On this week’s episode of The Cut, co-host Jazmín Aguilera speaks with Gaby Grossman, director of production at Vox, about fatness and the unnecessary pressure she has felt to change how she looks for her entire life. The pair speaks to yogi, Underbelly founder, and self-proclaimed “fat bitch” Jessamyn Stanley and Instagram nutritionist Nicole Groman and about how society gets its approach to the idea of “wellness” all wrong.
To hear more about hear more about Gaby’s journey toward loving her body for exactly how it is, listen below, and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. You can also read the full transcript below.
JAZMÍN: I weigh myself every morning, and I have been doing that forever. Even during the early pandemic, when everyone was making bread and getting comfy in sweats on the couch, I still weighed myself … because for me, weighing myself is a weird guardrail for my body-image anxiety. It kind of works like this:
It’s worth weighing myself daily to know that I’m within this completely arbitrary range of weight I’ve assigned to myself, because when I stay in that range, I can start my day okay. And if not, well, at least then I know. To be honest, it’s not great, and I wish there was a better way to feel good in my body, but everything out there in this realm of fitness and dieting or health and wellness just kinda seems trash to be honest. But that was until I met Gaby Grossman, a co-worker of mine at Vox. She came to us with a story.
GABY: I don’t want to be a body-positive icon. I don’t want talking about fatness and my own fatness to be my thing in any way.
JAZMÍN: You don’t want to be typecast.
GABY: Exactly, exactly. I don’t want that to be the “A” story of my life.
JAZMÍN: So why do this story right now?
GABY: Weight gain is having a moment in the spotlight like everyone is talking about gaining weight. I’m like, Okay this is definitely a thing I’ve been through many times. But everyone getting fat is kinda funny.
It’s like fuck you all.
JAZMÍN: Because now everybody’s in the same position.
GABY: And it’s like when the whole class failed the test and the teacher has to grade it on a curve. So now the beauty standard is like +15 pounds and then we’re getting started, you know?
JAZMÍN: Gaby has quite a bit of experience with the emotional roller coaster that is gaining and losing weight. Like, years and years of dieting and exercise schemes. Now that we’re all looking down at ourselves and thinking, Oh my God, my body. Well, Gaby’s got more than a few things to say about that.
GABY: So many people have been inside their homes just criticizing the fucking shit out of themselves for the last year. Obviously knowing some people are rushing to lose that weight as quickly as they can. But like, while we’re all sitting here in this shame spiral together, let’s just figure out some ground rules. Maybe we can all just chill with the fucking shit talk of our bodies, realize that as you speak about your own weight gain, there are other people who are hearing you. Everyone is dealing with the feeling of gaining weight, and I do feel that I have a unique perspective on the shame and how to deal with it now.
So, like everybody else. I spent my pandemic inside eating pad thai and surviving. I just ate whatever and did not even think about it. Just going to Jack in the Box and getting a ton of candy at 7-Eleven and being like, Yeah, this will last me for a few weeks. Then it’s three days and it’s all gone. I got back to New York in February 2021, and I go to the doctor for the first time in a year or so, and she asks me to step on the scale. I saw the number, then she had me compare that number to what it said in 2018. I had a number in my head of what I thought my weight was going to be, knowing that I had gained weight. It was significantly higher than what I had expected. I think just the shock of that moment felt like getting a $100,000 unpaid credit-card bill in the mail.
I got home that day and all I could say to my best friend was, “I don’t want to go on a fucking weight-loss journey.” I have so much experience being told that I needed my body to be different.
JAZMÍN: How old were you when it started?
GABY: I have a memory of being 10 years old and being pulled out of school during the day and being driven and not really knowing where we were going. Then we went to this place, which was a nutrition center for children, the equivalent of a fat camp, and we would have to run laps around a basement and around a street and they would show us food pyramids and tell us that we had to eat 200 calories for breakfast, 300 calories for lunch, and 400 calories for dinner
JAZMÍN: 900 calories a day?
GABY: And 200 calorie snacks.
JAZMÍN: Oh my God. Oh my God. That’s like starvation.
