***TW: numbers associated with weight loss are mentioned
One of the hardest choices I’ve ever made was the decision to leave my small town in Delaware and my family and friends to go to university and pursue my dreams in New York City. The distance may not have been too great but the differences were abounding.
Adjusting to my new life was rough for many reasons: being away from home for the first time, missing my close friends and feeling the pressure to make new ones, and, of course, the new pace and attitude of the city.
All those reasons I predicted and expected; it didn’t make them easier to deal with but at least I knew what I was up against. However, other issues arose that I am only now starting to fully comprehend. At that point I was attending Parsons at the New School for Design and anyone who has ever been there knows that the students attending that school are largely Asian and White. I was one of only four black people that I met during my short time there which, besides being surrounded by so much talent that I felt I didn’t measure up to, made me feel like I didn’t belong there. I felt as if they were just trying to level out the demographics or something, like there was a quota they had to meet for some reason even though it is a private school. I later learned is called Impostor Syndrome, but I still to this day do not doubt that my accusations could be true.
Another representation issue I encountered was the overall lack of fat people. Every time I walked into a classroom, I felt like the complete embodiment of the proverbial elephant in the room.
Body image has been something I have struggled with since as long as I can remember, as is true for many of us I believe. My struggle traces back to puberty when my body was stripped of all neutrality. I started to develop noticeable curves and gain weight in some areas where there wasn’t as much fat before (i.e. my thighs and my ass) and before I even noticed these things myself, everyone else around me did. On one hand I was sexualized by male family members and classmates and on the other hand I was socially demonized by female members of society, including my mother. All of a sudden life went from being a carefree and oblivious child to becoming a woman whose main responsibilities were achieving thinness and becoming a woman that a man would want to marry one day while simultaneously doing nothing to attract male attention or stir up impure thoughts in the men around me, all before I even turned 12.
The unwanted attention from boys and men was the first issue concerning my body that I really had to face head on. As a 5th grader, I dealt with not only unwanted attention but unwanted physical contact from some of my male peers. Boys that I had considered friends just a year before, all of a sudden, became fixated on staring at my ass whenever I turned around, walked by, or bent over. Even worse than that was when they began to make a game out of copping a feel whenever they could. Not only did I feel unsafe to the point that I stopped going to recess, only went to the bathroom between classes when there were a large amount of people in the hallways, and tied a sweater around my waist every single day, I also blamed myself heavily. I thought that if I was thin and had a different shape, I wouldn’t have had to go through the harassment that continued for the entire school year and followed me until I moved to a new town and school district.
I want to note that my family and parents are African, specifically Zimbabwean immigrants and first generation Americans. Knowing this may also raise the question about the pressure I started to feel to become thin, outside of the sexual harassment. Typically Black people embrace thicker body types as the standard of beauty, especially Africans, but my immediate family did not see things this way, unfortunately for me.
Thus began my self-esteem’s downward spiral. Sometimes I thought I would try to diet but whenever I thought about dieting and how the only way I thought I could be deemed acceptable to the world was if I lost weight and became skinny, I would become really upset and do the opposite, which was to consult sugary snacks for consolation. At this point though, I started to become occupied by time-consuming school activities and countless crushes that prevented me from dwelling on too many internal issues. I was also, thankfully, surrounded by a positive group of friends that helped counteract many negative thoughts I had about my body so I was able to suppress them for the time being.
Graduation was bittersweet. I was glad to be out of the purgatorial hell-hole that was high school, but I knew that in 3 months, I was going to be leaving behind everything comfortable and familiar in my life. On top of being anxious awaiting the impending transition, I was mostly isolated from my friends the summer before starting college. Everyone was taking vacations, getting together their college dorm needs, working summer jobs, and otherwise occupying themselves with menial things just because we knew that this was the last time we could. The problem for me was that I hadn’t realized how toxic my home environment could be until then.
Within a month of being home I remembered exactly what I used extra-curricular activities to escape from. Being with my mother day after day constituted constant harassment about my weight and size. Every time I picked up a fork my motives and habits were verbally questioned. “Are you still eating?” “Do you really think you should eat that?” “You’re still hungry?” “Why is all the food gone already?” “I put food in your plate for you. No more eating tonight” These are but a few of the many quotes that began to perpetually circle around in my head.
It got to the point where I could not eat in front of her, or anyone really. I also reintroduced the concept of dieting into my life and it was the first time I really took it seriously. What got me was when I was told that I’m limiting my chances of succeeding in my career because I didn’t look the way a designer should supposedly look. Even though I knew the comment didn’t necessarily hold any merit, considering the wide range of outrageous appearances I know many successful fashion designers to have, I didn’t want to make my life any harder for myself than I already knew it was. So I went on a diet.
This diet consisted of a calorie counting app that I referred to like the Bible, taking multiple daily walks/runs, drinking about six bottles of water a day, getting on to the treadmill when I could, and sleeping constantly, fearing that being awake might make me think of how hungry I was. Using the app I programmed my goal to be to lose 30 pounds before school started in a month and a half. According to my weight and the goal I programmed, the app dictated how many calories I could intake and how many I had to burn each day. Many days I would eat under the amount of calories I was allotted in hopes of speeding up the weight loss process.
The first couple days were the most successful. I lost about 4 pounds in a week. I didn’t realize then that it was mostly, if not all, water weight. More days went by and the loss was less rapid. Then weeks went by and there was little to no change. I didn’t know how to deal with plateauing so far away from my goal. I still persevered anyway, telling myself that one day I’ll just wake and notice the transformation as if it were overnight as long as I stopped obsessing and kept persevering, so I decided to only look at the scale every other day.
By the time school started, I had only lost 10 pounds. I didn’t feel like I looked any different and the only difference I felt was utter emotional and physical exhaustion. In the last days before I started school I had made a tumblr account, for no reason in particular, but shortly after, discovered *thinspo (tw on link). It wasn’t long before I fell completely down the rabbit hole, lusting after thigh gaps, visible rib cages, and defined collar bones the way I used to lust after cute boys in high school.
Starting college, deprivation and self-loathing had already conquered my entire being, which made facing the other elements of my transition that much harder.