Beautiful: An open apology from a former weight loss consultant

I read something stunning yesterday: An Open Apology to All of My Weight Loss Clients.

In it, a former weight loss consultant discusses how she used to love her former job. Moreover, she loved her clients. She was passionate about what she was doing because she believed she was helping people.

But then the reality of the situation set in. She was being asked to counsel thin clients on how to lose weight they didn’t need to lose (inasmuch as anyone needs to lose weight, really). She assigned a high school athlete a 1500-calorie-per-day diet because the student’s mother wanted her little girl to lose weight.

1500 calories. A growing teenage girl. An athlete.

The consultant (Your Fairy Angel) saw the diets fail. She felt negative effects of the diet herself, citing thyroid, mood, and digestion problems. She saw her clients walk away with eating disorders. She came to help — she genuinely cared — and the system wronged both her and her clients:

I am sorry because many of you walked in healthy and walked out with disordered eating, disordered body image, and the feeling that you were a “failure.” None of you ever failed. Ever. I failed you. The weight loss company failed you. Our society is failing you.

This is a really powerful piece, and I strongly recommend you read it — especially if you’re trapped in the dieting cycle yourself.

I could have been one of her clients. Fuck, I was a high school athlete (martial artist) who ate a goddamn 1400-calorie-a-day diet. If not 1200. If not less, because I always rounded up.

Until I injured myself. And then I became the grounded high school binger/purger.

Never again.

Thank you, Your Fairy Angel, for your strength and compassion. Your clients deserved better, and you deserved better.

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I’m genuinely surprised when people think I shouldn’t think I’m pretty

Looked in the mirror; saw myself

This happens almost every day.

Let’s get this out of the way — I’m not a model. I’m too short (5’3’’), I’m pretty fleshy in a lot of areas, I have a big old bone structure (wide shoulders, giant rib cage, size 10 feet, big man hands). I have an unambiguously Italian nose, short, crazy hair, and small boobs. I also have a bunch of those “bulky” muscles so many women seem keen to avoid — especially in my traps and my legs.

I think I’m gorgeous.

That’s not some agenda in me talking. That’s not the body image activist in me talking. That’s actually how I genuinely feel. I look in the mirror and feel grateful for looking the way I do. When my fiance tells me I’m hot, I believe him readily.

It’s not just because I have big, round green eyes that I adore (though I do). It’s not just my high, sharp cheekbones, my cute chin, my wide smile, all the features I have that I know are considered to be classically, conventionally attractive.

It’s my big nose, complete with the Roman bump (I love my nose so much I got it pierced, because I want people to pay more attention to it). I love my big hands — love how they wrap around my fiance’s small ones so easily, span the width of his shoulder blades when I massage his back. I love the fat veins that ripple across my hands, hell, I even love my hairy knuckles, and I especially love how these big, capable hands look against a piano.

I love the way my triceps, housed in otherwise fat upper arms, can be seen through some of my sleeves. I love how much fat is on my ass — no, it’s not one of those high, tight big butts people seem to covet. It’s the kind of ass you’d expect to see on a woman thirty pounds heavier than I am, and I love how it jiggles.

I love my bulky legs. The toughest part of wearing skinny jeans is pulling them over my calves, which are huge not only from ten years of martial arts practice, but from holding up a body that was, at times, considered “morbidly obese.” My legs are strong, fast, big, curvy.

I’ve even been growing out my stomach hair for a lark. I’m not usually into being hairy — I shave most of my body hair — but my happy trail, likely caused by my PCOS, is actually kind of cute, as is the downy, lighter hair covering most of the rest of my pale belly.

I feel beautiful.

I haven’t always felt beautiful. I had an eating disorder for nearly a decade. I felt invisible for years. Growing up, I thought of my uniqueness as gangly, rather than lovely. People I used to think were important told me not to avoid profile pictures because of my nose, told me I looked like a boy, told me, after I gained some weight and landed the part of Snoopy in my high school production of You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, that it was a good thing I was “playing a dog.”

