My childhood was difficult for me and when I say difficult I don’t mean it was horrible, there was always food on the table and a roof over my head. But it was rather the food on the table that was the problem. Since I was around eight years old, my entire family began to micromanage my eating. I was a thin little girl until around the age of six. My parents were always working and before my grandma moved in with us from Monday to Friday, my dad was in charge of feeding me. As a father with no cooking skills, he always chose any fast food place with a playground.
When I became chubby, my aunts began to make comments about what kind of food I was eating. I was told to ask for popcorn with no butter at the movie theater, to not ask for seconds. I was introduced to diet culture in the fourth grade. I started hating my body around that age.
Even though comments came from other people too — frenemies, mean boys and bullies — it was the ones from my family which always hurt the most. But it was not until I became older that I realized almost everyone in my family was terrified of gaining weight. In reality, it was not their fault they thought this way. Society had accustomed them to believe thinness equals beauty, status, happiness. However, what my parents and family members as well as friends and ex-boyfriends did not know, is that I was beginning to obsess. I overanalyzed how I looked, what I ate and went through binge eating episodes because of it. I almost became bulimic at one point, I binge ate and made myself throw up a few times in high school. It was not until my friends reassured me I did not need to do that, I began to feel better about myself.
A girl’s self esteem can be easily broken and when food becomes restricted, we almost always tend to seek it for comfort. Before I graduated college, I was on a strict keto diet which means little to no carbs. I thought I looked gorgeous because I was looking slimmer but I also thought about bread and pasta all the time.
On graduation day my aunts asked me whether I would be interested to see her nutritionist. Even though I know sometimes these comments might come from a good place, it definitely was not something I wanted to hear the day of an accomplishment.
Being worried about being fat always made me feel not good enough. I felt like I had to be funnier, likable, smarter, to make up for it. People do not really understand how this can change the way you view life. I remember when I got in a fight with my dad because he told me not to get a second helping of food, he would also try to order for me at restaurants. My mom would make comments about how I was always hungry and laugh. I tried repeatedly for them to change but to this day it is almost impossible.
It was through friends and acquaintances, I learned most of us Latinx people have been through a similar experience. And it is all because of the internalized fatphobia within our culture.
When I was 18, I was diagnosed with PolyCystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal disorder. I learned this changed my metabolism and also made me insulin resistant, which can make it difficult to lose weight. More often than not, people are already in a constant battle with their body without anyone knowing. But having to worry about whether I eat another taco or not, is not something I want to stress over.
Anna Bejarano, 30, a Mexican American elementary bilingual teacher from Texas, said she realized her mother would struggle to find clothes which fit her when younger. “It made back to school shopping something not enjoyable for me,” she tells HipLatina. Bejarano said when her mother tries to make a comment about her body she shrugs it off and challenges her by saying she will be right back and buy an elote. She never developed an eating disorder but thought about it a lot. “I guess it’s damaging enough that I actually thought about wanting an eating disorder. My family relates beautiful to skinny, if someone is fat they are automatically ugly. But our weight should not define the level of beauty.”
Flor Tamez, Mexican, 27, based in Texas and an accounts payable clerk, tells HipLatina comments about her body and weight even at her lowest body weight made her develop body dysmorphia. Now, she is never sure how she feels about her looks because of the comments she’s received since she was eight.
“I think it’s because I’ve always been told that if I eat this or that I am going to gain weight, even when I’ve been super skinny. Growing up with those thoughts makes you feel like being overweight is shameful and therefore you might have a fear of being ridiculed,” Tamez said.
Bejarano mentioned our families did not grow up with the models and body positive influencers we currently have to look up to. She believes these new role models are helping us become more accepting and I agree. Being able to see more bodies like mine in high fashion magazines or on the runway makes me feel seen. Models like Iskra Lawrence or Ashley Graham have at least given a platform to bodies like mine. She said she always tells her sister they will break the cycle when they have children and I couldn’t agree more. I would never want my children, if I ever have any, to feel the way I was made to feel.
Self esteem is a huge part of confidence and comments about our bodies can break it little by little. I try to remind myself of the ways my body allows me to feel alive. How my thick legs take me walking, allow me to dance. My big cheeks are almost always filled with a smile. Fatphobia does not allow people to just live and I want me and everyone to do just that.