I recognized at an early age that the world valued thinness and female discipline above most other qualities of desirability and, until recently, I would comply. I would comply by either accepting that I was less worthy or by disciplining myself into thinness. Thin privilege is a thing and the people who don’t want to acknowledge that are kidding themselves. I remember the first time I lost a good 10 kg; I was 11. The boy I had a crush on told me I’d be cute if I lost weight. So Weight Watchers it was. A bunch of morbidly obese housewives and myself, learning to count calories. These women, telling tales of suffering from health complications due to their habits, would tell me that they were thin when they were my age. My fatness was, even to those women, unforgivable. Young women surely have a reason to be thin? I lost the weight. For the first time since I was 9 I could fit into my older sister’s clothes. It was glorious. But then we moved countries, and I survived being away from everyone and everything in the coldest winter my Brazilian self had ever experienced by feasting on Dutch junk food and hibernating.
My second weight loss attempt happened when I was a teenager. I must have been around 13. I was in full puberty and had somehow befriended some of the most attractive girls in school but that only made it more painfully clear that I was not one of them. So I decided to starve myself. And, like magic, I went from borderline invisible to boys to experiencing a sexual awakening in the time that it took me to learn to fake sleepiness to skip dinner. Fat-free yoghurt for breakfast, an apple for lunch and no dinner: an imperceptible eating disorder at its finest. I received so many compliments about my appearance I barely knew what to do with myself. The school dance that took place in that short period where I was thin was probably my most unforgettable. It was like being high. And I would specifically not shop for new clothes so my old, ‘fat’ clothes would just hang off my body, showing off my success. And successful I was. Oh the compliments. Two months, it took me to lose all that weight. And all people had to say about it was how great I looked. No alarm bells. Anorexia is for thin girls.
But I sucked at having an eating disorder of that kind. So I inevitably gained the weight again and didn’t go back to dieting until I was 17. Let’s just say I freaked myself out with this whole not eating regime. Then by 17 I went back to the Weight Watchers for a second time. At first everything was going really well, I lost steadily, I felt great. Almost a year went by before I dropped 10 kg. I was exercising and eating well and still occasionally having a beer or ten – this was perfectly legal in Holland where drinking age used to be 16. Again my accomplishments did not go unnoticed. Oh thinness, how much joy you bring. How you make yourself worth all the sacrifice because you make people feel worthy. Worthy of love, of friends, of everything. The world is at your feet when you have struggled enough with your body image to develop a personality but still managed to self-discipline into thinness. It’s like every item of clothing was designed for you. It’s like the world was designed for you. Ten mere kilograms divide the line between worthy and unworthy of all this fulfillment. Oh what power you have.
After my great loss into adulthood, I met a boy who made me insecure. And so I continue to self-discipline and I lost another five, precious little kilograms. It was a revelation. The privilege of the weight that took me to normal was nothing compared to those last five that brought me to skinny. I was a VIP member of every club. It was almost worth all the self-doubt and insecurity that caused me to panic about having had an extra spoon of rice so my stomach wouldn’t expand again. So long I had tried to stop the feeling of hunger and just like that, all my success, all my amazing accomplishments of being skinny would go away and no one would be proud. No one would say I’m beautiful. No one would look at me, mesmerized that I was that same chubby girl they once knew. Oh thinness, only you can give a girl that kind of pleasure.
I freed myself from the boy that made me insecure and within a few years I was back to my more comfortable shape. The average shape that lowers the stock of my attractiveness. The disgusting evidence that I have no self-discipline, even though I know what kind of life I am giving up by not complying. Oh the thin life. It is almost worth everything.
And then I met a boy who loves me for me. The first person in my adult life that I confessed the extent of my previous struggles with weight to. He understood, he supported me to do whatever. He had struggled with both slight under and slight overweight himself. But as we became more intertwined, I started to confuse my eating needs with his – and being that I’m little and he’s big, you can imagine what happened next. Again I put on weight. And I crossed a line. That ten kilo mark that became a dozen. So I went back to the Weight Watchers.
And this time I was calorie counting like a motherfucking freak. I told myself: you were thin for that other asshole, but this amazing man doesn’t get to be with your best self! Your ‘best’, thin self, that is. I thought such crazy things obsessively. And I lost the weight. Then stress came and, two years later, my dozen became fifteen. And I didn’t care. For once in my life I didn’t need that recognition. I didn’t need thin privilege. It was freeing. Not that I didn’t want to feel fitter and better and losing weight was one way to achieve that, but this time it didn’t matter for those same reasons. I am worthy. I am loved. I matter. I have something to say. And you know what? Fuck you, mandatory thinness. You make otherwise sane women who don’t naturally fit into a mold feel like they have to obey you to self-love. You’re a fascist little bitch, you.
Then came the proposal. Last year, that boy became my husband to be. And together we decided to put in the work and feel amazing by January 3rd 2015. We did it. I dropped a good ten, as did he. But we did it out of self-love. Entirely. We got super into cooking and green smoothies and all of that but we never let it get out of hand. We drank beer, we ate cheese and if we swapped rice for quinoa to make those waistlines look picture-perfect, so what? We made sure it tasted amazing! I wasn’t trying to starve myself into a size 0. For once, I wasn’t really trying to be thin. And I really wasn’t thin by the end of it either. I was comfortable in my own skin and strong as hell. Mentally and physically. And boy was that necessary. Imagine 35 degree Celsius heat combined with wedding stress?
When we came back to Amsterdam, I was unemployed for three months and I ate myself into a state of serenity. Do I regret having fallen off the wagon? Sure, I had a good thing going. But only because I liked feeling good, not because I am somehow a loser for being chubby again. I have a husband I love, my first real job that I really enjoy, and a whole lifetime ahead of me to get back on track. I refuse to shrivel up into self-hatred. And yet the world is such a hard place to stay sane… All you ever hear from women around you is self-deprecating things about their bodies. Bodies that are abled, beautiful and much closer to thinness than I even aspire to be. I try to just disregard it, but it’s a daily exercise of patience and self-assurance.
My message to anyone else struggling to self-love is that you are already worthy of love: losing that belly isn’t going to change who you are, ‘no pain no gain’ is literally the stupidest thing I have ever heard in my entire life, and it’s about time that we stop treating thinness like the absolute measure of self-worth. It just fucking isn’t.