But somewhere along the line, that changed. And when I get up in the morning, get dressed, do my makeup, and look in the mirror, I love what I see. It is exactly what I want to see, and I feel lucky to see it. I am a very pretty woman.

It shocks some people that I feel this way.

It shocks the kind of people who do buy into that one-size-fits-all notion of beauty, that perfunctory notion that beautiful is always tall, slender, delicate, long-haired, white, large-breasted. Beautiful is sometimes those very things! And beautiful is oftentimes something very different.

Beautiful can have large wrists, as I do, and hair on its knuckles, its toes, its belly. Beautiful can have bulky legs! And when I say this to people, they sometimes look at me with pity. I had to double-take the other day when I revealed my shoe size, and I got a look of pity — how sad that I’d acquiesced to the reality that my feet are so big for a short girl, that I’d ceased to feel bad about it, that I’d given up.

I’d have no chance of being that feminine ideal.

And it’s true — I do have no chance. And I have given up on it. And you won’t see me getting work on my nose, or having my hip bones shaved down, or whatever it is I’m expected to do. I have pale, freckly skin I have no intention of tanning. I have a crooked tooth I have no intention of straightening. I have small, pendulous boobs I have no intention of replacing.

Why is this something to feel sorry for?

I don’t eat salads because I hate salads. It’s wonderful — I simply eat foods I like, and don’t eat foods I don’t like. I do have dietary restrictions because of my hormonal disorder. I don’t eat a lot of carbs because carbs make me feel sick. But I make lots of baked goods with Splenda and almond flour and butter and chocolate because fuck, I love chocolate. I was fat for a while. It sucked for a while, but then it got better. I stopped believing a long time ago, well before I lost weight (mostly by accident), that fat was the end of the world, the worst fate imaginable.

Why is this something to look at with pity?

I have a sexy fiance. I didn’t need a man to feel beautiful, but I’m lucky to have one who finds me beautiful, who found me beautiful when I was seventy pounds heavier, who fell in love with me when I had a “morbidly obese” BMI (whatever the hell that means), who loves that I have a nose just like his and doesn’t mind having smaller hands than I do and thinks my stomach hair is “cute.” After over a year of being together, the infatuation between us has not waned even a trifle — we are lucky enough to be all over each other like hormonal teenagers, and to feel like the sexiest two people on the planet when we are in each other’s presence.

How is that something to sympathize for?

There is a poster in my workplace of a conventionally attractive woman in a bikini. She is gorgeous! And I have had moments, because we all have moments, of walking by her and lamenting that I’d never reach that ideal. My hair could never be that long, thick, meticulously waved. My thighs could never be so long and lean.

After I cut my hair, though, I haven’t had a single one of those moments. I’ve created my own look, one that suits me perfectly at this time in my life. And I don’t look like the woman in the poster, and I’ll never look like that woman in the poster, because I look like me, and that’s pretty damn special in itself.

I know it’s not easy to like the way you look. Much of what has brought me to this point is luck.

This is a struggle for most women — it certainly was for me. I respect wherever you are in that journey. Maybe there are parts of you you hate. Hell, I still contend with that. As much as I’ve embraced my big legs, I’m still not in love with my inner thigh fat, though I’d like to be. I’m still getting used to being thinnish, to being inside a body that doesn’t command as much space as it used to. I still felt sexier when I was fat.

But I do think I’m damn sexy now.

And I’m genuinely surprised that people think I shouldn’t think I’m pretty.

Who gets to be healthy?

A picture of my healthy cat, Chad

My cat is healthy, according to my vet. His name is Chad. (My cat, not my vet.)

We’re told that we should all be healthy. That “healthy” should be everyone’s goal. But the more I think about it, the less I have any idea what “healthy” is.

“Healthy” is always some twenty- or thirty-something, leanly muscled woman jogging up a mountain or some shit. She eats nothing but kale and quinoa. Her “healthy” boyfriend has a glistening six-pack and a kettle bell permanently affixed to his palm.

