I love a good pop culture analogy, and so I was pretty happy when this one popped into my head while I was walking down the hall at work recently. In the voice of Glinda the Good Witch no less!
I wasn’t dressed particularly well, I wasn’t having a great hair day or anything, in fact I’m pretty sure I looked a little meh, but I just felt happy to be alive. And because of that, I was walking tall and I was smiling. If I had to guess, I was probably the picture of easy confidence. People smiled back and said “Hello” as I passed by, and I greeted them in kind. It was a good day.
That’s when it hit me – this must be what confidence feels like. And it surprised me, because this was not something I came by easily when I was younger, thinner, probably cuter. Which is ironic, because isn’t that one of the reasons, or so we are told, that we try to lose weight in the first place? For a long time, I was pretty good at faking confidence. Faking it can be useful – you know the old adage, “Fake it till you make it.” But frankly, in those years, I never quite made it. Maybe because this particular brand of confidence was but a thin veneer over a deep layer of insecurity about my looks and my general worthiness. It was based on others’ approval of my appearance, not my own sense of self-worth.
I’ve always been a bit of an oddball (so my significant likes to remind me of OFTEN, but he means it as a compliment) which was fine until about the age of ten, when I became self-conscious about not quite fitting in. Coupled with becoming aware of apparently being in the “wrong body” – a fat body – well, this was not a recipe for confidence building (as it probably is for no one).
As I made my way through high school, college and early adulthood, although I became less self-conscious about my oddball self as I learned to make the most of my sense of humor, I became increasingly more self-conscious about my shape and weight (especially after my doctor told me, at the age of 15, that I was getting too fat). I did everything I could to deflect notice from my real self: big distracting hair, lots of make-up, clothes that shrouded my body. I was hiding some serious insecurities.
So when I went on a diet and lost weight – my personal adventure to the Land of Oz, where everything was new and shiny but also illusory and threatening – and suddenly had a body that I felt more approximated the mainstream ideal of beauty, I did feel like I was owed a little more confidence. Not that I actually was more confident – but that’s all a part of the deception of Diet Oz.
Here’s why: that confidence was built on a house of cards. I secretly felt I only fit in because I now better approximated the cultural standard of beauty. While I was still me on the inside, I thought people’s attitudes changed toward me because I had gotten smaller, more “normal” looking, and if I ever changed back, I’d lose all that approval that was the basis for my confidence.
And in fact, the “worst” – in my mind – did happen: I eventually gained back all my weight after I had decided I could no longer tolerate the miserable life of dieting I had created for myself. The consequence, for me, of becoming a normal eater was weight gain. At first, I was dismayed at the unraveling of my external image, but committed now to a quality life, nothing in the world would make me go back to dieting. I decided to learn to like and accept my body, however it was going to turn out. In for a penny, in for a pound (or 40), and damned it I was going to go back to feeling bad about myself ever again. That’s when I decided I needed to get the hell back to Kansas.
Remember at the end of The Wizard of Oz, when Glinda the Good Witch says to Dorothy, “You’ve always had the power to go back to Kansas…” That’s what I realized, this confidence — this feeling good and okay with being me in my fatter body — was in me all along. I only had to decide on it.
In a world that fosters and profits from our self-doubt of our bodies, it has become more necessary than ever that we believe in ourselves and like our bodies and not rely on others for that validation.
So I clicked my ruby red slippers together (and perhaps this explains my life-long obsession with red shoes), decided on being just fine with me, decided that I was the only approval I needed, and after some serious emotional and intellectual work around this (and, I must add, a soupçon of “Screw you, stupid society standards!”), I arrived at some real confidence (the kind that remains even in the face of a bad hair day).
I am by no means saying any of this was easy. It was not. This journey will be different for everyone, and may be harder for some and easier for others. But I do think it’s worth the trip. And hey, if you can skip that totally futile jaunt through Diet Oz in the first place, even better.
Dorothy got back to Kansas and realized that what she had all along was pretty damn good. It took her a long, dangerous trip through Oz but she figured it out in the end. I learned to feed myself and let my body be what it was going to be, and gained a genuine sense of confidence about my whole self. Because, like Dorothy, I had the power in me all along.
Need some help getting started with body love? Here are some suggestions of places to start:
Buy this book: Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Handbook for Unapologetic Living
Check out fat fashion blogs. This really helped me normalize fat bodies. These are some of my favorites:
Le Blog de Big Beauty
Flaws of Couture
The Curvy Fashionista
Curvy Girl Chic
Life and Style of Jessica Kane
Clothes and Shit
And one for the dudes: Chubstr
These are just the ones I check out. There are SO many more!