On Being Beautiful

For as long as I can remember, I was cognizant of the fact I was bigger than most girls my age. I was soaring above my classmates in height by third grade and unable to shop at my peers’ favorite stores like Limited Too by fifth grade. I hit puberty early too, developing curves that no one else had. The first time I went into a plus size store I was in sixth grade. I was fitting in some mainstream stores, but already teetering on the edge. 5'7" and size 14, which ten years ago was far less commonly found on shelves.

My parents always told me that I was beautiful, but my mother often insisted I could be more beautiful. She always struggled with her weight, finally becoming her ideal self when I was eight or nine. By the time my weight was becoming a problem, hers was creeping back up, too. We joined Weight Watchers together when I was twelve, weighing in on Saturday mornings with empty stomachs and immediately heading to the bagel shop next store afterwards for scooped out bagels with low-fat cream cheese. I remember liking spending that time with my mother and believing that this would change my habits, solidify a new and “healthy” version of me.

I think I went on and off Weight Watchers six times between middle school and high school, sometimes while actively attending meetings, and other times just trying to manage the point system on my own. I would be successful for three or four months, but then fall back into old habits. It was too easy to fall off the wagon surrounded by friends with fast metabolisms, eating heaping baskets of fries and drowning them down with soda without real and continued support at home.

I hated looking at myself. I’d stare in the mirror and point out the things that I liked: a perfectly small nose, blonde hair that wasn’t too blonde. Soon I’d be drowning in the features I detested: rolls everywhere, bumpy legs, arms that had wings of shaking fat. I’d mentally beat myself up on a regular basis, sending myself into depressions that would last for weeks.

When I entered college, I was the heaviest I’ve ever been. I weighed a number I’m too ashamed to admit to myself even now, because I can’t believe it was so high. I can’t believe I let myself get so out of control.

Over time, I’ve come to terms with my body. It took a lot of work, a lot of hours standing in front of a mirror and focusing on what I like about myself. Sure, there are things that I’d like to change. I’d like to be healthier, I’d like to fit into the same clothing stores where my friends shop. But I feel confident in my own skin.

When I moved to New York I started seeing an OBGYN, recommended to me by a family member, who gave me the same speech I’ve heard my whole life about losing weight. But it took a turn in a direction I never expected.

“You know, if you lost weight you could be attractive like your aunt is.”

I was in shock. First of all, as a doctor (particularly a male doctor), you should not insinuate to your patient that she isn’t pretty. You are supposed to be looking out for your patients, guiding us for the best interest for our health. How is demoralizing a patient, attacking her on a superficial level, a way to inspire change?

He may as well have been a middle school boy, teasing me because of my weight. That’s no way to influence me to make healthy decisions or change my lifestyle.

Scare me into thinking I have cancer. Scare me into thinking I’ll get diabetes tomorrow. If anything, I’ll respond to those with actual change in my life style and in my diet. Telling me I’m not pretty just makes me scoff.

At the end of the day, I refuse to care about anyone else’s definition of beauty. What matters is what happens when I pass a mirror and turn to exam my body. I put on my best Ryan Gosling face and say to myself, “hey girl, you really are beautiful.”