In 2015, Glamour magazine awarded me the title “Hometown Hero” for the state of Georgia. They flew me to Brooklyn for a paid photo shoot and commercial in partnership with eBay in 2016. When the ad aired on YouTube, the audience had a lot to say. I thought it’d be homophobic insults, but not at all! They didn’t like my size.
Commenter after commenter dropped gems like:
“She’s a whale.”
I can’t tell you that didn’t hurt. It did. I cried. Who wouldn’t? But it didn’t make me love my body any less.
Let me repeat: I love my body.
Let me tell you about my body:
I wear a size 16 in pants and a 38 DD bra.
I carried twins to full term in 2011.
I gained 70 pounds during the pregnancy and lost 30 the day I delivered my sons.
I’m currently the exact weight I was when I left the hospital on March 17, 2011.
After my stomach was stretched to the size of two basketballs, I now have a full belly that’s soft and squishy.
I can hike five miles uphill in the snow and love every step of it.
I can launch a soccer ball into a net with such force you’d lose your head if you were hit with it.
I give marvelously warm hugs.
I have curves and curves and curves.
I am soft in some places and hard in others, and it’s a perfect balance for me.
Some clothes feel like they are made for me. Others don’t fit so well. But that’s the same for my skinny friends. They have the same problem.
I do get pressured to lose weight from people around me. My own kids have said things about my body, because the punchline to everything in books and shows is making fun of the fattest person in the room. (Don’t think we haven’t broken that down in our home.) My dad tried to pay me $100 to lose weight in high school. My mother told me I’d have an hourglass figure if I lost the extra layers. And even though I love my body now, it does hurt to hear these things from people I love. Thicker thighs do not mean thicker skin.
I know that “skinny” doesn’t equal “healthy,” and “fat” doesn’t equal “unhealthy.” I am always working on being healthier and learning what that means for me. But it’s at my own pace, and by my own standards. It has to be that way. Otherwise, the work will not get done. The transformation cannot happen if it’s by anyone else’s clock or standards. For me, the magic recipe is taking care of myself and appreciating myself. If I lose weight in the process, that’s fine — for me.
In fact, I do like losing weight, and I wouldn’t be upset if I lost any number of pounds, mainly so I could move with ease. When I have a smaller stomach and breasts, I can get into and enjoy certain yoga positions even better. But losing weight isn’t easy for me, and I recently discovered one of the reasons. A few months ago, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease, which, among other things, makes it incredibly hard to lose weight. The 30 pounds I’d gained in the past two years suddenly made sense. After getting on the right medicine, I’ve lost 10 pounds and I might lose more. However, I now know I can love my body at any size — even if society does not.
When I was getting married, I was afraid to go to a wedding gown boutique, because I was sure there’d be nothing for me to try on. I’d be made to feel too big, too much and not pretty enough. If there’s one thing society has done a nice job of, it’s making sure that we fat girls know we’d be prettier if we just lost a little weight. “You have such a pretty face,” people say.
I bought my wedding gown from David’s Bridal because I knew I could waltz in there as an excited bride-to-be and try on gowns that made me feel pretty, elegant and perfect in the body I had that day. As an unexpected perk, my attendant happened to be delighted that I was marrying a woman, and didn’t try to make me feel bad about that, either.
I was a betrothed fat lesbian feeling like the belle of the ball in the middle of a David’s Bridal in suburban Georgia, and it was the most marvelous experience. I didn’t try to lose an ounce for my wedding, either. That wasn’t my focus. Having a romantic garden wedding was. Of course, I focused on my looks, too. I wore pretty pink heels and spent the morning of my wedding getting dolled up at the salon with my maid of honor, best friend since childhood.
When my brother escorted me up the aisle to my wife-to-be, I felt so beautiful. I wasn’t thinking about my thighs or my stomach or my big bare arms. I was a plus-size bride basking in the swell of love radiating from every guest. I was focusing on the sweet blue eyes of my beloved, who was waiting nervously for me at the altar.
I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy that moment in the same way decades earlier.
When I was young, and convinced I was the most rotund, disgusting thing in my middle school and high school, I made horrific decisions because I thought I was worthless. I chose bad people to date. I chose to hide myself in baggy clothes. I quit the soccer team after ninth grade, because I didn’t want what one girl called my “elephant legs” to be seen shaking when I ran. (Thanks a lot, Julie.) I wore a T-shirt over my slimming one-piece at the pool, if I even went at all. I didn’t try out for cheerleading because I was certain I was too big. I weighed 130 pounds, y’all. I was a size 11 in juniors. I wasn’t too big. I was just fine. And I’m just fine now. And so are you.
Beauty is how you feel, not what others see. But first you have to love and appreciate yourself. No one’s going to do that for you, even after you take the steps to recognize your own beauty. They still might not love you. Some people can’t stand confidence in others, and that’s their own journey. They’re not your people. Rest in your glory. Rest in your appreciation of your own beauty. And darling, above all, learn to love yourself and be gentle with yourself. Do not let their comments become how you talk to yourself. Do not let society’s viciousness become your inner monologue. And if it has, work to begin the healing, because your size does not define your worth.
You are beautiful. At any size or shape, you are perfect, and you deserve every happiness in the world.
Kirsten Ott Palladino is an award-winning writer, editor and public speaker. She is the co-founder and editorial director of Equally Wed, the world’s leading LGBTQ+ wedding magazine; the author of “Equally Wed: The Ultimate Guide to Planning Your LGBTQ+ Wedding” (Seal Press); and the founder and editor of Survivor Lit, a nonprofit literary magazine and community for sexual assault survivors. She has been featured in and on The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, CNN, NPR and elsewhere. She is currently writing a memoir about learning to love herself after surviving rape, domestic violence and partner trafficking. For more from Kirsten, find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.