New Year's Eve, 2008: I'm 17 years old, spending the night with my mom, older brother, and a few extended relatives. As is customary for my family every time the clock strikes 11:50 p.m. on Dec. 31, my mother passes around small pieces of paper and pencils. Each person is meant to write a New Year's resolution on their respective Post-it-sized note. Come 11:59 p.m., we take turns throwing our wishes into the fireplace. The flames consume them slowly, as if the universe is saying, "I'm listening." I know what I'm going to write as soon as I'm handed some paper and a pencil; it's going to be some type of body resolution for the new year.
It hasn't changed since 2001, but the fact that I'll be starting college next fall has made it feel more imperative than ever before. At college, no one will know me. At college, I can be the person I've always wanted to be. I can look the way I've always wanted to look. "Lose weight," I scribble quickly in cursive. "Eat less. Work out more. Get pretty."
I knew I was capable of losing weight. I'd done it before, mostly via toxic crash dieting that people were quick to applaud me for. Somehow, though, the pounds always came back. My body, I believed, was my enemy, and I treated it as such for more than a decade of my life. I worked tirelessly to shed dress sizes, convinced that in doing so I'd be happier, more beautiful, better. By then, my history should have taught me that this wasn't the case. The survival of diet culture is dependent on our dissatisfaction with our bodies, after all, no matter how small or "perfect" they become.
Much has changed for me since NYE 2008, but letting go of the idea that my body is my enemy has been at the heart of most of those changes. I eventually switched up my goals, wishing instead for the ability to treat my body like a friend — and I cannot recommend that resolution enough as we approach 2018.
As a plus size woman, I am constantly told to treat my body as though it is a problem. The messaging was clear as day by age 10. Feminine bodies weren't supposed to jiggle when they moved. People were only supposed to have one chin. I was setting myself up for a premature death, thanks to the astronomic space I occupied. I was failing at being a woman before puberty had even set in. I would never find love or companionship in such a body. I would never find employers who could see beyond my size and into my intellect. All of this, I'd heard by 10 years old.
It's a lot to digest at any point in life, but particularly as a young person when you do not yet have the language to fully express why it all feels so troubling. And so, I began starving myself before I'd ever heard the term "beauty standards." I started buying laxatives at the local grocery store before hearing the term "fatphobia." Both were clearly affecting me, though. Both conditioned me to treat my body like an enemy. To aspire to conform to definitions of beauty, health, and wellness believed to be universal.
These are standards that ultimately affect, and hurt, all types of people, albeit those on the outside of them the most. Women, in particular, are so rarely taught that it's OK to feel self-love, and especially women who do not fit standard tropes of beauty. Self-love is deemed vain, something opposing self-improvement. If we aren't actively working toward bettering ourselves — the meaning of "bettering" inextricably linked to becoming an emblem of conventional beauty — then we aren't doing this life thing right.
It's a terrible narrative to live in. The pursuit of weight loss and of general aesthetic transformation governed years of my life, preventing me from enjoying so many things that should have been enjoyable. Parties became sources of stress. What could I wear in order to best conceal my rolls? Sex and intimacy became purveyors of panic. Who would ever want to see or touch a body like mine? Shopping could induce tears. Any cute stuff available to buy locally just didn't fit, and so I had to opt for garments that brought me no joy or sense of self-expression, but in which I could at least make myself feel invisible.
Sometime around 2011, however, things began shifting for me. I spent a year studying abroad in countries where women and femmes of all sizes seemed to be out in the world, encouraged to their lives happily and unapologetically. I began making feminist, progressive friends and dating feminist, progressive people for the first time in my life.
My introduction to fat positive and body positive literature happened back in the States, when we were asked to create and maintain a blog for our senior project in one of my journalism classes. Having just returned from a truly transformative year abroad, I wanted to find a way to preserve the budding self-love growing within me. Heck, I wanted to grow it further.
I cannot remember who suggested that I look into plus-size blogging, though I imagine it was one of my peers. In 2012, plus-size fashion blogging was, all of a sudden, booming. Fat liberation activists (although the movement had existed since the 1960s) were seemingly writing, taking photos, making art, and making waves in larger quantities than ever before. People in bodies like mine were refusing to shrink. They were deconstructing the beauty standards and fatphobia that had hurt me for so long, and that continue to hurt countless others. Through activists such as these, and my subsequent immersion into the world of body politics, I realized that the narrative I'd been subscribing to wasn't the only narrative in existence.
Treating my body like a friend happened naturally thereafter. This body was fat, yes. Cellulite and stretch marks lived in many of its nooks and crannies. Acne marked its visage at times, as did gloomy under-eye circles. It wobbled when it moved. It occupied space, and at times made furniture creak. It couldn't fit into the clothing at most beloved mall brands, but it could certainly fit into ones designed specifically for it on the internet.
This body didn't have to be "fixed" before life within it could be enjoyed. As it turns out, I just had to resolve to treat it like a friend. Like the friend it always was. For me, I have the fat-positive community to thank for reaching this conclusion — but becoming part of such a community isn't a prerequisite to arriving at the same end point.
For others out there, the first step might simply be resolving to treat themselves better. With kindness and compassion. With empathy and respect. So perhaps if you find yourself in front of a fireplace on New Year's Eve this year, grab a piece of paper and a pencil. Resolve to be your own friend. And throw your wish into the flames.