Self-love, self-acceptance, self-esteem. On seemingly every corner of social media, you see messages to love yourself. Loving yourself, as cliche as it sounds, is much easier said than done. It’s particularly hard for those who have been made to feel we are mountains of human beings. Learning to love me authentically is difficult in a world where society at large is encouraged create false versions of ourselves. If you log into any site, some corporation is advertising how you should be. They show you clean white teeth, tight tummies, and sculpted bodies – portraying an image of beauty that seems unattainable.
As a fat girl, my relationship with my body is complicated. Once filled with self-loathing, I felt I should only wear oversized shirts and sweatpants. I felt as invisible as I tried to make myself be. As I got older, I grew out of it though there are still some days where I feel like the chunky girl sitting alone in the cafeteria.
We scream blackgirlmagic and flood our feeds with glow up pics. Fat models are becoming more visible, but still, fit a certain archetype. I see people happy about transitioning into their better selves, but can’t help but wonder why one’s better self always appears thinner and filtered? What if one’s transformation is something inward? These are questions I have been asking for the last year as I make peace with my imperfect body.
Sweatpants and cafeteria blues
On days when I feel my least perfect, memories of me sitting alone in a cafeteria flood my mind. Being made to feel invisible, yet also feeling like the biggest thing in the room. I recall wanting to make myself disappear because I felt inadequate. Inhaling my stomach in the mirror as I compared myself to some model. Head filled with dreams of designer clothes and being loved by some man from a distant country. I learned that to be feminine and girly was to be white and pristine. Other times, like my fantasies, I wished to be cherished like a Disney Princess or celebrities that fit a Eurocentric ideal. I barely saw positive images of a body like mine growing up creating a sense of turmoil within. I seemed too heavy and imperfect to be molded into a sculpted princess. When you’re fat like me, you become increasingly aware of your body and the space you occupy. If I dressed sexily, I would garner even more unsolicited attention from male strangers. During my teenage years, I was encouraged to be modest by my Southern Christian upbringing. I was taught to cover myself and be ashamed of my curvy body. Everyone had an opinion on my shape. These contradictions circled my mind and caused me to doubt my place in the world as I tried to convince myself I was beautiful.
Social media and inadequacy
Thankfully, the teen angst phase disappeared by the time I reached college. During my years as a young adult, social media was taking off. I found myself on Tumblr seeking images similar to mine. I found blogs of fat black women discussing their concerns about not seeing fat girls that don’t look like supermodels. I began to see bodies like mine scrawled with stretch marks. I saw canvases of cellulite, dimples, and saggy skin. I reblogged them so they could gain visibility.
In a world that was quickly changing, I found many of these fuller size women creating space for themselves. They were daring, sexy and seen. They loudly loved themselves in a world that said they shouldn’t. During this time, we saw the rise of plus-size models such as Ashley Graham, Tabria Majors, and Nadia Aboulhosn. While I found them beautiful, I also noticed they were plus-sized in a way that was socially acceptable. Their curvy bodies reminded me that fat was only good if it was pear-shaped or hourglass. It was exhausting, but I still looked for representation of bodies like mine. I needed an area where I didn’t feel constrained as a young woman because white and thin body forms were still being pushed as the norm in media.
Where I’m at now, figure modeling
I’ve grown more confident over the years. I understand I cannot contort myself into what people want me to be. I did a lot of thinking about my self-worth and realized the world will always see an issue with my body. I am either too fat or too Black.
During my college years, I began figure modeling in my spare time. I had a few friends who did it in their spare time and one evening my friend needed someone to cover her shift last minute. The initial hesitancy of being naked in front of strangers quickly evaporated as each session passed. Seeing my likeness in oils, pastels and graphite expanded my perceptions of beauty. Looking at the different ways my body could be alluring made me realize many different things. I saw the way my nose turns up and the slope of my calves.
Learning to love my body is a constant battle. Some days I am content and other days I am not satisfied. Loving myself and honoring that means that I acknowledge the negative feelings that persist with my body image.
Even as an adult in the age of social media, it’s okay to be a work in process. I used to feel guilty for not adhering to the world’s standards. Coming into my own, meant I had to be the version of myself I wanted to be. The picture-perfect models were beautiful. However, I understand they are not exempt from the constant criticism of the world. The dreams I had growing up were just that – unattainable fantasizes. I am neither princess or a runway model. My legs are not willowy and my hair is not glossy. I thought beauty meant value, and to attain this value was to be perfect. I am no longer yearning to be cherished via unattainable standards. Not enough fat girls hear they are valuable. I am here to show they can affirm themselves on their own terms. This is for the fat girls who dare to love themselves wholly.
Brittney “Atari” Maddox is a writer from Richmond,Va. She is a current student at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she majors in Gender Studies. She advocates at The Black Minds Matter Project, a grass root iniative to educate Black people on issues regarding mental health . More of her work can be found at thoughts-by-atari.com.
Photo Credit: Jasymn Moore