Growing Up The "Wrong" Kind Of Fat

Photo: Courtesy of Marie Southard Ospina.
This article was originally published on July 20, 2015.

You may recognize Marie Southard Ospina from one of her myriad viral pieces and impassioned stories on body positivity. She's a voice of reason and honesty in a field where people are prone to shouting. Yet hers is one of the most constant and resonant voices out there, and I'm so thrilled to share this deeply personal piece from her on The Anti-Diet Project. — Kelsey



Between the ages of 13 and 15, there were two humans I just couldn't get out of my head: Sofia Vergara and Lesley Lawson (a.k.a. Twiggy). And, though these women will never know it, they were responsible for an endless tug-of-war in my brain throughout crucial developmental years.

Well, maybe not them, per se. I don't know these women, after all. Their actual personalities are as much a mystery to me as the texture of the moon or the reason why there isn't an endless source of goat cheese in my fridge.

But the reality is that both Vergara and Lawson represented something to my adolescent self. The former was everything my Colombian heritage deemed beautiful: the voluptuous but slender woman with perfectly round, cup-able boobs and booty, thick but toned thighs, a tiny waist, and gloriously olive skin. The latter exemplified the beauty standard of my American half (with British and Eastern European ancestry): the waif-like thinness, fair skin, and chic protrusion of bones.

I'm a firm believer that constructs of beauty, attraction, sexuality, etc. are all vastly individual — things that vary so greatly from person to person that seeking to define any of these terms would be more futile than planning my personal role in the colonization of Mars. But, I also understand there are mainstream notions of beauty promoted and upheld by cultures as a whole.

More often than not, these notions are, well, narrow. They encompass one body type. We use them when discussing health, weight, class, and character — when all they're really about is aesthetic homogenization.

Trying to decode why anyone would want the world's seven billion inhabitants to look the same makes every cell in my body want to implode. How boring. How antiquated. How utterly unnecessary. But, everywhere I've ever lived or traveled, there's been a clear and dominant representation of beauty. And, no matter what culture, women have been taught to hate themselves, so they can change themselves — so they can be "beautiful" one day, too.

Photo: Courtesy of Marie Southard Ospina.


As a young teenager, I realized two things about my body: If I was going to be skinny, à la Twiggy, I was going to lose all of my curves. Bye-bye hourglass figure. Bye-bye boobs, rump, and thighs. And, if I was going to be "curvy," like Sofia Vergara, with the boobs and the rump and the thighs, I was also going to be fat. I was going to have a jiggly tummy and cellulite that wobbled when I walked. Call it genetics. Call it predisposition. That's just what my body did.

Before I was old enough to figure out how I actually wanted to look, I tried both. When I crash dieted and became addicted to my treadmill, I lost 60 pounds. My curves fell away; my bones made an appearance. But, I was chastised for "looking like a boy" — told by uncles and aunts in Colombia that men like something to "grab onto." Soon, I regained the weight and had plenty to grab onto. Then I was told that men don't want to sleep next to a cow.

In retrospect, these "lessons" were problematic for a few reasons. They correlated my worth and beauty with the desires of the male gaze. They fed the promotion of "perfection" and "aspirational beauty" — and everything else that causes most young women to enter a self-loathing rage spiral. But, they also failed to consider my own personal preferences. No one ever asked me if I felt more comfortable as a skinny girl or a fat girl. For the most part, friends and relatives stateside assumed I wanted to be rail-thin, while my Hispanic friends and relatives assumed I'd someday achieve a voluptuous body (without the belly flab, somehow).

Although Sofia Vergara and Twiggy have very different body types, the thing they have in common is thinness. One might have more visible curves than the other, but both are and have always been slender. And at the end of the day, being slender was my principal goal throughout my teens.

Of course, it was never enough. No matter how much weight I lost, I never felt attractive. I never found confidence. I never learned to see beauty in myself. It's only now, years later, that I realize why: I didn't want to be skinny.
Photo: Courtesy of Marie Southard Ospina.
Particularly in the Western world, we're told that being "skinny" is far more important — far more indicative of being a decent homo sapiens — than being kind, honest, funny, intelligent, tech-savvy, or adventurous. So much so that, for some of us, it becomes almost impossible to figure out whether we actually want to be thin.

For me, it took moving countries, forming an entirely new friend group, distancing myself from sources of negativity, discovering the body-positivity movement, and meeting a partner who saw "beauty ideals" for what they are, to ultimately learn this lesson:

The things we're taught are "flaws" can be the things that make us happiest. Maybe even the things that make us the most beautiful.

When I started figuring these things out, I also started to recognize that the reason I never loved my body, even when it was thin, was because I never wanted that body. To me, being fat is what feels right. Having a big butt and a stomach that wobbles like Jell-O and thighs that rub together in the heat are the things that allow me to present my own femininity, individuality, sexuality, and confidence.

In my fat body, I feel like me. Like the person I always thought I'd find if I shed off the "excess" weight. This idea — that someone could actually feel more beautiful at twice the size they once were — blows a lot of people's minds. But, when I look down at my body now, I know it's the way it's supposed to be. I'm never going to look like Sofia Vergara. I'm sure as hell never going to look like Twiggy. But, I would never want to. I just want to look like me. And, "me" is supposed to be fat.
The Anti-Diet Project is an ongoing series about intuitive eating, rational fitness, and body positivity. You can follow my journey on Twitter and Instagram at @mskelseymiller or #antidietproject (hashtag your own Anti-Diet moments, too!). Got a question — or your own Anti-Diet story to tell? Email me at kelsey.miller@refinery29.com.

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