GABY: Yeah. I knew I had to figure out a way to solve my relationship with food without going on a diet, like Weight Watchers, or any other restrictive program, because I knew that didn’t serve me and my lifestyle anymore. I just spent a lot of time on Instagram, looking at health at any size nutritionist TikToks
JAZMÍN: How did you know to find those?
GABY: I’m a fat girl on the Internet. They just come to me, baby. The algorithm.
So I spent a lot of time crying on the floor of my apartment and then after that I was exploring and.
CLIP FROM NICOLE GROMAN’S INSTAGRAM: Okay guys I found the most amazing snack today, it is 100 percent natural, has only three ingredients and tastes amazing. Are you ready? Potato Chips!
GABY: I saw Nicole’s Instagram and she is very funny which immediately, I was like Okay, I can hear what this person has to say cause clearly they get it in some way. She makes memes about intuitive eating which I really enjoy.
CLIPS FROM NICOLE GROMAN’S INSTAGRAM: The CDC recommends staying six feet away from people talking about their intermittent-fasting schedule.
Legalize emotional eating!
Girl: My boyfriend is so lucky he can eat whatever he wants.
Me: Honey, so can you!
The CDC recommends staying six feet away from group exercise classes led by instructors who talk about “bikini bodies.”
GABY: And the real line of Nicole’s that stopped me in my tracks was: “Vegetables hit different when you actually want them,” and that’s next to a picture of pizza. I immediately was like, Okay, I can hear what she has to say. You have to remember every diet, like Noom, is trying to trick people and being like, We’re not like other diets, we’re a cool diet. We’re a lifestyle change but then what it actually is, is restricting yourself.
NICOLE GROMAN: If you want pizza, or ice cream or something, right? Foods that are typically not seen as healthy. If you want that, and you don’t give it to yourself, you’re just sending your body that message that it doesn’t deserve it. If you honor it, then you’re respecting it.
JAZMÍN: Nicole Groman is a registered dietitian in New York City whose goal is to help clients make peace with food and with their bodies. A few weeks ago, Gaby reached out to Nicole for help unpacking her relationship with her body.
GABY: I just can’t believe sometimes talking about this stuff is so shameful and so radical and so many people in fat bodies have not had any form of outlet for it.
NICOLE: That’s one of the biggest things. I don’t like this to be taboo. I feel like we all just need to get it out. I mean, to put it bluntly, that just sucks so much that you went into the world. You came to a world not feeling that way about yourself. Then you had all these other people kind of informing you of something that truly is a subjective opinion. This is one hundred percent culturally dictated [by] decades and decades and centuries of opinions that have been forming over the years to get to where we are today, to say that fatness is bad. You only learned that, it wasn’t something that you came into the world believing and knowing.
GABY: The relationship with myself and how I feel about who I am, can feel so tied to food and so tied to the scale, but those things can really be separate and you can allow them to be separate and you can allow yourself to be like, I am allowed to feel good about who I am, and see myself in the best light, regardless of the number on the scale at this exact moment.
One thing that I think is interesting that Nicole says is obviously I have questions about like, Will I gain or lose weight during this process? And she has reframed it to be like “weight loss is a side effect of this process” because as you work through your intuitive eating weight may be lost or gained but that’s not what we’re doing here. What we’re doing here is healing our relationship with food.
GABY: I have this story to tell you just to start off that is just like fucking classic. I’ll just get into it.
NICOLE: Yeah I wanna talk about it.
GABY: So, I was out with a friend the other night and I was wearing a mint-green little crop moment. We’re ready, we’re out, and we’re walking around Williamsburg. And my friend and I see these two guys. They’re loitering. They’re just like chilling and loitering. They’re sitting there and one of the guys starts making eyes at me like, Oh hey. And I make little eyes at him. Then his friend who’s sitting with him is catching that, like there’s something going on. And this guy screams, he goes, “Okay, I see you inclusive ass,” basically being like, Wow, you’re being so inclusive by hitting on this girl. It’s just like, are you fucking kidding me?
NICOLE: Oh my God.
GABY: Like, how are you going to use the word “inclusive” to try to make me feel bad right now? Just like, what the hell?
NICOLE: Did you say anything?
GABY: No I didn’t!
Fuck all of that, obviously.