We’re told fat people can’t be healthy. I have friends with obese BMIs, plenty of adipose tissue, who eat clean diets rich in fruits, veggies, and lean meats. They regularly run 5ks and have perfect blood work and vitals. Do they get to be healthy?

I have what is considered a “healthy” BMI (whatever the hell that means). I eat a variety of foods, some classically “healthy,” some not, basically given what I feel like. (Uterus acting up? All chocolate, all the time, motherfucker.) I make sure to get lots of sleep every night. I don’t drink or smoke. I recently quit coffee. I do yoga and take walks when I think about it. I have low blood pressure, a low-ish heart rate, and perfect cholesterol/triglycerides/blood sugar.

But I have a chronic condition that causes a lot of pain, and I only have one kidney. (And apparently, it’s cystic. My body just loves cysts.)

Do I get to be healthy?

What people consider “healthy,” this edict socially required of all of us, this test of our virtue, is unreachable for many of us. “Healthy” is a privilege. Those people you see in the media hiking up mountains, running marathons, even just doing Tai Chi in the park — they’re privileged. They get to be healthy.

But people with chronic health problems and disabilities don’t have access to that privilege.

And if you happen to be fat with a health problem, the concern trolls roll in. “I’m just concerned for your health.” “Couldn’t you take up jogging?” “You need to live a more active lifestyle.”

Ignoring for a second that many fat people already live “active” lifestyles, you shouldn’t assume that they — or anyone, of any shape — necessarily have the privilege of living “active” lifestyles.

Someone with chronic pain might feel a little hesitant to go running a few times a week. Maybe walking is within their reach — maybe not.

When my ovary, heavy with cysts large and small, is aching so much that I can’t twist or bend my torso certain ways, and my lower back is killing me — like hell if you’re going to tell me to be active. Fuck you. I need chocolate. I need a fucking chocolate-flavored morphine drip.

Maybe I don’t get to be healthy. My fertility will always be at less than 100% (fine with me, as I’m childfree — but it’s still nice to know your organs work). I can’t eat certain kinds of foods without my GI flipping shit or my insulin going wonky. My lonely kidney will suffer damage no matter what by the time I’m old. I could probably drink alcohol in moderation, maybe, but it would be ill-advised. I’m young but I toe the line.

And I’m healthy for me.

Who gets to be “healthy”? If you think about it, only a small number of people. Young, without chronic conditions or disabilities, without pain, who life strict lifestyles (and have the time to do so because of socioeconomic reasons).

So maybe this shouldn’t be considered some high moral virtue, this health thing. I’m lookin’ at you, Mayor Bloomberg.

No, I’m not dieting, and I sure as hell don’t want to hear about your diet

Jules Winnfield, Pulp Fiction

I know what they call a Quarter Pounder in France. I don’t give a shit how many calories it has.

Quick tip, cats and kittens: if you want me to leave a conversation posthaste, say the word “calorie.”

Say “calorie” again. I dare you. I double-dare you, motherfucker.

I have dietary restrictions. That is not the same as dieting. I eat the way I do because if I don’t, my ovaries will turn into Baby Ruth bars that emit shit-tons of testosterone, and believe me, I’m grumpy e-fuckin’-nough without a nice shot of testosterone to the ovary.

I eat the way I do because if I don’t, my dumbass liver will get all confused and say, “What do I do with all of this hormonal shit?” and then shut down. I eat the way I do because if I don’t, no matter what size I am — I could be goddamn neutrino-light — my blood will be full of fat and very low-density lipoproteins.

This isn’t a weight loss thing. Sure, I lost weight initially, but I haven’t lost weight in months. I’m still pudgy around the thighs and I don’t give a damn. Pass the alfredo sauce.

I am not dieting, and I really, really don’t want to hear about your diet.

