My Delayed Response to a 5-Year Old & 5 Steps for Radical Self-Acceptance
“Why are you so fat and big?” The 5-year-old asks of me, innocently. Children are so objective and curious — a dangerous combination for the adult ego.
“Well, I just am.” I calmly replied.
She proceeded to get fussed at by another adult in the room. She was made aware of the offense that I, as an adult, would take to such words; the feelings it would hurt, and the fact that it doesn’t matter, “who cares?” Her father scolded.
The vast majority of society does. Hell, on bad days, so do I. The funny part is I don’t mind being fat and big. It doesn’t hold me back. Yet I would wave a magic wand to photoshop it all away if it meant being free from the shame of simply having a body and taking up space.
But it wouldn’t, now would it?
Because it’s not a fat problem. It’s a vision problem. The 5-year-old was curious because, in the media, she can’t help but consume all around her, that women don’t look like me. Their thighs don’t rub together, their tummies don’t show — why are you different? She wanted to know.
I don’t know. I too grew up on that same media, and it is a great day when I can walk around fully comfortable in my body. Not because of the body itself, because I’ve been taught fat is not okay. I’ve been taught big is ugly. Minimize. Minimize. Minimize. As though I were a page on the computer screen.
The entirety of my teenage years, I obsessed over minimizing myself with every bite and breath. If only I could get thin — I could get happy. More important to a teenage girl, if only I could get thin, a boy would love me. None of those things happened. At my lowest weight, I reached 152 pounds. My goal was 113 pounds. 113. I wouldn’t allow myself happiness, love, sex, or good food until I was 113 pounds. That seems absolutely insane to me now, but when I looked around it seemed like it was the only choice.
In college, I found the book, “When Food is Love,” by Geneen Roth. It said the first thing to do was fall off the wagon. Just let go of the reins, let go of control — stop counting, stop weighing yourself, stop fasting, etc., etc. The very idea of it was terrifying to me. The last thing I wanted was to get fatter and bigger. But I kept reading, and I read many other books too. I bought a cork bulletin board and wrote down prayers of self-love and acceptance. Then I pinned each prayer to the board so I could see them before I left for class.
I learned to talk to myself in the way that I would speak to a friend. If the thought about myself was something I would never say aloud to another — I rendered it invalid. That voice would not make my decisions; it would not speak for me.
I did gain weight letting go of the controls, but a couple of years later I found myself the heaviest I’d ever been and the happiest I’d ever been. I was more confident around 200 pounds than I had ever been at 160. And I learned a great lesson: insecurity isn’t on the outside.
Our bodies are beautiful in all colors, shapes, sizes, missing a limb, or in a wheelchair. If someone can’t see your beauty, it’s a fault in their vision. I guarantee that person can’t see their own beauty either. And that’s the terrible irony of our cyclical pain.
A Delayed Response
The 5-year-old didn’t ask maliciously; she didn’t associate “bad” with “fat and big.” But if you really want to know why I’m so fat and big —
I am, because I’ve chosen quality of life over societal expectations. My body is neutral; one can place judgments upon the “rightness” of that radical self-acceptance, but that doesn’t change my body, or its innate beauty, or my innate beauty. Their judgments don’t change their innate beauty either. But it certainly limits one's ability to appreciate the world in its diversity.
Once I realized keeping up appearances was vastly overrated, I began to inquire into all my motivations. Was I doing this (makeup, workout, cooking, shaving, shopping, etc.) for me or to satisfy an insecurity?
WHY DO I EVEN WEAR A BRA?! For other people. So that my nipples don’t show and make someone else feel uncomfortable. Now that’s not to say this is the case for all women; I don’t speak for anyone but myself. But I decided to let the C-cups fly — be free!
When I was twenty, I began wearing shorts for the first time since grade school: in sixth grade, I was sent to the principal’s office for wearing shorts that were too short. But mine were no shorter than those worn by thinner girls. So it was okay for them but not for me? I took this more personally than teasing from bullies at school because it came from adults. I started wearing long skirts. Later, when I was 16 and homeschooling in Austin, TX, I wore hoodies and sweatpants in Summer, doing my best to disappear, to minimize, minimize, minimize.
