When I was growing up, it sometimes seemed like everything would fall into place if I could just reach the promised land of a size 12. I wasn't that much bigger, I told myself as I laid down to buckle size-16 pants, or as my belly ached from desperately sucking in my stomach all day.
Now, as an adult, I'm a step further from that size 12, wearing the 18s I probably should have been in all along. But I found the promised land: body acceptance free from shame or pressure to change.
Medical professionals, family members, and random people on the street love to tell fat people to "just lose weight." That's the only way my parents knew how to help me in the 1990s as I struggled with self-confidence and body image. I even bought into the message myself, losing 50 pounds in college before gaining it back once I had kids.
But the things that made me a healthy, happy individual have nothing to do with weight loss. Here's what I wish I'd known earlier.
As a child of the '90s, I was constantly out playing in the yard, biking around the neighborhood, or orchestrating impromptu kickball games. But when I played T-ball, I was stuck as catcher. At soccer, I was put in goal. It didn't take long for me to absorb the message that bodies like mine didn't belong in sports.
So I stopped playing. I dabbled in individual sports like fencing but didn't find joy or fun in movement until I was an adult.
That's when I realized my body can be athletic. There are sports like powerlifting where my size is a benefit. I adore hiking, kayaking, and obstacle-course racing. I have fun experimenting with sports that aren't a natural fit, like ice climbing or yoga.
For years I thought exercise had one objective: to lose weight. But when I realized that movement was really just for fun, I fell in love.
When I was a teenager, shopping was torture. It usually ended in tears. I avoided any mention of the plus-size section, instead suctioning myself into straight sizes. I never developed a strong sense of style because I just wore anything that would fit.
Once I was an adult, I had an epiphany: The size on the tag doesn't matter. I started by buying shirts that were a bit bigger, then pants that didn't leave pressure marks on my skin.
When I embraced bigger sizes, I instantly felt better physically and emotionally. No one wants to be squeezed or pinched all day. Now I shop almost exclusively online, where more retailers offer plus sizes. I love experimenting with new styles and even with clothing rental.
Turns out, clothes that fit great boost my confidence way more than a smaller size did.
The diets of my childhood tasted like punishment. Salads with no dressing, boiled eggs, cottage cheese — it doesn't sound too appealing.
Now I know that healthy doesn't mean bland. I create stir-fries, curries, soups, and, yes, even salads that burst with flavor. I eat food that tastes fantastic and fuels my body well. I've realized I don't have to choose between healthy and tasty, because I deserve to have both.
If there was a movement for body positivity back in the early 2000s, it certainly didn't reach me. But today my Instagram feed is full of big-bodied badasses. Some are lifting weight on the Olympic team, while others are scaling mountains or becoming yoga influencers. They're travel bloggers, lingerie models, or experts in their field.
In short, they're doing what anyone can do but what people in larger bodies were told for generations wasn't for them. That inspiration and representation goes a long way, especially on the tough days. Luckily, now those are few and far between.