Congrats! If you are reading this, you’ve survived months of a global pandemic. Give yourself some credit. You were able to handle COVID and all of the other shit that was thrown at you in the past year, so you know what else you can handle? Appreciating and accepting your body.
You may try on your summer clothes and find that none of them fit — who cares? You’ve handled harder things. Don’t punish yourself by trying to squeeze into them. If you have the money, go buy some new ones and help stimulate the economy!
Through my lifelong journey to body acceptance, I’ve learned to silence the external voices, stop shit-talking myself, and appreciate my body as it is. Without that confidence, I might never have founded my beauty brand, podcast, or website, The 12ish Style, which raises awareness for size inclusivity with features like #SuperSizeTheLook. I wrote the book Body Talk to help others love their bodies too. So instead of focusing on how you look in that bathing suit, just tell yourself to take the plunge.
Audio excerpted courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio, read by the author.
I have been a real asshole to myself over the years, but nothing set me off on a self-shit-talking spiral more than when I felt physically inferior to other women.
In my 20s, I had my own boutique public-relations firm that focused on women-owned accessory brands. I loved it: the people I got to work with, the hustling, the strategizing. I especially loved helping and watching female-owned businesses and their founders thrive.
A big part of my job was conducting what we — in the biz — call “desksides.” A deskside is a meeting in which a publicist brings her client and/or her client’s products to her press contacts at their, yup, desks. Visiting the offices of the glamorous magazines I grew up reading should have been thrilling. Instead, it became the most dreaded part of my job because of how it made me feel: like a failure. Phony. Unsuccessful. Uncool. The fashion industry is a historically exclusive club, one that has long been called out for its lack of inclusivity, not only regarding size and body-type diversity but also racial diversity and diversity of ability, religion, sexual orientation, and gender representation. While there’s still A LOT of work to be done today, let me tell you: Ten or fifteen years ago — whoa, baby, the work had barely begun.
Many of the women I went to visit at these magazines were tall like me, sure. But they were also about half my weight. I always felt Way Too Big, and this was when I was at my most militant about working out and restricting calories. They were all so beautiful, and they all seemed to have tiny doll feet slipped into sky-high heels, and they all wore the kind of clothes I lusted after but knew I couldn’t fit into. No matter what I did when I got dressed those mornings — clothes, hair, makeup — and, more important, no matter how professionally I presented my clients, I never felt like I was supposed to be there. Remember when I told you I felt like a bear in a tutu? At desksides, I didn’t even have the tutu: I felt like a bear who had accidentally wandered into the office in a pair of poop-stained sweatpants.
I would say appalling things to myself about how I didn’t deserve to be there, how I didn’t belong, how I was ugly and unworthy and gross.
HORRIBLE THINGS I’VE SAID TO MYSELF:
- You’re a loser, Katie.
- You will never be successful.
- Who do you think you are? You’re not a six-foot-tall blonde girl. You can’t pull off a casual “jeans and white tee” look! You can’t even wear JEANS!
- Why did you think you could cut it in New York City? You’re not good enough! Look around and then go back to Wisconsin.
- No one’s ever going to fall in love with you if you weigh this much.
- No one will ever describe you as “a natural beauty” or “so elegant.”
- If first impressions are everything, what the hell do you think yours is saying?
- You’re so dumb.
- Was that a joke you just told? Just shut up and stop trying!
- Can’t you just be normal??
- Why do you always make such weird faces in pictures? Just look normal.
- I bet everyone is either hanging out without you, laughing at you, or mad at you purely for existing.
- You will never be as good as these women.
- You will never be good enough, period.
Do you know how hard it is to conduct a critical meeting on behalf of a client to sell the fantasy of their newest jewelry line when you’re berating yourself?
Actually, I bet you do. Because we all have our own versions of this experience.
The mean things I’d say to myself at these meetings didn’t appear in my head out of nowhere. I had, wittingly or unwittingly, learned the basic principles of this practice as I grew up. The older I got, the more fluent I became, until English was my second language. Self-Shit-Talking was my first.
It wasn’t until I started The 12ish Style that I realized how often I said these kinds of negative things about myself to myself. Of course, this realization didn’t solve the problem overnight, but it illuminated all sorts of patterns. I learned to recognize what kinds of situations and interactions made me feel bad about myself. I started realizing who in my life made me feel inferior, what kinds of messages I had internalized as a child, what kinds of messages I was still internalizing as an adult, and how all of the above affected my self-esteem, often without me even realizing it. Tracking these patterns crystallized them for me and, ultimately, allowed me to prepare multiple plans of action. It also made me think: Holy shit, Katie. You really gotta be nicer to yourself.
I realized I had been torturing myself for no reason. I thought that if I just showed enough discipline around cheese plates and cut bread out of my diet, if I spent a gajillion dollars on expensive workouts and hours on cardio, then my dream job, dream romantic partner, dream opportunities, and dream life would appear. But weight loss isn’t some magic potion that fixes all your problems. I am a hundred pounds heavier now than I was before I started The 12ish Style, and I’m finally genuinely happy. I am confident in myself, in my business, in my extremely loving relationship, and in my friendships.
The weight gain didn’t make these things happen, either, mind you. A change in appearance isn’t what sets your life in positive motion. That all those things happened in tandem was more likely a phenomenon tethered to my newfound sense of self-esteem — which of course led me to take more control over my life and go after the things I set my sights on.
Once I started keeping track of all the awful things I said to myself, I noticed that one word stood out: FAT. I wasn’t using it merely to DESCRIBE myself, I recognized. I was using it to INSULT myself.
I knew that fat as an insult was something I’d grown up with over the years: Whether from watching TV, reading magazines, hearing what kids said about me on the playground, listening to the women I looked up to as they spoke among themselves, or likely all of the above, my fear of the word fat ran deep. All sorts of external forces had taught me that being fat meant I was obnoxious, undesirable, a joke, unhealthy, and less than. Perhaps worst of all, I had taught myself to associate the word fat with being unlovable. I had long feared that no one could possibly love me because of my body type, and since my body type was “fat,” that meant my doomed unlovability was all fat’s fault.
I am fat. It’s okay. You can say it. I can say it. Once I accepted that I was inherently, unconditionally worthy of love — and that this love and worthiness has nothing to do with my appearance and/or body but rather by pure virtue of being a human being — the word fat lost its power as an insult. I’m fat? So what! Throw a party for me if you care so much.
So here’s the mantra: You too are inherently worthy of love. We should all repeat that over and over together. It’ll be fun, I think. If we can accept that our appearance (including weight and body type) isn’t the thing that makes us lovable, successful, fun, stylish, etc., then we can accept our weight as our weight, our appearance as our appearance. Nothing more, nothing less. It just is.
It’s one thing to say it, I know, and quite another to believe it. For now, think of “I am inherently worthy of love” as a mantra to repeat until believing it becomes second nature.
Reprinted from Body Talk. Copyright © 2021 by Katie Sturino. Illustrations copyright © 2021 by Monica Garwood. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House.
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