I remember the first time I was called “fat.” It was on the playground. A group of us were playing freeze tag and I had just left the home base of a tree and was confronted by my classmate, a girl named Stephanie. She sputtered it out, that one word, punctuating and finite: “fat.” I was seven.
Years later, this same classmate, who I had not seen in over two decades, popped up in my friend requests on facebook and I was completely stunned. Had she not remembered?
I don’t trace my struggles with accepting my body to that moment alone. I have had plenty of opportunities over the years to find my body lacking. Even when my teenage body was completely healthy, I berated myself for being too big. I was too tall, my hips were too wide, my body weighed too much, the size on the back of my jeans was unacceptable. I learned that “too muchness” was the worst crime a woman could commit. So I learned to tone myself down. I learned the safe places to be the larger version and the places where I needed to small myself.
In my senior year of high school, I was bullied by a girl who made her way into my friend group and sucked up to all my friends while being completely nasty to me. One of the ways she did this was by insinuating I was fat. When my friends and I dressed up to commemorate the last episode of Beverly Hills 90210, I dressed as Brenda, in a striped bodysuit and jeans (hello nineties!). And when we were trying to reenact the opening scene and someone said, “Well, doesn’t the group of guys hold up Brenda?” she looked at over at me sneering and started to guffaw. My friends refused to acknowledge this side of her and the pain she was causing me.
I share these select moments when I learned I was not enough because I am sure that most women, regardless of their size, have these. Maybe it’s acne, the size of their nose or hips or butt, and on and on. As a culture, we are merciless to women, finding fault everywhere. We suppress women’s bodies as a way to suppress their power. When these bodies—bodies beautifully flat or thick, beautifully tall or short, faces beautifully round or thin—are stifled, we women can become so obsessed with our perceived physical inadequacy that we completely forget how amazing we are. We forget to pursue our dreams. Or when we are in the process of pursuing them and feel insecure, we find ways to lash out at ourselves, often making our bodies the first target.
In my early twenties, I lost sixty pounds using Weight Watchers. I ate crappy WW frozen food, eliminated alcohol, and counted points. I exercised as well, but I wouldn't call my approach to eating or exercise a part of a healthy lifestyle. I was doing all of this solely to lose weight because I was sure that once I lost weight, my life would magically change.

Well, I lost all the weight and was finally for the first time in my life: skinny, and you know what? New things cropped up to show me why I wasn't good enough. This led to a few epiphanies.
I realized that I hadn’t been as successful with dating not because people weren’t attracted to me but because I hadn’t yet learned to love myself; I was incapable of seeing myself as a worthy partner or seeing others’ admiration for me. I realized that pursuing my creative work, putting myself out there in my writing and my music, was just as hard as when I wore a bigger pants size. I realized I was many pounds lighter and still faced tremendous uncertainty, unsure of who I was and what I wanted to do with my life.
And to top it all off, even when I was as thin as I was “supposed to be,” I couldn't see myself as beautiful. I saw a slight roll, a smattering of cellulite. I was able to find inadequacies just as easily as before.
Now, I go to African dance class and yoga several times a week. I walk my dog. I commute to my job on my bike. I stay away from foods that give me digestive issues and eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Most of the time, I tune in to see what my body wants and needs. I am the healthiest I have ever been in my life. And I weigh the second most that I have in my life.
I grew up thinking the external expression of my body was the biggest part of my worthiness. I grew up thinking that I had to define my own perception of beauty based on the expectations I saw all around me. I realize now that what I have grappled with all my life is not my weight, but the way in which my weight, as a woman, has defined how others think about me and how I am supposed to think about myself. At the heart of it, I haven’t struggled with my weight, I have struggled to love my body.

Although I appreciate them, it was not the words from supportive friends and lovers that got me there. I was only able to see myself and my body as beautiful in the slow but growing recognition of its power.

There is a certain tone to the word acceptance that can sound like tolerance. That’s why the Body Love Conference is important to me. I don’t want to accept my body, I want to love it. I have made the decision to love my body in whatever state it is: when it is healthy or when it is ill and sore, when it weighs less or more, when I am having a difficult day emotionally or when I feel peaceful. Most of all, I have decided I will love my body as the only vessel I have in this life, the one that lets me experience the world in so many small and large ways.


A native of New Orleans and resident of Tucson, Lisa is a nonfiction writer who uses her work to investigate her curiosities and bridge gaps in both personal and collective understanding. Lisa teaches writing at The University of Arizona and Pima Community College. She has also developed curricula for and taught writing workshops with incarcerated students at Tucson detention centers. Lisa received her MFA in nonfiction writing from the University of Arizona and serves on the board of Casa Libre en la Solana, a literary nonprofit supporting Tucson writers and The University of Arizona Poetry Center. Her writing has most recently been published in The Feminist Wire, defunct, The Fiddleback, drunken boat, and Diagram. She loves constraint-based writing, evidenced by her online literary project The Dictionary Project, where she writes and edits others’ pieces inspired by a word, chosen at random from the dictionary. She is an unapologetic feminist and often uses her writing to investigate ideas and assumptions about gender.

She will be teaching the (Em)Bodied Writing; Integrating Engagement With the Body Through Creative Writing" workshop at The Body Love Conference!

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