I was in my denim shorts the first time I got called thick. It was meant as a compliment. Because when you say thick, you’re supposed to think of bootylicious Beyoncé, athletic Serena, supermodel Ashley Graham, and Rihanna circa 2017. But when I looked in the mirror, I resembled none of those women. Not even close.
Thick. The word stung. I felt the corners of my lips attempt a fake smile as chains with bricks tied to the bottom made every effort to pull them down. Why did a word meant to pick me up just knock me to the ground?
To me, thick was an exception in my internal dialogue. It was the linking for in “you’re pretty for a fat girl.” The if in “you’d be pretty if you had smaller thighs.” The when in “you’ll look beautiful when your stomach shrinks.”
It was the link between everything wrong about me and the potential for everything good.
I stopped wearing shorts after that. I chose to invest in dresses because they covered the worst parts of me. They hid the width of my waist, the girth of my thighs, the lack of form in my stomach. I stopped wearing blue jeans because black was more slimming. I gave up on crop tops unless I didn’t eat past seven the night before and did 50 crunches before bed. I tied shirts around my waist to distract from my hips. People always say clothes are a way to express yourself; they’re also handy for hiding.
Thick. The word stung. Why did a word meant to pick me up just knock me to the ground?
Turns out, once you count one flaw, you count them all. Being thick started out as an excuse to criticize the fat on my body, but thickness was just a gateway to hating my short hair, my acne-prone skin, my big teeth, my wide feet, my weird nipples, my peach fuzz, my eyebrows…myself. I hated myself.
I used to make page-long lists of all the reasons I was going to lose weight. I wanted to shop without rules and guidelines. I wanted to strut from my sand-covered towel to the water in a bikini. I wanted to be noticed. I wanted to have sex without hiding myself. I wanted to fit in my boyfriend’s family. I wanted to stop sucking in my stomach when my boyfriend spooned me. I wanted to take pictures without thinking about angles and poses and filters that flattered me best. I wanted to stop tying jackets around my waist when I didn’t need a jacket and wearing sweaters when I wasn’t cold. I wanted to wear the freaking denim shorts.
I’d read those lists and I’d tell myself: By any means necessary. I hovered over the toilet as I shoved my fingers down my throat praying not to give up after a few gags. I stole my mom’s weight loss pills from her medicine cabinet. I suffered morning after morning forcing apple cider vinegar down my throat. At one point I even tried laxatives.
Turns out, once you count one flaw, you count them all. Thickness was a gateway to hating my short hair, my acne-prone skin, my big teeth, my wide feet, my weird nipples, my peach fuzz, my eyebrows…myself. I hated myself.
But everything I tried, I eventually quit. And I didn’t understand it. I didn’t understand how I could want something so bad and not fight for it. But the truth was that it was my body’s way of giving me a fine bitch-slap across the face. Red marks and all. My body didn’t want it. My body was fine. I was the one who wasn’t fine.
Why was I trying to make “thick” happen?
Why was I trying to look like Beyoncé knowing I don’t care about her music? Why was I trying to look like Serena knowing I don’t like sports? Why was I trying to look like Ashley Graham when I had no desire to be a supermodel? Why was I trying to look like Rihanna? I know the words to, maybe, four of her songs.
And it hit me. These women, they were beautiful. No question. They were talented. No question. But did I want to be them? No. I wanted to be me. But with “thick” buzzing in my ears, I felt I had to claim it. I had to turn the exception into the rule. I wanted thick to mean for me what it did for those women.
But that was part of the problem. I only saw myself in comparison to or in relation to those women. I wasn’t a celebrity with tons of money and teams of people making me look good and sponsoring me to use their flat tummy teas and waist trimmers. I wasn’t one of those girls who only wears athletic clothes and eats salad every meal. I wasn’t obsessed with the gym or with kale or whatever the latest milk craze is (last time I checked, it was almond). I wasn’t them. But I wasn’t the body positive girls in the Aerie and Dove ads, either, whose self-confidence is through the roof. And I wasn’t clueless about my health and wallowing in sadness. I was just—I am just—figuring it out.
My body was always a thing that just kind of exists. I knew it was there, but I didn’t think about it until something gave me a reminder to hate it, whether it was those damn shorts or the first time a boy wanted to undress me or a new clothing trend or someone’s social media post. My relationship with my body was more complicated than any relationship I’d have with a man could ever be. There were high points full of selfies and compliments and low points made of shapeless clothing, self-doubt, and disregard for every nice thing thrown my way.
I wanted to take pictures without thinking about angles and poses and filters that flattered me best. I wanted to wear the freaking denim shorts.
During those lows I sought nature. I found my happiness in the outdoors. I took comfort in long walks and talks with the trees. In nature, it didn’t feel like I had to impress anybody. Not even myself. I just had to be present and accept what was present.
So when my boyfriend and I decided to endure a treacherous hike in the Smoky Mountains, I didn’t mind wearing my shorts. I didn’t mind wearing my muscle shirt. I was present. (Forgive me for all this hippie nature talk, but spend enough time in nature, you will find yourself becoming hippie-like.)
There were times our breath was so heavy we had to pause and rest. There were times I couldn’t hear his breath because mine was so loud. There were times I promised myself that this would be my wakeup call to start stretching before spontaneous, treacherous hikes. I promised myself I’d eat more salad so that I’d have more energy. I’d start running again. I’d drink a nasty kale smoothie. Anything to make this hike easier.
But then we got to the top. Well, what we thought was the top. We saw the peaks of the most beautiful mountains centered in this panoramic mountain view. We had to see it. So we climbed on all fours to the very peak and we sat. Breathing. Not thinking, not worrying, not caring, just breathing. The world was still. It was silent. It was the most serene moment of my entire life.
On our way down, I thought to myself: I just did that. My thick body just climbed up a mountain. From the very bottom to the tippy top. These thighs led me up a mountain. This stomach nourished me with water so I could keep going. This thick-ass body let me see the world. I did that. Thick did that. And it did it without weight loss pills and protein shakes and apple cider vinegar and definitely without laxatives. It did it without a quick fix. Without a Serena Williams or Beyoncé body. My body did that. In fact, my body does things for me all the time.
I’m sorry to the legs I tormented with shame before I thanked them trekking me up mountains.
I’m sorry to the hips I hid with long sweaters before I thanked them for the width that will one day allow me to carry and grow life.
I’m sorry to the stomach I called fat before I thanked it for being hollow enough to make room for the food that will nourish my life and fuel my days.
I’m sorry to the feet I mocked for being too wide before I thanked them for hitting the pedals of my car that will take me to the world.
I’m sorry to the teeth I covered with closed smiles before I thanked them for the candid photos of laughter where the pearly whites make the picture.
I’m sorry to the skin I punished for not clearing before I thanked it for telling me when I’m too stressed out.
I’m sorry to the body I called thick, before I knew that thick wasn’t all that bad.