I don’t care how many calories you ate today. I don’t care about how much protein you ate today. If I ran a compost charity, not a single shit would be given to how many points your granola bar is. I don’t care.

And more than that: hearing about your diet reminds me about when I dieted.

It reminds me about how I used to measure my days not in hours, but in calories and macronutrients. How hunger became a virtue. How exceeding some number became a mortal sin, a source of shame. How working out to the point of injury was a point of pride. How I became a failure when my scale didn’t inch backward.

How I allowed people to say horrible things about my body and thanked them, because I thought they were helping me.

How eventually, binging became a drug. How purging became a sick antidote. How my long fingers and the laxatives in the medicine cabinet became a lifeline.

No, I don’t want to hear about your goddamn calories.

To the fifth grader who wants a thigh gap

When I shared my entry When Thin Women Call Themselves Fat to my Facebook wall, my friend Jeanne made an excellent observation about self-effacement in the company of other women:

It’s the magic password to The Club. The price for admittance is body disparagement. Club meetings consist of sharing recipes for skinny margaritas and attempting to determine the number of points in that crap they make you drink before an endoscopy (true story). If you actually ARE fat, people assume that you are part of the club, so they decide it is ok to tell you that you can save points by dipping your fork into salad dressing instead of pouring it on your salad. When you, as a fat person, tell them that weight loss doesn’t interest you, it fries their brains. How dare you?!

Jeanne, a kickass substitute teacher and mom, also relayed the following disturbing anecdote: her fifth grade student (fifth grade! barely a decade old!) told my friend that she was working on her thigh gap so that she could go to the beach.

It starts that young. Little girls learn early that “womanhood” is synonymous with whittling away at your body. I feel like most of my in-person conversations with women include, if they aren’t downright dominated by, self-hating body talk. Dieting talk. To be a woman, one must be perpetually dieting. That’s the rule.

And young girls hear it. They watch commercials in which already thin women are devising new schemes of getting smaller, often involving low-fat yogurt (which is, apparently, better than cake, shoe shopping, and kinky sex).

I was six years old when I first proclaimed I was on a diet. That’s what being a grownup woman meant. Lipstick and high heels and self-denial. (Be careful with that lipstick — you don’t know how many calories it has!)

Here’s what I want to say to that fifth grade girl:

Hey, you. I don’t know you, but I bet you’re pretty interesting. I bet there are books you read and school subjects you excel at and games or sports you play. I bet you have some phrases you repeat a bunch and a lot of other things that show people who you are. You like going to the beach! Isn’t it great to live near beaches?

Look: I’m going to say some bad words, and maybe someday you’ll have a filthy mouth like I do. And that’s okay, but it’s okay if you don’t! I genuinely believe that the word “bullshit” won’t damage you any more than the bullshit you, and every other girl, and every other woman in this country is fed on a daily — no, hourly basis.

You will be a woman someday. Someday soon. And when that happens, it can’t be taken away from you by something as little as a thigh gap. Plenty of women have huge thighs, or skinny thighs, or no thighs at all. You could lose both of your legs and you would still be a woman, and you’d be a special woman, and you’d be a very beautiful woman.

You don’t need to diet. Those TV commercials with the women eating yogurt? The conversations you overhear your teachers having, where they hate their bodies and want to become smaller? All the diet talk you hear from your mother, your aunts, your older friends?

You can make that as old-fashioned as rotary telephones. Or, I don’t know, landlines. Or an Internet before Twitter. Oh fuck, not that you’d remember any of that.

You can make it old-fashioned.

Why? Because you can be whoever you want to be. You can look however you want to look. You can eat whatever makes your body feel good. You can have that freedom. You can help the girls around you have that freedom. It’s about choice. You can choose not to be hungry.

You can choose to go to the beach looking however you want to look. And maybe if you do it, more girls will, too. Maybe we won’t see those stupid yogurt commercials anymore. Maybe your generation will be the one that stops saying that being a woman means being hungry and hating yourself. It could start with you.

