I'm fat, and I'm not hiding anymore

Jul 13, 2016 at 10:00 a.m. ET
Image: Nichola Sarah/Moment/Getty Images

Nobody ever sets out to be body-negative. People don’t wake up in the morning and think, “You know what would be great today? Hating myself!” We get uncomfortable when other people talk down about themselves. We comfort our friends in their bleak moments. Yet I’m pretty sure we all still stand in dressing rooms and wonder why we even bother to buy new clothes instead of just making them from feed sacks. Surely someone still makes feed sacks, right? Maybe we should call a farmer. Burlap is the new black.

Overcoming body negativity has been a significant challenge in my life. I’m fat. I use the term fat not to sound self-deprecating but because fat is a descriptor of my body type. Like other fat activists, I’m working to reclaim the word from its negative connotations. Now, the thing about being fat is that it’s kind of hard to hide, but we fat people are supposed to try to hide it — wear black or vertical stripes, long pants instead of shorts, shirts with sleeves, baggy dresses, one-piece bathing suits with cover-ups. And we’re supposed to hide the word “fat” as well — self-identify as fluffy, squishy, chunky, chubby, curvy or big-boned.

And this “hide yourself” message isn’t limited to fat people. Hide your cellulite. Dye your graying hair. You’re wearing that at your age? Makeup would make you look younger. The unfortunate truth, and one I’m breaking no new ground by saying here, is that our consumer culture depends on our insecurities. Not only are we supposed to be insecure, but we’re also supposed to try to tear other women down and see them as competition.

Here's what we should do instead:

Compliment other women. Share truthful, legitimate compliments about another woman’s appearance. Yes, of course, we should continue to compliment people on more than appearances — and this doesn’t replace that — but we’re talking about body positivity here. If you love a stranger’s outfit or shoes or eyeliner or hair color, tell her.

Spend more time naked. Not in public, mind you, but at home, make time to hang around naked. Get used to the sight of your own naked body. When you aren’t constantly avoiding your body, hiding from mirrors and throwing away pictures of yourself, something pretty incredible happens: You get used to yourself. You learn to recognize yourself and accept yourself for all your flaws and imperfections and beauty, too.

Wear something daring. Defy some fashion rules. Wear a crop top, short shorts, a two-piece bathing suit, horizontal stripes, a dress that shows the outline of your belly. If an outfit makes you feel sexy, wear it, even if it’s different than something you might normally choose. I just bought my first fatkini this summer, and I am excited to rock it out on the beach. Well, also terrified, but mostly excited.

Claim ownership of your body. Have you always wanted a tattoo? A piercing? Hair of a different color? Remind yourself that your body is yours by acting on your own desires for yourself. You may be limited somewhat here by your career, but you still have some options. Do you love makeup or hate it? Like coloring your grays or want to let them grow out? How do you feel about your body hair and its presence and/or removal? It might be challenging to get past the internal monologue about what you’re supposed to do and what you want to do, but give yourself time to figure it out. Experiment.

Connect with your sexuality. I’m an erotic romance novelist, so sexuality is pretty much my job, but I’ve been told most people do not think about sex nearly as much as I do. I would love to see that change! Read some erotic romance. Buy some lingerie. Reconnect with your inner sexy self. And if you’re asexual, ignore this tip entirely because you do not need to be sexual to be body-positive.

Change your media input. If the media you consume is trying to make you feel bad about yourself, change that media. Read body-positive magazines and body-positive blogs. Read books that make you feel good about yourself and about the possibility of happiness in life. If you really like tabloids and magazines that sometimes get a little body-shamey, no worries. Consume extra good stuff to compensate.

Practice good self-care. Self-care looks different for different people. If you’re able to be active, do so. As much as possible, eat foods that make you feel good — sometimes long-term feeling good, but sometimes in-the-moment feeling good, too. Cultivate time for your hobbies. You can’t pour from an empty pitcher, so make sure you replenish your own needs before giving everything to others.

Self-love is a journey, and there are good days and bad days. No idea here is revolutionary. But if we all practice body positivity, building up rather than tearing down, that would be revolutionary indeed.

About the author: Elia Winters holds a degree in English literature and teaches at a small rural high school where she runs too many extracurricular activities. She balances her love of the outdoors with a bottomless well of geekiness. In her spare time, she is equally likely to be found skiing, camping, playing tabletop games or watching Doctor Who. A writer all her life, Winters likes to dabble in many genres, but erotic romance has been one of her favorites since she first began sneaking her mother’s romance novels. She currently lives in New England with her loving husband and their odd assortment of pets. Find out more at EliaWinters.com, and follow her on Twitter @EliaWinters.