GABY: It’s just everywhere. I take it with me too. Now, the next time I put on that exact outfit, which is an obstacle for me that I’m ready to overcome, but an obstacle for me nevertheless is like … I know that.
NICOLE: By the same token if you wear the clothing that you want to wear maybe society would say No, you shouldn’t be wearing that, but you wear it anyway, you’re not hiding anymore. And to wear something and not hide it sends your brain that message like, I am acceptable, I am awesome, I am beautiful. It helps promote that body acceptance. So, just taking that action to wear the fucking shirt anyway is a step in that direction. A big one.
GABY: Absolutely. I definitely sometimes feel that. The best thing I can do for me, is to wear whatever I want. But sometimes I’m also just like, Why it is me wearing a fucking cute shirt have to be a radical act in any way? I’m just a girl with good taste and a cute shirt.
Maybe that’s what 2050 looks like because 2020 is so different from 1995. Like, when there were two stores, if you were above a size 12, to buy a dress, and one of them was called Dress Barn, like where animals live. Dress Barn.
NICOLE: I never, Gaby, I never actually thought about the absurdity.
JAZMÍN: After the break, Gaby gets real about exercise with self-proclaimed “fat bitch” yogi, Jessamyn Stanley
GABY: The same approach that I’m talking about with food of having what I actually want is what I had to do with exercise as well. It’s definitely a very particular experience to be a fat girl in a SoulCycle class. Like don’t get me wrong, love it, will go any time I’m asked and sometimes by myself. But we’re talking row 42, next to the AC unit in the back. You just look around and I happen to think that I deserve to be there and I can keep up and get a good workout and feel good about myself. But, it’s impossible to not at least notice that you’re the only person who can’t fit in a sample size. I’m always gonna have something negative to say about myself. I haven’t cracked the code to make that stop. But there’s definitely ways to be kinder to yourself.
JESSAMYN: I like things to be luxurious. If what you got right now is to cross the legs, that’s perfect. Maybe crossing the legs is a bit much, legit do whatever the fuck you want.
GABY: And that’s definitely the vibe Jessamyn Stanley is going for.
JESSAMYN: My name is Jessamyn Stanley I am a yoga teacher, author and an entrepreneur. And I am a weed advocate, a fat bitch, and a person who is trying to learn how to accept themselves.
GABY: Jessamyn is one of the founders of Underbelly Yoga, a home-practice online yoga site in Durham, North Carolina. The whole ethos of Underbelly is basically creating a space for people who have felt overlooked or underserved by the wellness industry.
JESSAMYN: I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent so much of my life actively not accepting what is, trying desperately to change what is. At this stage, I’m just like, I’m good, we’re good. This is good. I got to remind myself literally every single day. And that’s okay. Remind myself every day till the end of time. That’s okay.
GABY: One of my favorite things about the Underbelly is when you do your average, like “put on your sneakers in your living room” workout. If you’re not one hundred percent up to speed, any form of modification is like, Okay, well, if you’re like the slow fat one in the back, can’t let those weights.
JESSAMYN: Part of why I started the Underbelly is because I have been taking online classes for years. I really know that the experience of being able to connect with the teacher in the comfort of your own home is so dreamy. One of my favorite classes, I love this class so dearly, but my teacher in it, she’s consistently saying things like, Yeah, so if this is too much for you or if you can’t do this and I’m just like, Why are you going to be so defeatist about it? You know? What’s wrong? Maybe I just feel like practicing it this way.
GABY: Yeah! There’s so much of an attitude in working out as like, I ate a doughnut yesterday, so now I have to work out and it’s punishment. It’s like this thing that we have to force ourselves to do. It’s also thought of as an antidote to fatness.
JESSAMYN: Mm hmm. Deeply. Deep antidote to fatness. I think it’s supposed to be. We’re supposed to be trying to solve fatness, even with many aspects of the body positivity movement, I would argue, are really angled in that direction. It’s trying to create a solution to this. It’s like This is something that you have to get past. It’s like, nah, I’m just fat. It’s just one of the things about me, just like anything else. I have brown hair. I’m five foot six, I’m fat. It’s not something to solve. I think, especially when you go to the doctor or when you go to speak to anyone about it, it’s always like, Well, when you lose weight or When this thing happens. What if I don’t want to lose weight? What if I’m good? Maybe. That doesn’t mean that you can’t seek a healthy lifestyle. It just means that you accept yourself as you are. We definitely don’t live in a society of acceptance. We live in a society of, like, Change or else.
