I’m writing this while sitting on the E train in New York. I’m on my way to Brooklyn and, as you can imagine, the subway is full of men and women of varying shapes, sizes, and nationalities; they hold distinctly different values, ideas, and dreams.
As I sit here, belly jiggling as the train shifts and jolts underground, I am wondering whether anyone else is consciously obsessed with their body. Do they all think they are fat like I do?
I have always had this belly. When I was five; living in Sierra Leone; my neighbor would call me brown belly. Even my siblings made fun of me, saying it’s expansion “was due to malnutrition”.
The last time I remember being satisfied with my body weight was when I was 12. I, having started school early, was in Grade 8.
My afternoon snack routine consisted of stuffing Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies into my mouth and pouring condensed milk down my throat. The other stuff was too weak, I thought.
But I was happy.
“Apparently” my eating habits were so bad that my mom was forced to have a mini intervention regarding my cookie and milk combination. I didn’t get it. I thought I was the shit … and then some. At the end of my school year I even performed my two favorite Destiny’s Child songs, Bootylicious and Survivor, at a talent show. I dressed head to toe in camo, and had a blast with my two best friends.
This is when I last felt satisfied with my body.
In high school I started going to parties and, while getting ready, my friends would comment about the size of my stomach, but I would brush it off, or validate their comments, and make fun of myself. Then someone else would comment on a body part they didn’t like, and on we went.
Going into university, I was 120 pounds, 5”7, and 16 years old. Pretty normal, but this marked the beginning of my obsession with my belly.
I attempted the free gym at uni and quit multiple times. My main focus was the men’s basketball team practice. Certainly not on working out. Then I started dating a gym buff, which gave me more motivation. But still I could not commit.
I was always around friends talking about their weight. We compared our bodies when we went swimming and clubbing.I never felt slim enough.
Fast forward to living in Toronto.
The obsession became worse, as this was my first time as an adult living with a female within my age range. The weight conversation was now a daily occurrence: What are you eating? What are you cooking? What are you wearing?
I was not comfortable with myself. I had a hard time getting dressed, because I felt like nothing looked good. I hated my clothing. I really hated my body. I would pinch my gut in front of the mirror and pretend it was a person. I sometimes made it talk.
I did nothing to change this view of myself. I did not exercise, even though my condo had a free gym. I didn’t go for walks. I once told my then boyfriend that it was his fault I was fat, because he cooked everything with butter. That relationship didn’t last two more months. I continued this self-loathing until I started working as a visual merchandiser. My job was labor intensive, so I started to lose some weight. I felt better and more confident. There were moments I still thought that I was too big, but they were few. It also did not help that I worked with a bunch of 16-year-olds who wore crop tops on a daily basis.
This all went away when I started my current job. It was my first consistent desk job, and I did not adapt well. Within six months, I had gained 15 pounds. The main conversation at work was dieting. In a predominantly female setting, everyone and their dog were on a diet. Everyone would complain during Christmas time that there were too many sweets, yet we would finish it all in a couple of hours.
It was a popular culture for people to talk about their weight, yet do nothing about it. I became one of those people. I joined a gym, bought excessive amounts of vegetables, and continued with kitchen banter about what new healthy salad I was eating today. It got me nowhere!
Somehow I do feel that, on a particular level, I felt better about myself because I spoke of being on a diet. This went on for another year, until this spring.
I asked a friend to take some pictures of me in a couple of outfits for my blog. I picked out my best outfits, and we had a great day of shooting. When I received the pictures, I was shocked. I was completely unaware of the way I looked. My self-perception was warped. I looked much bigger than I had thought.
This made me reach a decision. If I was so unhappy about my body, I will do something to change it. I made a definite plan then that I will be the most active version of myself. I had to put the work in.
Instead of eating healthy once in a while, I make a conscious effort to eat healthy every day. I go to the gym a minimum of three times each week, in the morning, before work! BOSS! I engage in physical activity whenever possible. I ride my bike as often as possible, and go for walks. I feel great! I have not lost a considerable amount of weight, but I feel great.
I have come to realize that it’s not how I look that is the most important, but how I feel. Throughout my youth, I had listened to all criticism about my weight. It did not bother me at the time. I just brushed it off. I didn’t understand that it was my subconscious self that was bothered, and it came to affect the way I perceived myself. I am glad that I am aware of that now, so I can control what I listen to, who I listen to, and the type of conversations I become involved in.
We need to be weary of what we say to one another and what we allow people to say to us. You might not realize it, but you will wake up one day with no self-confidence, yet wondering how you got there.
Comparing yourself to other people is pointless. We are all made of different genes. I have found that people are generally not satisfied with what they have. You might be envious of someone with a flat stomach, but that person is probably envious of another that is a size 2, while the girl that is a size 2 wishes that she had bigger hips.
It’s a never ending pointless circle of dissatisfaction.
I have made the choice to not obsess over my body, to be as active as possible, and to avoid redundant conversations about weight.
It is no longer worth my time.