I was keenly aware that I was overweight by the time I was seven years old. At family gatherings, instead of being asked about school, I’d be asked how much I weighed. Long before I learned about body positivity, I naively believed that as a fat person, I could never be beautiful, talented, or athletic. I was conditioned to believe that I needed to be ashamed of my body and the more I weighed, the less I was worth.
When I was 19, a stranger called me “fatso” and that moment sparked the beginning of my first real attempt to diet and exercise. The more weight I lost, the more praise would come pouring in. It was intoxicating to see the number on the scale drop and by 20 years old, I had developed a full-on eating disorder. Even at my lowest weight, I was still more than 20 pounds from a “healthy” BMI. But weighing myself and seeing a lower number made me feel vindication towards the people who shamed me for simply existing in a fat body. I was cheered throughout my time with an eating disorder instead of receiving help or support because I didn’t “look” like I had one.
Breaking down the walls
After five years of living with my secret, I finally grew frustrated with the façade my life had become. I stopped dieting and exercising completely; I was lost without the structure and control I thought my eating disorder had given me. In this frustration, I sought help for my illness online and discovered the body positivity movement. The mission of the movement was simple: a message to the world that a person’s value was not in the size, shape, height or gender of their body. That everybody is beautiful, valued and worthy of the same love and respect regardless of our physical differences.
Sports companies, including adidas, joined in the body positivity movement by introducing inclusive sizing – creating the same fashionable options for all sizes, from 00 to 30 and beyond. Having the same options as anyone else when it came to activewear made me feel confident and allowed me to try something new: exercising to be healthy, instead of compulsively exercising just to lose weight or burn calories. That confidence fueled me to join an incredible gym filled with a community of supportive women. I started running again and found a passion for yoga. In yoga, I could focus solely on myself. For once, I didn’t worry about how I looked or if my body had the support it needed, because I finally had sports bras and leggings that were designed with all bodies in mind.
Finding my strength
For nearly two years, I never stepped on a scale. Practicing body positivity made me feel like a new woman and I was more at peace than I’d ever been. That peace gave me the courage to take a leap of faith and begin a new life in a new city, where I gained a wonderful new job with adidas. I traveled the world and got engaged to my now-husband. I wore whatever I wanted, and I felt incredible in my body. I felt strong. I felt flexible. I felt healthy. I felt beautiful. And that was all that mattered to me.
Healing my mind didn’t happen overnight, but it was worth the effort. Later, my body asked for help, too. A fatty liver, hypertension and chronic pain are silent killers, and they could lead to death if I didn’t treat them.
So, I chose to listen to my body, and I reached out to a doctor and asked for help. It was then that I learned that most of my ailments could be alleviated with weight loss. With that, I set out on my new mission: to lose weight in a way that was healthy and sustainable, working closely with my doctor to ensure my disordered eating habits didn’t creep back in. I worked with a physical therapist, a dietician and a nutritionist. With the help of my healthcare providers and continued practice of holistic body positivity, I lost 25 pounds – but it wasn’t enough to alleviate my health issues. It was during this time that I learned weight loss isn’t always as simple as calories in and calories out. Our bodies are unique. Made up of hormones that regulate us. But my hormones, after years of disordered eating and other untreated health issues, were completely out of whack.
The next option for my course of treatment seemed extreme and unfathomable: undergoing a metabolic surgery known as vertical sleeve gastrectomy. The surgery changes chemicals in the body by removing most of the stomach, including the part that produces ghrelin and leptin, hormones that regulate a person’s appetite and energy balance. When this topic arose, I was conflicted. I’d spent years learning about body positivity and I’d spent nearly my entire life in a fat body. I was afraid of the unknown world that may come with existing in a smaller body. But I knew that on the other side of that fear was something even bigger: freedom.
A new beginning
On December 2, 2020, I woke up in a hospital bed with 80% of my stomach permanently removed. For nearly a month, I had no solid foods. For the rest of my life, I will require protein shakes, vitamin supplements and frequent visits to the doctor. But it is a small price to pay for something that is absolutely priceless: a longer and fuller life.
I’m able to lean into my yoga practice, exploring flows, poses and transitions that once seemed out of reach. The alleviation of physical symptoms provided an opportunity for me to direct more energy to other areas of my life and allowed me to embrace body positivity in a new way. Just three months after surgery, I was even promoted at work and given more responsibility.
I don’t attribute these wins to the weight I’ve lost, but rather the life I’ve gained by making myself a priority. And when I look back to that seven-year-old girl I was before, I have a different view: I see a survivor. A beautiful, talented and athletic survivor. Someone who harnessed shame and used it to become the woman she was meant to be.