You Aren’t What You Eat

A couple months ago, I marched into my mother’s room holding a large head of lettuce. I raised it above my head and declared, “I AM GOING TO BE HEALTHY.” Her response was loud and uncalled for: she doubled over, her raucous laughter echoing throughout our house. At first, I was sort of amused, but after almost five minutes of watching her laugh uncontrollably, silent tears rolling down her cheeks, I began to feel offended.

In her defense, that wasn’t the first time she had heard me say that. Over the last couple years years, I have repeated some variation of these words to anyone who would listen in a sort of aggressive refrain: I am going to be healthy. I am going to be healthy. I am going to be healthy.

This usually works for a while: I start drinking more water, I go to the gym, and nary a doughnut passes through my lips. After about a week of that, I relapse, and I relapse hard. I wake up a few days later in a ditch, covered in powdered sugar, with no recollection of what I’ve done.

In America, we are constantly bombarded with messages that tell us that in order to be considered attractive, in order to be loved and accepted, you have to be skinny. Like most of you, I’ve seen these messages my entire life, but they never really had any affect on me. I don’t hate my body. I’m actually pretty okay with it. I mean, as far as the whole functioning-properly-as-a-fleshly-vessel-for-my-soul thing goes, it gets the job done. I’ve always told myself that my weight doesn’t matter, that being overweight has never stopped me from living a fulfilling life. I have great friends, a family who loves me, and a (relatively) good personality. As far as I’m concerned, if you have those things, you’re golden. Unfortunately, not everyone feels the same way.

I can’t think of a time in my life when I wasn’t overweight. For a long period of time, however, I didn’t realize that other people were aware of it, too. That all changed in ninth grade when Zach, a boy I barely knew, saw me coming down the hall and yelled, “Hey! Are you pregnant? Because you sure look like you are!”

I stared at him in disbelief. I thought things like this only happened in movies! I closed my eyes and tried to imagine what Oprah Winfrey would do in this situation, but my mind was blank. Blood rushed to my cheeks and my eyes filled with hot tears.

“Just ignore him,” my best friend mumbled, almost as embarrassed to have witnessed the situation as I was to have gone through it. I nodded at her and began walking quickly to my next class. I smiled aggressively at the people around me, trying to force them to understand that I was fine. I’m breezy, guys! I’m Cool! Fat jokes can’t bring me down! My classmates averted their eyes and stared solemnly at their shoes.

Over the next couple of days, I tried to scrub the memory of Zach’s insult out of my head, but it just wouldn’t work. It lingered at the back of my mind, rising to the surface as I lay in bed at night. Are you pregnant? The memory played on repeat, making me hate myself a little more with every viewing.

For a long time after that, I felt disgusting. I stood in front of my mirror before I got into the shower, picking my body apart, analyzing every little flaw. How could get rid of my tummy rolls? how could I make my legs jiggle a little bit less? I saw my reflection not as an image of who I was, but a representation of who I could be if I only I wasn’t so lazy…

Until eventually, I was over it. I used to tell people that I had no idea what had changed, that one day I woke up and just felt better, but I know that’s not true. The real reason is that I realized something: Some people are mean- that is an undeniable truth. Some people are so consumed by the darkness inside of themselves, they feel the need to drag others into the shadows with them. That is something we all need to remember when we are faced with random acts of cruelty. When it’s written down on a page it seems so simple, but when a boy has just called you fat, it’s easy to forget. It took me many years and many tears to understand.

I love who I am, but I do want to lose weight. Not for the sake of getting a hot bikini bod or winning the affection of the hot boy next door–I want to be healthy for me. I want to take care of myself and treat my body with the respect it deserves. There are always going to be Zachs in the world, and they are always going to have very loud opinions- but that doesn’t matter. What matters is knowing who you are, understanding all of your “flaws,” and still being able to look into the mirror and say, “I’m pretty damn amazing!”

Because you are.

Kiana Williams About Kiana Williams

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