Updated: Jan 7

By: Kian McKoy

Edited by: Lia James

Today after I came out of the shower, I stood in the mirror and took a real hard look at my bare, glistening reflection. I observed the expanse of discolored skin, marbled after years of competitive swimming and scorching island sun. My rounded diamond face is speckled with acne scars that look like freckles and freckles that look like flecks of dirt. I poked the stacks of rolls, traced the tracks of stretch marks and pinched the loose, chubby skin. The deep curve of the waist. The wide bulge of the hips atop kissing thighs. It took a few years before I could do this without drowning in dread and self consciousness. Today, I gaze in awe: this body is beautiful. My body is beautiful.

It wasn’t always Today. I’ve battled with extremely low self-esteem for most of my life because, as I was frequently reminded by strangers and familiar faces alike, I was always “on the chunky side.”

Despite living in that island sun, I relied on layers to make sense of my body: long jeans, never shorts, never skirts. No matter what length they were, some weirdo was always waiting to tell me they were inappropriate. It is inexplicably painful being told that you are inappropriate for simply existing, by the way. I always wore white tees under my tank tops to cover my bat wings. People would pinch at them if they were visible.

Looking back on those delicate years with a more evolved sense of who I am, that lack of self-esteem didn’t feel like mine. My issues didn’t lie with my body itself—they lay more so with the fact that my body made it hard to be me. The world was so fixated on how The Body was dressed, how The Body moved, what The Body ate. I blamed my weight for all the shortcomings in my life. Not getting invited out as much as my other friends, not being someone’s WCW, not easily meeting new people. I would later learn it wasn’t really my weight at all, but rather it was the oppressive gaze of the world that discouraged me from being confident or outgoing. Go figure. The little girl held by The Body was being neglected.

Imagine being a fat athlete.

People never believed me when I told them all the sports I played. How could I be “so athletic but so… you know.” It’s why I stopped competitive swimming. I couldn’t stand the thought of my flabs fluttering through the water next to the lean and hydrodynamic bodies in the surrounding lanes. Could they see the ripples across my thighs and down my arms? It was as if I myself was a pool. I stopped dancing for the same reason. I thought I looked like a piping bag overstuffed with frosting in my leotard. Nevermind that I was fairly accomplished. A couple shiny-ish medals and trophies weren’t as impactful as feeling constantly tortured because I never fit in.

Any hopes of being a professional athlete were cast aside with concerns of getting custom made uniforms because, of course, they didn’t carry extended sizes. Sports were supposed to be my avenue to lifelong friendships and scholarships to actualize my Ivy League aspirations. Hell, they were supposed to be “fun.” Instead, I felt burdened. I abandoned those goals despite heaping amounts of disapproval from my parents, who had ulterior motives of sports being my ticket to weight loss. Everything was tainted by The Body.

But being a plus size teenage girl was the most traumatic epoch. Do you remember going through puberty? I’ve been reflecting on those years lately, and the memories are filled with jump cuts. A rough edit of the least traumatic bits.

I do remember wearing my dad’s clothes, though. When I was a teen, plus size clothing was pretty much not a thing. The few brands that carried extended sizes ensured the styles were the most odious, unfashionable sheaths of shapeless fabric that existed. The clothing was meant to cover the offending body, not style it. This memory put a new perspective on my “tomboy phase.” I don’t think I was really a tomboy. I think it was self imposed to feel comfortable in my clothing options. Other than being rambunctious-ish (as children so often are) and looking like a softer version of my dad, I don’t remember being a tomboy. I’d often resort to maternity wear in an attempt to find some femininity and then have to deal with the consequences of appearing mature because—as we women know—it’s the clothing’s fault.

Shopping in general was a nightmare. That sucked, because I love fashion. There was constant embarrassment and heartache from trying on trendy, cute girl styles only for them to look misshapen on me because they were cut for “standard” bodies. Vacillating between “wear what makes you feel good” and “does this even look good on me” was exhausting. At the end of every shopping trip I would have the smallest haul and the heaviest heart. Thank God for Forever21 Plus changing the game in 2009.

