Health

My Expanding, Neutral Summer Body

By Sarah Brynn Holliday

Content note for heavy discussions of body image, weight gain and fluctuations, and anti-fat bias.

I cannot truthfully say that I always love my body. Instead, I am neutral about it. My body just is; it just exists.

It may seem strange to some that reaching a place of neutrality—of moving away from forcing myself to ascribe to the body-positivity movement to instead shifting into recognizing my body as it is—has been an exponentially more Herculean task. What was the purpose of me, a fat femme, repeating self-love mantras created by straight-sized people co-opting fat liberation? If I couldn’t stand to look at myself in the mirror when I turned to the side, who was this really helping?

Eventually, I did find something that actually helped. And in many ways, I credit this summer for getting me there.

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I’d venture to guess that nearly every fat person has heard some version of the “summer bodies” discourse. It usually goes something like this:

2 Easy Steps to Have an Amazing Bikini Body this Summer

1. Buy a bikini

2. Put it on your body

At its surface, it’s a cheery, feel-good statement, one that anyone can apply to their own body. The trouble is, with anti-fat bias, oppression, and degradation running rampant in society, and without visual representation from actual fat people of all shapes, it’s hollow. When I’m at the beach with my friends and I’ve chosen to ditch the high-waisted swimsuit (you know, the one fat people are expected to wear as if it's a uniform) in favor of a string bikini, the “Just wear it! LOVE YOURSELF!” mentality never got me anywhere as I faced down stares from people who I’m sure are wondering why I’m not shrouded in a caftan.

What did get me somewhere, though, is finding people who look like me wearing whatever they want without any moral value attached to their clothing or their bodies. And where did I find them? TikTok.

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I had no idea just last year that an entire world awaited me, contained within my iPhone, that would radically change my relationship with my body.

I was a chubby child—and people didn’t let me forget it. My body has continued to shift, and now, at 27, I find myself the heaviest I’ve ever been. I haven’t stepped on a scale in years and decline to be weighed at the doctor’s office, but I can still tell. Dramatic weight fluctuations plagued my junior and senior years of college and again after ending an abusive relationship when I was 24, leaving me feeling ravaged and unsure of how my body was “supposed” to look.

I don’t share this inventory as trauma porn, but rather to explain the ever-expanding nature of my body, a critical part of my path to body neutrality. It wasn’t until this summer that I saw, time and time again, my own experiences reflected in other people whose bodies had also shifted and expanded in similar ways to mine. They weren’t just still images, they were 15 or 30 or 60-second long clips where people with bodies like mine moved and danced and tried on clothes and sang and told jokes and just existed.

In all my years of being a fat person, I finally wasn’t only being fed advertisements featuring people who claimed to be my dress size but had—or were photoshopped to have—flat stomachs and perky breasts and a round ass. Instead, I saw fat folks like me who carried their weight in their stomachs like I do; fat femmes who wore low-cut dresses without bras and let their breasts hang like mine do; fat non-binary people like me who refused to dress a certain way to appease others who think there’s only one way to “look” non-binary.

The most transformative part was that none of this was good or bad—it just was. These bodies existed like facts. And if my own fatness is a fact, is the truth, why was I expending my own valuable energy to make it seem appealing and palatable?

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My fatness is not a secret. Whether I’m wearing a flowing dress that accentuates my smaller waist and glides over my stomach or a crop top and bodycon skirt that doesn’t leave anything to the imagination, no one is guessing whether I’m fat or not. This summer, after watching fat person after fat person on my TikTok For You Page, I realized that I was subconsciously working to hide the obvious—and had been for years. I was assigning a moral value to my body, even though for most of my adult life I would have assuredly told you that was not the case.

A couple of months ago, I hit my breaking point. I live in New England, and we’ve had an unseasonably hot summer. This is the only body I will ever have. Why was I doing anything but wearing the least amount of clothing possible? What was the point in wearing bras when the 110 heat index would make me unbearably uncomfortable and sweaty just moments after stepping outside? Who—no, really, who?—gives a fuck about flattering, and why am I trying to hide my stomach from strangers I’ll never see again in my life?

Out went the itchy, concealing dresses and in came the plunging, backless, skin-tight numbers that had been collecting dust in my closet for two years, purchased in a time of confidence that I quickly lost after receiving them in the mail. I added “fat and unbothered” to each of my online dating bios and stopped worrying about whether my matches would find me attractive when and if I met them in person. And, just a few days ago, I bought the next size up for a few of my wardrobe staples without any reservations.

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I recently came across a photo of me from about ten years ago—a time I thought I was fat, but objectively was not. Normally, this would have stirred up endless feelings about weight gain and self-consciousness. This time, though, I simply recognized that body as mine. For once, there was no shame about how much larger I’ve become since that picture was taken. There was nothing good or bad about it. My expanding, neutral body is just that: a body.

 

Sarah Brynn Holliday (they/them) is a queer, non-binary femme living in Salem, Massachussetts. Sarah has been writing and educating about sex toys, queerness, gender, feminism, and healing and pleasure after trauma since 2015. You can find them at formidablefemme.com and on Twitter @SarahBHoll.

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