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.