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Gaining Weight Saved My Mental Health

By Jem Zyk

Navigating conversations about bodies, weight, and other triggering topics can be tough, but every person’s experience is valid and worthy of sharing. That being said, self-care comes first, so make sure you’re prioritizing what’s best for *you*, even if that means closing this tab and opening up some cute puppy vids on YouTube.

A familiar story:

A skinny teenage girl. Pale skin, narrow face, tiny wrists, too tiny for the smallest sizes in stores, living life like a sliver of a person with feelings too big to fit inside such a miniscule frame. Existing as a splinter, being rewarded for natural adolescent gawkiness, it isn’t unusual to see these young people develop a complex.

I did, anyway.

My teenage years were spent as a slender white butch wrapped in baggy black goth pants and anime t-shirts. I got all the comments about how cute I was with my chains and thick eyeliner, but what stuck were the compliments about my weight.

As I got older, I grew. Taller stature, wider hips. The problem was that nowhere in those murmurs of admiration was I informed that gaining weight comes with maturation, and there’s nothing wrong with it.

Lacking this important bit of knowledge, I began to hate myself intensely.

My senior year of high school, I believed I was obese. I genuinely thought I was disgusting. Terrified of gaining weight, I tried to starve myself to keep any additional pounds off. This genuine distortion of my reality lasted well into my 20’s, at which point I was assaulted with a sudden, inexplicable bought of weight gain.

Despite being an extremely active vegetarian with a weight-lifting hobby and no driver’s license, I was gaining like mad. It didn’t matter how many miles I walked or how much fried food and sugar I cut out—after several months of weight training my fat-to-muscle ratio was higher than when I’d started.

At first, it was devastating. Then, suddenly… it wasn’t.

Within a few years my nightmare had become a reality. I had to buy a whole new wardrobe and become accustomed to online shopping, since I no longer fit in straight sizes. There were no more compliments about my appearance.

But, I went to a boutique and tried on a vintage-style dress; red with white polka-dots. It was the most beautiful I’d ever felt. The dress was tailored like a dream, accentuating each and every curve. I realized that my anxious delusions about my weight had stopped, and I was no longer afraid of my size.

After years of fearing fat, this was the first time I’d ever truly loved my body.

Now, four years later, I know my weight gain was a combination of my body processing complex trauma and also navigating an Autoimmune Disease.

It’s odd looking back at old pictures and seeing how thin I was compared with memories of what I felt at the time; often gross, flabby, and unattractive. The wistful memories that I still have are mostly internalized fatphobia, along with regret that I was never able to love myself when that’s probably what I needed most in the world.

What’s sad is that my story is almost completely absent in media. You hear about people losing weight, and most fat-positive narratives involve a person who has always been fat and finally learns to love themselves. I’ve never before seen a case like mine, where someone did skinny and fat, and decided that fat was mentally healthier.

I won’t say I never experience shame or resentment toward my body. I recently lost my carefully stabilized weight point and have begun gaining again, meaning I’m growing out of many of my favorite clothes. Let me assure you—that is frustrating, and I hate it. When I do things to manage that, though, it isn’t from the desire to be skinny, but the desire to be stable… and not having to spend hundreds on new clothes.

Despite what society says about how skinniness is the key to self-love, I’ve found the opposite. I didn’t experience true acceptance and appreciation of my body until it became the thing I feared, making me realize there was nothing to fear in the first place.

I’m not healthy, with or without a few extra pounds. In fact, I will never be healthy, because I’m chronically ill, like others in the AI community. What I try to tell myself, and people in similar situations to mine, is that society is lying when it claims that being fat is the worst thing that can happen to you. Hating myself because of these harmful messages was way worse than some extra chub.

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Jem Z. is a disabled queer content creator, who is currently pursuing an accounting certificate to complement zir career as a writer, photographer, and artist. Connect with zir at www.jemzero.com, at www.facebook.com/jemzero.art, or jemzero.art@gmail.com.

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