Still, I’m no body positivity guru. In fact, it wasn't until last summer that I finally learned (the hard way), what that term really means.
It had been almost two years since I'd forfeited the battle for thinness, quit dieting, and started intuitive eating. In that time, my weight had finally stopped yo-yo’ing wildly—because I’d finally stopped eating and restricting. I didn’t weigh myself, but I noticed the shift in my size. I was slightly smaller than I’d typically been before, and when my weight fluctuated, it was subtle.
I’d embraced the concept of body positivity, even if I didn’t fully understand it yet. For the first time, I felt normal. But then I got my book deal.
"I’m no body positivity guru."
I’d dreamt of writing a book for almost as long as I’d dreamt of having a normal body and sane relationship to food. Now, both dreams seemed to be arriving at the same time. I sat down to write Big Girl, and I stayed put. I wrote stories all day at work and book chapters at night and on weekends. I spent a year and a half digging through the darkest corners of my childhood, researching my past, and trying to turn those stories into something somebody might want to read. Writing a memoir is an enormous joy and privilege, but it's also exhausting, laborious, and 100 percent sedentary work. When I finally looked up, I was an even bigger girl than I'd been before.
In our world, weight gain is synonymous with failure. We forgive it in certain circumstances, but only to a degree. Bulk up after a breakup, and we’ll politely look away. When a pregnant woman gains 10 pounds, we tell her it’s OK, don’t worry, you'll lose it as soon as the kid’s born. (And if she doesn’t, we’ll just look away then, too.)
I’d just delivered a book, the hardest work of my life, and I wanted to show everyone what I had done. But all I could see was what it had done to my body. What if that’s what everyone else saw, too?
I spent my final month of editing at Starbucks with my proof pages, fretting over how people would perceive my weight gain. When I'd felt my weight creep up months earlier, I’d made an effort to acknowledge it neutrally, but with my book launch looming, it was harder to be such a grown-up about it. My friends hadn’t said anything, but surely that was because they were politely looking away. Would (could?) I lose all the weight before publicity began? And, um, without dieting? I recognized the eye-rolling irony of my situation: I’d just written a book proclaiming a message of wholehearted self-acceptance. Meanwhile, I could barely look the baristas in the eye, certain they were disappointed in me too.
Then one day, a package arrived from my publisher. Standing at my desk, I cut through the packing tape and saw, for the first time, my book in book form. It wasn’t just a giant Word doc anymore; it was a thing you could hold in your hand, read on the subway, or put in your bag for a long plane ride. I opened it and smelled the pages. “Hello, beautiful.”
In that moment, the meaning of body positivity hit home like never before. Body positivity, like love or faith, is not a flat concept but an active practice. Sometimes, it comes easy and other times, it’s a challenge. In those challenging moments, it’s on you to say, “I have nothing to be ashamed of. I am OK as I am.”
The truth is, body positivity is about everything our bodies enable us to do. It’s about claiming equality, in any size, shape, or ability.
"In our world, weight gain is synonymous with failure."
And body positivity isn't as simple as loving yourself, either. Loving yourself is great, but accepting yourself is the first, hardest, and most crucial milestone. When you choose self-acceptance, your body is no longer an obstacle but an ally. Our bodies are the vehicles through which we live our lives, and therefore, they are of great value—but they don't make us valuable. Bodies are not the measure of our accomplishments, but the tools we use to execute them.
I’d like to say I felt nothing but pride from that moment on, but I was uncomfortable in my body for months (and sometimes, I still am). I haven’t lost all my “book baby” weight yet. But I have returned to my normal routine, and I can feel my body finding its own normal again, too.
In the meantime, I refuse to look away from myself. I will not be ashamed of the body that carried me through the greatest, hardest journey of my life thus far. We did a good thing, the two of us.