The body positive movement continues to progress into the mainstream with wider acceptance and celebration of all body types. But like all great social changes, there is still ways to go. The normalization of gaining weight still seems to be an aspect in the movement where there is a weak spot.
Before I go further in explaining my path to body confidence, I also have to note that this is in no way meant to discourage anyone who wants to lose weight in a healthy manner or body shame against anyone naturally thin. This is very important to mention because we are all different human beings with diverse bodies who have different ways of finding healthy happiness.
With that said, it is critical to recognize that as a whole, society does not treat weight gain the same way we do weight loss. There is a common belief that becoming thicker than you were before means that there has been a negative impact in your life. To grow even more as body activists, we have to recognize and aim to stop this notion. My own realization of this came just a couple of years ago.
My Background With Body Image
It was summer 2016 and I was a new high school graduate, nervous about going to college and figuring my future life out. This was also when I became a vegetarian (which I happily still am today). I love vegetarianism and feel I have grown because of it, but it did change me physically at first. I lost a significant amount of weight and was at the thinnest I have ever been.
I thought the right thing was to be proud of myself. Aren’t people usually celebrating a goal they have achieved when they lose weight? I received comments from friends complimenting me on how ‘small’ I looked. This made me begin thinking that becoming smaller meant that I was doing right. I told myself that I was at my healthiest, both physically and mentally, that I ever had been.
However, this was not my reality, not only because of my body, but because of other factors as well. This was at a time where I had just been clinically diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. I began taking medications to help my mental health and still am on them today. The medications have helped me tremendously- I have become more confident and able to handle my anxiety attacks better, but I began noticing changes in my appearance when I first went on them. One of the side effects was weight gain, a reason why my body began to look different again.
I was also at a stage in my life where I was experiencing physical alterations. As I entered my late adolescence, I noticed my body naturally was changing from what I was used to in middle and high school.
When I mentioned my weight gain to people I heard phrases like, “It’s the ‘Freshman 15,’ don’t worry you’ll lose it.” Or, “Don’t worry, you still look thin.”
These were all words meant to cause an uplifting and encouraging outlook, but that was far from my reaction. I started reevaluating my own ideas and asked the question:
Why are people, usually women, only congratulated when we lose weight and not when we gain it?
Stigma Around Weight Gain
There are signs against weight gain all around us- specifically on social media, pushing the narrative that you can only be happy when you have lost pounds. Looking through Instagram influencers’ pages, ads for detox supplements (which are usually unregulated and harmful) show up on numerous posts. These companies continuously sell the idea that a woman will only reach her full potential if she decides to diet. That losing weight is the first step to finding success.
Promoting dieting seems harmless at first. But the truth is that it promotes an unhealthy ideal that has been pushed on women for ages. Women oftentimes are made to believe that there is a certain BMI number that proves they are perfect. Or that dropping a size in jeans marks an achievement they must be proud of.
These all might seem like harmless signs, but often times subconsciously affect how we see ourselves. It feeds into the ‘weight loss=total happiness’ narrative. As mentioned earlier, there is nothing wrong if someone feels that losing weight in a healthy manner will bring them joy. But it is important to ask why that is seen as the only way for a young woman to find fulfillment.
Not “Just Coming To Terms” With Myself
The truth is that gaining weight has made me feel more confident. Many of the times people assume that accepting your body is “just coming to terms” with how you perceive yourself. And sometimes that is how it starts out. But, there is nothing wrong with celebrating your body and the changes that come with it.
I am human and still have days where I do not feel my best. But I am happy to say that I fully celebrate the way I am today. My body is a physical reminder of my personal growth and the struggles I have fought through to get where I am today.
My stomach sticks out and I love wearing crop tops during the summer. I have broad shoulders with a wide rib cage and it makes me feel powerful. My thighs have stretch marks and it shows me how my body is ever changing.
With female bodies constantly being criticized, it is important to remember to love ourselves the way we are built. Pushing for more acceptance in body positivity is key to bringing forth topics not often discussed- such as weight gain. Supporting each other in such a way will help us grow both as body positive activists and feminists.