(A six-minute read)
Editor’s note: Can you say overdue? This post is part 2 of a two-part feature where real people share stories about their body image/self-esteem issues, remember part 1? Yeah, I know, that was months ago… sorry about that. Luckily for all of us, you might just find part 2 even more interesting than its predecessor. In this installment, we have three beautiful women sharing their stories. One of whom is a former plus-sized model who has always been comfortable in her skin, one is just now gaining self-confidence, and another who isn’t there at all. So much so that she asked me not to publish her name and image. I found their stories interesting and timely, especially with the recent#Fatkini social media movement. Read on and be inspired!
Ayesha Dawes: The Best Me
I’ve always been overweight and I don’t think I’ll ever be “skinny”… nor have I ever wanted to be. There are times, however, when I’ve gained weight and I’ve felt uncomfortable. Not unhappy… just uncomfortable in my clothes and with my overall health. You will always have the random person on the road who shouts ‘fatty’ or ‘fluffy’ but otherwise my experience has been generally positive. It has never been hard for me to accept my body image. I love a full figured woman, to be honest, and I love being full figured but I want to be fit, healthy. Yes, I’ve always wanted a flat stomach and toned thighs and my arms tend to be bigger than average, but I still love myself regardless.
You’ve been a plus-sized model before and you always seem to radiate happiness, positivity and confidence. In a society like ours where every other person has a comment about someone’s weight, was it ever difficult for you to accept your body image?
There are times when I go shopping and the clothes won’t fit, so it gets frustrating, or when I go to the beach and there’s that dreaded walk from the water to the shore, but otherwise I have no problems with my body.
How different would you say your perception of yourself is now as opposed to before you became a plus-sized model?
Modelling didn’t change me. The change others see physically has really been a mental/spiritual change. When your mind changes, people start seeing it from the outside. I was smaller than this once, but at the time I would never dream of modelling. I haven’t even done any more modelling gigs. Now I’m embracing me, not just my body but ME —my mind, my growth as a person, my health. I think becoming a Christian or getting deeper into my spiritual life has definitely transformed me overall – and people are now starting to see it physically.
How do you deal with the mean comments/ respond to people who tell you to lose weight, regain the weight, or imply that you’re not attractive enough to suit their standards? Do you have a lot of experience with that kind of thing?
When I was at my heaviest I had the occasional persons commenting on my weight, some were actually harsh but said as a joke, like, “Ayesha yuh nuh see yuh a get too big” or “Ayesha weh yuh a get fat a go?” Yes, it would affect me, but only for a short time and those moments were few and far between. I’m someone where if I don’t want to do something, or I’m not ready to do it… I just won’t. Comments like that never prompted me to lose weight, I just decided it was time.
What made you decide to work out and change your diet and how has that changed things for you mentally and physically? It was actually the mental/spiritual change that caused me to work out. I’m always looking to improve myself physically/mentally/spiritually and this was another way. I had issues balancing my life (work, home, family, me, friends) and I had been neglecting myself (spiritually and physically), so it started with growing spiritually with God, then the need to take care of myself fell into place. I realised exercising and eating better wouldn’t magically fit into my schedule… I’d have to make time. I keep saying to myself now, a little extra effort goes a long way. That extra minute of prayer. That extra set of sit ups. Drinking water instead of soda… all those little changes. I pushed myself to do all of that until it became a habit.
Baby steps… Definitely not there yet
I’d say I had a pretty good body image as a child, or rather, it’s not something that I ever thought about. I always developed faster than my peers, I started having the acne, the breasts and menstruating at age 10 and my Grade 9, my boobs were perfect! I was always very active and I swam a lot, so back then there was no weight issue and this lasted right up to 12th grade at age 16. That’s when I started living alone and not having a housekeeper or knowing how to cook at the time made it very easy for me to develop unhealthy eating habits and start gaining weight. I would eat lunch at school, then for the rest of the day I’d have only snacks. This continued into my first year of college and as time passed, it got worse, because by then I was depressed. This led to inactivity and comfort eating… still, I wasn’t huge, just bigger than before.