Now I wear whatever I want: rompers, short shorts, tank tops, crop tops. Sure I notice grocery store stares now and again, and I fear hoards of teenagers laughing are laughing at me. But if I ever think about changing to make someone else feel comfortable, I remind myself that I’m the one who lives in this body.
I’m the one who lives in this body, and it’s a good body. This body is flexible — like a freak of nature flexible. This body has strong legs for waking up thunderclouds, a powerful back built for carrying a loaded wheelbarrow in tow. This body has an hourglass shape and callused feet from walking barefoot over gravel. But more importantly, the person inside this body is kind, caring, and creative. I am a powerhouse built to climb mountains and scream and sing from the top.
I’m a beast in the best of ways: joyous, wild, and free. Why would I ever minimize that to make someone else feel more comfortable?
Accept yourself radically. Accept all your fault lines and crumbling bridges, all your rainforests, and monsoons. In a world of ideals and expectations, the only sane thing to do is be radically you. Whatever that looks like — nothing is more beautiful than authenticity.
Be loyal, be honest, and be kind to yourself. No one knows what they’re doing here; don’t let them fool you. Just keep on expanding, expanding, expanding like the mighty universe you are.
I challenge you to practice radical self-acceptance for a week. It’s going to feel uncomfortable. It’ll probably look a little messy, and it will certainly feel strange. But do it anyway.
5 Steps for Radical Self-Acceptance
1. Respond to the degrading voice in your head with praise of your majesty
Don’t be afraid to have conversations with yourself. Call yourself out. Reason with yourself. Tell yourself to shut the hell up. Change the internal conversation; reclaim it. I’m not saying it will come naturally or that it’s easy, but it’s a necessary habit.
2. Stand naked in the mirror pointing out how gorgeous your shape, how amazing your spaceship body is.
This goes hand-in-hand with step one. Actively ignore the areas of insecurity and highlight the things you like and appreciate, from your appearance down to the involuntary responses (breathing, heartbeat, etc.) of your body.
3. Challenge and change your motivations
Do it for yourself. You don’t need to change what you do, but recognize the reason you’re doing it. Make that reason for your overall well-being and not to please others. This is basically putting yourself in check. For example, if you go to the gym to feel better about yourself in front of other people — don’t stop going to the gym. Shift why you go. Go, because you always feel better afterward, because it helps you relieve stress or clear your head and because it makes you feel fit and strong. Go, because you enjoy it. Find a reason that honors you and your body.
4. Do what you want — even if it’s a little scary
A little fear is an indicator of growth. It’s like holding a flashlight in a dark room and realizing you can make it brighter but being afraid of what’s in the dark. I was terrified when I started wearing shorts again, but I began wearing them around close, trusted body-positive friends, and the courage built from there until it felt normal.
5. Make a list(s) of your positive aspects
Just begin writing, “I am strong because...” and write it over and over with a different ending. Fill as many pages as you can. Later in the week, “I am beautiful because...” Do the same as before.
Flip consistently negative self-perceptions on their heads with a list of the opposite: if you feel lazy, “I am motivated when...” or, “I am productive when...” If you feel useless, write, “I am powerful because...” or, “I am valuable because...” It might seem cheesy or contrived at first but keep with it.
Use metaphors if you want, “I am strong because I am a midnight panther roaming through the palm fronds of a rainforest.” Use experiences or symbols and mantras that appeal to you. There is no wrong way to do it; these lists are love letters you are writing to yourself. Use them as tools to help encourage yourself.
This article was originally published in the 2016 Hot (Summer) Issue of Love U Magazine. Reedited and refreshed with new imagery in September 2022.
Written by Conner Lee Carey (they/them)
A writer by trade, a poet, and a music-maker; discover Conner's writing at ConnerCarey.com. You can also find Conner under @connerleecarey on Instagram. Their YouTube can be found under Conner Carey.