on the soccer field than going after the ball, she can still do great things in the world. I want to tell her that even though the people around her reach for food for comfort, she can learn to comfort herself in other ways. Or if the people around her restrict their eating and are striving to be thinner in order to gain acceptance, it doesn't mean she's unworthy if she just wants to remain just as she is.
I want to tell her that people do love her and will love her no matter what size she is, if she can be true to herself and not chase acceptance from the wrong people. I want to tell her that all children can be cruel and hurt each other's feelings--so don't take those fatso comments to heart. I want to tell her that she has the power to love herself and everyone around her, regardless of what's happening or how she's being treated at the time. And that deep down, they don't mean any harm and want her to succeed, even if they don't always act that way. I want to tell her that she should keep trying to express herself, even when her peers are trying their hardest to assimilate, because one day it will be what makes her extraordinary.
Typically, I try to make my posts about taking positive action or sharing an inspiring truth that I've discovered in my own life. But this post isn't either of those. In this post, I just really want to share the truth of the sadness that I carry with me, and how it shows up in my life. I hope that little girls will get to grow up in a kinder world, and have more body positivity present in their lives as a result of body advocates like Ashley Graham stepping into the spotlight recently. But also, if there's anyone out there who feels the way that I do, whether because of their bodies or for any other reason, I want them to know that those things that were said are not the truth about them and that it's okay to feel this way.
Maybe the truth is that we all carry some kind of sadness with us, for whatever reason, and that we should keep that in mind and be a little kinder to one another as we move through the world together. Because we're all doing the best we can and inside of each of us, there is a little child who just wants to feel loved.