I was in a new school, I lived in a horrible place, all alone and worse, I just did NOT fit in. I was teased for being chubby and ostracised for being the privileged ‘rich kid’ and so the downward spiral really began then. By then I wasn’t even interested in learning to cook anymore. I’m an only child so my parents didn’t pressure me much growing up. They never enforced healthy eating. I was always a very picky eater, so if I never wanted something I just wouldn’t eat it and that was fine. Looking back now, I wish it wasn’t like that because I’m certain this had a lot to do with the eating habits I had when I first lived on my own, and even today.
Throughout college, my eating habits became poorer and poorer and the mean comments kept coming from everyone around me, even my closest friends. I stopped working out period. I had no idea how to ‘meal plan’, never ate anything healthy. I stopped caring about what I ate and just continued on the same path. I became overweight in no time and more depressed as time passed. I was the girl who always had amazing chemistry with guys I liked and everything would be going well, then they would ‘friend zone’ me to go off and find a smaller girl or I’d overhear mean comments. Every time I get up and motivate myself to lose weight, something bad happens. I went on HCG once and lost over 40lbs, then I lost my job and got really depressed again.
Now, I weigh 278 lbs at 5 ft 4”. The thing is, once you get to a certain place, you start feeling as if you can’t be helped anymore, your mind’s go switch gets lazy and you just can’t find the will-power to begin. I developed a sense of helplessness and poor self-efficacy a long time ago, so now I’m not even sure where to start. The good thing is my health isn’t being affected yet, so there’s still time. Where I am now… I’ve started to walk, started to incorporate fruits and vegetables into my diet and I can cook a few things that I like. Where I live, there’s hardly any organic/unprocessed food, so it’s VERY difficult, but I’m determined not to get to the point of no return because even though I just had my heart broken, again, I’ve decided I’m doing this for me. I’m still very far from my goals, but at least I now have goals and have started to work on them, so although it doesn’t look like it at all, things are looking up.
Kaydia Tomlinson: Learning to love myself
Over the years from childhood to adulthood I got mostly negative remarks about my weight. Some people would tell me I have a pretty face, but don’t I realise I’m too fat. Some would exclaim ‘Lawwwwd what a way yuh big and fat!’. My weight has been a constant struggle. Even when I was much slimmer, persons would tell me I’m too fat. When I look back at pictures from my younger years, I think I looked so amazing. I never realised in the moment, just how beautiful I really was. I always allowed other people’s negative remarks, including family, to influence how I felt about myself. I always felt insecure about the way I looked. I was always the chubby/fat friend, but I still don’t think I necessarily allowed my insecurities to get the best of me. People would always comment on how confident I seemed and that they loved that about me. I was always a firm believer that no matter how low you feel on the inside, never let it show on the outside, so I always tried to be very friendly, bubbly and outgoing so people would like me despite what they thought about my appearance.
You definitely do seem very confident and self-assured. Where are you now with regards to accepting your body? I am still in the process of trying to accept my body image. I’m only human, so the constant negative remarks do affect me emotionally although I think as I grow older, I’m becoming more confident and comfortable in my skin. I believe confidence will make me happier than any diet ever will. There’s nothing sexier than a confident woman. It is easier now because I am a firm believer that beautiful things come in all shapes and sizes. Being bigger doesn’t make me less of a woman or any less attractive than someone slimmer. They always say beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, and I am also the beholder. I’ve learned that how I see and feel about myself should always be more important than how others view me.
How do you handle or respond to mean comments? I don’t. I have no time or energy to waste on negative and tactless people.
What has been the worst comment/discriminatory incident for you so far? There have been so many, but the one that stands out the most is once in high school when the students teased me that I was so fat they could fry me. That comment has haunted me to this day.
What’s your advice to a young girl facing the same struggles as you? My advice, as clichéd as it sounds, is that there’s no greater love than self-love. In life, we will have many critics. We will always never be good enough for any one person, whether physically or otherwise, but we should always be good enough for ourselves. We are all uniquely and beautifully made. When a woman is confident in who she is and what she is about, there is nothing she can’t accomplish. Self-love is the best love!
Next week: a super-interesting celebrity interview!