JAZMÍN: It’s Sisyphus. You’ll never be happy because you’re constantly going for a goal that you will never, ever reach, because even if you are skinny, you can always be skinnier.
GABY: Yeah, always. Always. So now would be the time to tell you that my sophomore year of college I did this:
I lost 45 pounds and I felt like I finally achieved what everyone always wanted me to. It felt like this incredible gold medal that I won and I definitely saw changes. There were people that looked at me, who had known me for a long time, and suddenly wanted to talk to me and people came out of the woodwork to tell me how great I looked. I also was really proud of what I had done and thought I killed the old Gaby off and became Gaby 2.0 and a new person who’s suddenly so great and so much better. Then you put so much pressure on yourself to be so happy and like, I look great, right? This is it, right? Like, I did this thing and now everything’s so great, but my anxiety has never been higher in my life. It felt like my happiness was tied to the scale. One hundred percent. I felt like now that I became this better version of myself, I owed it to everyone else to stay thin. I remember just still crying in the dressing room the way I had when I was fat. I really think I felt worse than I’ve ever felt about myself because it was like now that I lost all this weight, like this thin ideal that I was still chasing, I wasn’t there, but it was closer than ever. I could taste it. And I was like, Okay, you watch the scale go down and down and down and down. And like, when you’re a size eight, like, it’s like, Oh, why am I not a size two? Then, I’m sure if I somehow found a way to get myself to be a size two, it’d be like, That girl is a double zero. Like, That’s not me. I think that I was just chasing this idea of the perfect version of myself, and I had been told for so long that the most ideal version of me was a thin version of me, and then I saw with my own eyes that that wasn’t the case.
JESSAMYN: It’s just so intense. We will categorize people as being healthy because they’re, like, obsessive about their diet or obsessive exercise or whatever. But on the inside, they’re thinking these really toxic thoughts. I think that’s not good mental health. Maybe we could care about mental and emotional help the same way that we care about physical health? If you accept yourself. If you are liberated from the idea that anyone else can have ownership over your body, then you will want to take care of your body.
GABY: Let’s go!
JAZMÍN: All the work Gaby’s been doing is really helping but it’s also pretty weighty, you know? So, Gaby and I decided to go to the most non-serious, fun, “show off your body in all its glory” destination that I could think of.
So, tell me where we are right now.
GABY: We’re in Venice Beach, California. We’re ready to hit the fucking beach.
GABY: And its time to fucking get naked and party!
JAZMÍN: Haha that’s right
GABY: It’s sunny. There’s some sand touching the toes at this point.
I will say it’s not something that I’ve done for the first time — wear a bikini — but I definitely felt better than I have felt in a long time, being myself.
GABY: I’m ready.
JAZMÍN: Is this the first time you’ve been to the beach since the pandemic?
GABY: Yes! It’s the first time I’ve been to the beach in a long time.
The first time I wore a bikini to the beach in Boston, I remember showing my roommates and being like, “Can I actually pull this off?” and they were like, “Yeah, yeah you can.” And I was like, Okay, I can do this. I remember feeling like it was such a fluke. That this one particular magic bikini was the only one that could possibly look good on me. And I was like Okay, this is Xhilaration from Target. This is not that special.
When I started talking to you guys about working on this, I was just in this place of such despair. I didn’t really know how I was going to feel. I was like, Am I really just going to be okay with where I’m at?
JAZMÍN: Are you?
GABY: Yeah I think I am. I’m in a place where I feel differently with my relationship with food and the relationship with myself. And we had a great day on the beach.
JAZMÍN: Do you wanna do it all together?
GABY: Yeah I’ll start. I’ll just take this skirt off.
JAZMÍN: Dun, dun, dun. Dun, dun, dun.
JAZMÍN: She just swirled her mini skirt around in the air like a gogo dancer.
GABY: Fuck it, right?