Fashion choices are most people’s first line of self expression. We can’t deny the impact our outward appearance (and its perception by others) has on our inner world. It’s 2021 and I’m just now able to get a grip on my style and gender expression. In the last couple of years, plus size clothing options have gone from frumptastic frocks to an inclusive collection of hoefits on Shein called Shein SXY. I can finally align the Hot Girl I am in my head with how I appear IRL.

So now it’s Today. I’m choosing between my favorite tube mini dress and a cute tank top + shorts combo to wear on my errands run. Teenage Me wouldn’t have even dared to pick them up at the store. I go with the tube dress, braless of course, in solidarity with that little girl who was told she looked inappropriate. I adjust the layers of necklaces that sit on my bare chest and smooth golden body shimmer across my bare shoulders and arms. No white tees underneath today, or ever again. I am done hiding this body and hiding who I am. My body is beautiful. And so am I.

When you ask someone what they love about a Black woman in their life, their response often involves labor or sacrifice.

“She puts everyone’s needs before her own.”

“She always gets it done.”

“I can always count on her.”

And the fact is, it’s true. Black women work hard to be everything to everybody...expect when it comes to ourselves.

Society tells us that we are not good enough. It demonstrates over and over again that we are neither valued nor protected. Yet still, everyone expects total access to our labor, our nurturing, and our being. We are rewarded with more work and empty sentiments, like being told we are “SO strong.” And because that is all we are offered, it has become enough.

We aren’t saying it out loud, but we are led to believe that if we work hard enough, if we achieve enough, if we give enough of ourselves, then maybe we will be worthy of the appreciation and love that we don’t know we deserve.

My mother taught me how to work hard. She led by example and from a young age instilled in me the value of hard work. I saw her sacrifice to provide for us and to give us new opportunities and experiences. I learned to be the best and that dedication to pushing myself would lead to success.

So that’s what I did, and for a while it was enough. I went into every situation with the goal of being the best. As a high-achieving rule follower, it was easy to do. As a student, as an employee, as a girlfriend and as a daughter, the rules for a Black girl who wanted to be valued were made clear: you must work harder than everyone else.

And I felt good about myself because I could always deliver. If I was met with criticism, no big deal—I could always work harder.

I probably would have gone on like this forever, happily working hard to be the best in whatever role I took on. But then I started my family and the rules became less clear.

I moved away from my hometown to start a life with my soon-to-be husband and son in Atlanta. Since we planned to have a child right after getting married, I decided to stay at home. I struggled with the transition.

I never imagined that staying at home would be an option for me. I was not prepared for the complex feelings that came with this change. The security and confidence I thought I had was jolted.

I was raised to never rely on anyone! I was raised to take care of everything myself! I was raised to work. Yet here I was doing the exact opposite of what I was raised to do and it tore me up inside.

As you can imagine, it didn’t help to hear things like “oh, that couldn’t be me” and “I would still work” from my family and friends.

I have to admit, the opinions of others and self inflicted pressure to return to work weighed down on me. The idea of who I thought I should be was flipped on its head. I was no longer working in the way I was used to. My husband didn’t expect anything from me like the other relationships in my life. I no longer had a way to prove my value.

I tried, though. I tried to work myself as hard as possible taking care of the domestic labor. I refused to outsource any of the responsibilities. One day I even spent hours on all fours scrubbing the bathroom floor by hand! This seems so ridiculous to me now, but I remember thinking, “I NEED this floor to shine.”

The more tired I was, the more accomplished I felt, and the more I felt like what I was doing was important—the more I felt that I was important. I wore myself down, and now that I can reflect honestly, I’m certain the way I was working myself contributed to the pregnancy complications I experienced when I had our daughter.

I started to realize I had attached my worth to what I could offer to everyone else.

This was a dangerous place to be, because it meant in order for me to feel deserving I had to exhaust and deplete every aspect of myself. It also created an unhealthy foundation for relationships because this kind of sacrifice only gives life to resentment and causes one to seek security through attempts to control.

Up until this point in my life, I was able to hide from the fact that I didn’t know my worth because there was a clear path laid out on how I could demonstrate my value by working to produce outcomes for others. But if I wanted to be happy, I knew I had to make a change.

I recognized how external validation had impacted me and I asked myself “who are you without it? Who are you when you are not serving others?”

I spent a lot of time getting to know myself. I really got at the core of who I was and what I needed. I discovered I was pretty damn dope.

