A lifetime of living as "the fat girl" left me with serious emotional scars that no diet could heal.
When I was 18 years old, I thought that losing weight would make my life perfect. Like so many teenage girls obsessed with fitting into Hollister and cutting carbs before prom, the size of my thighs consumed me. All of the time. I spent my high school years wanting to be the one thing that seemed impossible for a pudgy Italian with an A+ on the emotional eating scorecard: skinny.
I wanted to be skinny because I thought being skinny would make me invincible. I thought it would give me the confidence of a freshly primped, doe-eyed cheerleader, shouting with pom-poms on the sidelines of a football game.
To say I was crippled and mislead by these illusions would be an understatement. I equated joy and self-worth with what the mirror reflected and never thought I'd be physically desirable or worthy of love until the mirror reflected a svelter set of legs and a toned torso.
This low self-worth disallowed me the ability to believe I could be sexy at a plus-size, or good enough for a relationship in any way, really. The idea of having an exciting or fulfilling love life was mostly a fairy tale in my mind—one starring the supermodel version of myself that I so desperately wanted to be.
My low self-esteem resulted from the all too familiar cocktail of societal factors: wanting to look like the popular girls at school, believing the bullsh*t of Hollywood about having to be thin, and growing up with an alcoholic stepfather who took pleasure in calling me a "fat ass" after too many beers.
I was also teased at school at times for being heavy. That was perhaps the most painful part of the plight of being plus-sized—a lot of kids at school didn't want to talk to me or be my friend. And that hurt.
I was never asked to homecoming, prom or winter formal dances. I didn't go to the beach for spring break with a car full of my classmates or Friday night parties at so-and-so's house. All I could think was: If I could just get skinny, I'd be just like everyone else. Because "everyone else" looked happy with their boyfriends and proms and pool parties.
That's one of the side effects of dieting and hating your body for so long—you begin to assume that thin people have perfect, happy lives and relationships to match their perfectly petite waistlines.
I had it all wrong.
After my freshman year of college, I got serious about my health and weight, and successfully dropped the pounds I felt I could no longer carry physically or psychologically. I was welcomed to that green, grassy proverbial paradise of "thinville" soon thereafter and waited for the feelings of euphoria to set in.
But they never came.
My life changed in a lot of ways after I lost weight. I felt healthy, went out on dates, wore skinny jeans and felt pretty on the beach. But did these changes make me as happy as I thought they would? Not really. Those perfect, blissful feelings I'd waited for my whole life never came, and I was confused.
How many of us go through life idealizing the things we don't have and recklessly pursuing them as if they are the only way we'll ever feel happy? We do this not only with weight but with jobs, marriage, a fairy-tale wedding or becoming famous. I had convinced myself that once I lost weight, I'd become the Alessandra Ambrosio I'd idealized—an empowered, confident vixen with perfect breasts and the perfect love life because of it.
But the reality was: I was eons away from having the confidence to carry my new and improved thinner self with the swagger of a swimsuit model. I still felt powerless over the negative self-talk that told me I wasn't good enough.
Losing weight hasn't been something that has made me unbreakable and invincible, as I thought it would. I hasn't made me any more "normal" (anyone who knows me will tell you that I am four continents removed from normal!). It also hasn't defined my sexual identity, caused me to look at myself and think "bombshell!" every morning, or made me any more equipped to cope with the stresses of love and intimacy.
What it has done is empowered me and helped me to be healthy and more physically confident, which are valuable. Losing weight didn't heal the stretch marks on my belly or my wounded self-esteem that is still recovering from the past, but then, how could it?
In the five years since my slimdown, I've been working on that supermodel swagger—though it certainly doesn't involve doing squats and lunges at the gym. Instead, it's been a practice in accepting myself and in learning to mute the negative chatter in my head that wants me to tie my self-woth to my jeans size. It's a choice. One, I realize, I've had the power to make all along.
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