Those women you overhear — do you think they like themselves very much when they talk about how ugly they are? Your teachers, the teachers you love — don’t you like them? Would you like them any better if they had thigh gaps? No, I didn’t think so. So isn’t it sad that they don’t like themselves as much as you like them?

You don’t have to stop liking yourself. You don’t have to join the club.

You can go to the beach whenever the hell you want.

PCOS could be jacking up your ovaries

It’s a really common condition — affecting about 6% of women — but few people seem to know what it is, or seem willing to talk about it. It has baffled a few of my doctors. It’s “thought to be one of the leading causes of infertility in women.”

I have it, and I’m gonna talk about it.

I was diagnosed with PCOS, or polycystic ovarian syndrome, in 2011. An endocrinologist diagnosed me after a bunch of gynecologists just kind of waved their hands. My symptoms?

  • Really bad acne (though I nuked that years prior with Accutane)
  • Excessive hair growth (on my face, stomach, chest)
  • Rapid weight gain
  • Dark patches of skin, especially under my arms (it would sometimes peel away in sheets, painlessly)
  • Anovulation (I would only menstruate once or twice a year)

PCOS is kind of a vague condition. Often, as with me, it comes with the tell-tale polycystic ovaries, wrapped in a “string of pearls” of cysts. But sometimes, you can have PCOS without having cysts. If you have an excess of androgens (male hormones) and are anovulatory, you may have PCOS.

That’s the primer. But how does PCOS feel?

Like a monster constantly chasing after your self-esteem.

Socety tells women a lot of bullshit about what it means to be a woman. You have to be beautiful, feminine. Well, the hirsutism associated with PCOS — and beginning with an abundance of male hormones — certainly jeopardizes the traditional“femininity” prospect. Women with PCOS often begin their days getting rid of mustaches or beards, and then worrying for the rest of the day that their five o’clock shadow will rear its ugly head. Meanwhile, they lose their head hair.

I used to think, “How will I explain all of this chest and stomach hair to a lover?” I used to think I’d have to keep it a secret, shaving and plucking assiduously before any encounter. But my fiance knows I have a happy trail to rival his, and really doesn’t care. Even if I let it grow out.

I’m lucky.

Society also tells you that being a woman means being a mother ipso facto. You know what makes babymaking difficult? Having ovaries replete with cysts, manufacturing the wrong hormones. Hard to make babies when you don’t ovulate. Women with PCOS who want to become mothers often have to fight a hard battle to conceive.

And maybe some of us don’t. I actually really don’t want to be a mother, ever. More on why that doesn’t invalidate my womanhood in another entry.

So if not being a woman due to your hair growth and anovulation weren’t hard enough, PCOS makes you fat. It makes you the kind of fat that doesn’t give a shit about your calorie intake. It makes you hormone fat. It makes you fat around the middle.

Fat, hairy, pimply, balding, and bad at ovulating. PCOS does all this. It doesn’t kill you (at least directly — it can cause endometrial hyperplasia, a cancer risk, as well as nonalcoholic fatty liver and hypertriglyceridemia), but it eats at your self esteem.

You don’t need to have the condition to know how that feels.

Living with undiagnosed PCOS, I was told a lot of things. That I was imagining my medical problems, because most of my symptoms were “cosmetic.” That I was trying to blame my weight gain on something other than my own lack of willpower, my own moral failure as a woman. That “everyone gets acne,” even adult-onset acne (which mine was), even extremely painful nodular and cystic acne (which mine was).

That I didn’t menstruate due to stress, and I just needed to chill the fuck out.

Getting that diagnosis was damn empowering. The treatment options aren’t great — I opted with a very strict nutritional regimen — but the diagnosis itself validated that the things that were going wrong weren’t all in my imagination. I wasn’t some stressed out hypochondriac. I had a condition — a common, manageable, treatable condition.