I gradually let go of using labor as a way to be seen! I saw myself! When I did, I knew I was worthy of more. I started to pour into myself the way I tried to pour into that bathroom floor, but I DID start to shine!

The way I had relationships changed too. I could set boundaries with family to protect my peace. I could build meaningful friendships with people I admired because my sense of self was no longer threatened. I could give my husband and children love from a place that was truly unconditional because I did not need to use them as my source of validation.

When I turned to myself to see my value, I learned that just being me was the greatest contribution I could make to this world.

Updated: Apr 11, 2021

“I desire thinness”.

“I’m struggling to love my bigger body.”

“I want to take up less space”.

“I want to be skinni-er, thin-ner...Pretti-er? “

Getting these words to leave the secrecy of my head was a painful process. It hurt because, whenever I admit these things, it feels like I am accepting that my own mind is turning against me, erasing all the efforts I’ve made to care for and love my body as it is.

Wanting to go back to an idealized, thinner, more athletic and socially acceptable version of myself makes me feel like I’m relapsing into old disordered habits and harmful patterns of behavior that I thought I had long overcome regarding my body. I hate it.

As a firm believer in the necessity to dismantle the racist, misogynistic and fatphobic standards of beauty that the white patriarchal society applies to all of us, and especially to us femmes of color, wanting and aspiring to thinness makes me feel like a gigantic fraud. But sadly, I can’t seem to shake that desire away.

When quarantine started, I worked out a lot. I danced, jumped, walked when I could because indulging in movement helped me cope. Amidst the global pandemic and despite my anxiety, I realized that my body was my home and I truly felt connected to myself in a novel way, away from the world and its unrealistic standards and expectations. Moving and living in my body actually felt comfortable for the first time in a while. It brought me joy. And then, the lockdown ended.

Since then, it’s become much harder to exist as myself and love my body. When I scroll back to old pictures of myself when my body was visibly leaner, more athletic and thinner, I find my quarantined self so much more attractive than the ‘me’ I see in the mirror, all because the size of my body has changed.

These thoughts are not new. In fact, every time the size of my body changes, I often feel them creep into my consciousness, coming out of their hiding place at the back of my mind. They tell me that I’m too big, that my bum is too flat, that my hair is too thin, that I take too much space. They tell me that I’m unattractive, unworthy, unlovable.

This is simply a testament to how fucked up I am and have been thanks to white society’s standards of lightskin, slim thick, curly-haired, racially ambiguous, hourglass, thigh-gapped, instabaddy beauties. As a young, dark-skinned Black woman, with thin kinky hair, living in a body that has been shamed, that hasn’t felt desirable, valid or visible, it’s hard living in this world. It’s hard loving and embracing my body in this world.

It’s hard because despite all my efforts, and the huge awareness and care for myself I’ve cultivated for years, I still fall prey to these standards that make me feel like l’Il never be enough. Like I’ll never be pretty enough, even “for a black girl“ because I don’t feel like I fit society’s vision of what an attractive woman is. I know for a fact that white society’s current standards have never validated me, and yet the standards of alleged “acceptable“ “attractive“ black femininity don’t welcome me either because I don’t have a huge afro, 3-C curls, light skin or a big bum.

That’s why, despite everything I’ve learned, there’s still a part of me which wants to be thin, to finally feel conventionally attractive, accepted, worthy. And I really wish I didn’t. I really wish I were above societal pressure, and beyond disordered eating, and long past body dysmorphia and fatphobia. I really wish I was. And to some extent I am. Or rather I fight every day to be body neutral, to see myself as an existence rather than a vessel that needs to be validated, consumed or judged in order to have value. But sometimes, I relapse. Sometimes, I fall back, and it hurts.

So, what do I do? Should I attempt to shrink myself to look “better“ ? A voice in my head, growing stronger on the days when my dysmorphia is at an all time high, says that I should be able to do what I want with my body, even if that means going through painful diets again, if that makes me feel more comfortable under other people's and my own scrutinizing gaze.

Even if I know better than to believe in the narrative that “thin is health, and beauty, and acceptable and respectable, and attractive“, a part of me wants to believe that voice. Because back when I existed in that space, I found that society’s fatphobic standards of what is acceptable, valuable, and beautiful were finally within reach for me.