I’m going to talk a lot about PCOS on this blog because it is so involved in a lot of the other body image issues I deal with (you don’t have to have PCOS to know how bad weight gain, skin problems, and other health problems can feel). I’m going to talk about it because something that affects 6% of women shouldn’t be so hush. I’m going to talk about it because there is an awesome community of women out there with it, and dialogue and awareness can lead to better treatment.

Are you a cyster? Do you know or love any cysters?

I weigh more than my boyfriend. So what?

Love is as diverse as people are.

Source: curvygirlinc.com

A month ago, hilarious YouTube comedienne Gloria Nava wrote about being a woman of size and dating a thin gym-frequenting dude. You should totally read it! I’m Overweight and my Boyfriend’s Not. Big Freaking Deal.

My friend posted that link to my Facebook wall yesterday, asking if I’d seen it. I sure had! Coincidentally, her boyfriend, Ali, published a heartwarming response article yesterday. You should totally read this, too! My Girlfriend Weighs More Than Me. So What?

Part of the reason I love this couple right now (besides Gloria’s being friggin’ hilarious. Seriously, check out her YouTube channel) is that they don’t look all that different than most of my relationships have looked.

I spent most of my adult life obese, and most of my partners have been thin. Even now, I weigh more than my fiance (to be clear, yes, he is a dude, and he’s taller than I am).

My friend posted a link to her wall and tagged me and other engaged friends of hers; it was a YouTube video of a wife-carrying contest. I kind of chuckled. “Yea, that wouldn’t be me and Chris,” I said. “We’ll run the betting ring, though.” My money’s on my friends Lauren and Andy, who do crossfit together. Lauren can do 200 pull-ups. Holy hell! That’s 200 more than I can do.

Like Gloria and Ali, Chris and I met online. Prior to our first date, we knew we were into each other by virtue of our personalities. He was smart as a whip, sensitive, but with a robust sense of justice. Witty. Feminist. Cocky. And totally into me. In short, perfect.

There was still a worry in the back of my mind, though: he’s never seen me in person. Most of my photos online had been shoulders-up or old; I was much heavier now. He was (and is) slim, impossibly handsome — big, brooding dark eyes, full lips, a chiseled jaw. He was too pretty, too perfect to reject me for being fat. No, that would hurt too much.

He allayed my fears somewhat with a message before our first date: “Just so you know, you’re curvy, and I’m into that.”

As much as I appreciated that, I wasn’t just “curvy.” I was fat. I was terrified.

Before I met him for the first time, I resolved myself not to invest myself too heavily (heh). You don’t know that there will be physical chemistry, I told myself. This could be a fictional crush like any other. No more real than my crush on Kaidan Alenko from Mass Effect. (Don’t ask. It’s probably the eyebrows.)

I first saw Chris from across the road, where I’d parked. His garage door opened slowly, unveiling him like a curtain drawn up on the first act of a play. From across the road, I noticed his giant eyes — so much prettier, even, than his pictures had promised. Oh god, I thought, it’s starting. He needs to think I’m pretty, or my battleship’s sunk.

And indeed, I was. I remember exactly what I was wearing — mostly black, a tight nude skirt with black embroidery on top, a cowl-neck black top and a black equestrian blazer. My makeup was dark, my hair was teased out and curly, and if I gave you three guesses as to which state I was from, you’d say, “New Jersey, New Jersey, or New Jersey.”

I was hot — all 210 pounds of me. And he thought so, too.

For the entire length of our date — a concert that lasted an hour before we decided to peace, an hour-long ride up, an hour-long ride back, and several hours of making out back at his place — he kept looking at me in incredulity, smiling wide, and repeating, “You’re so pretty.”

He later told me that I was the prettiest thing he’d ever seen. That he was in disbelief from the moment I stepped out of my car.

This is not a rare story. I recently commented on that gorgeous piece of erotica a thin man wrote to his plus-sized girlfriend. Gloria and Ali aren’t the only fat-thin couple in the world. Chris is not the only thin person who has found me attractive. Plenty of people think fat women are beautiful.

I’m one of them, for starters.