Vodka Yonic

Vodka Yonic features a rotating cast of women and nonbinary writers from around the world sharing stories that are alternately humorous, sobering, intellectual, erotic, religious or painfully personal. You never know what you’ll find in this column, but we hope this potent mix of stories encourages conversation.

Thirty pounds. That’s how much weight I have gained.

Toward the beginning of the pandemic, I was like millions of Americans who decided to get fit. I started working out, ate all my leafy greens, yadda yadda, and that worked — for a while at least. But after several months, I hit a slump. 

For most of my life, I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety. To cope in the past, I’ve used food, among a few other things. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess the implications of eating your feelings. I packed on the pounds. Day by day. Cookie by cookie. Pizza slice by pizza slice. By fall, I was weighing myself every day, only adding to my body dysmorphia and depression.

I went to great lengths to avoid looking in the mirror. I almost treated it like a game. How long could I go in the bathroom without having to look at my body? I got it down to maybe a few glances here and there. The day I hit 30 pounds of weight gain, I looked down at the scale, ashamed. Then, a heavy weight fell on my chest. I couldn’t breathe. I had a panic attack about gaining weight. But is gaining weight such a bad thing? And if so, why? Maintaining your weight is expected, if not required, of you as a woman. And I was failing and failing hard. 

“You’re gaining weight,” my grandmother told me. 

News flash: People who are gaining weight know it’s happening. Some of us are in hell over it. If it’s not Granny reminding me, it’s the television. What would I be if I wasn’t thin? From Kim Kardashian and the army of flat-tummy-tea Instagram influencers to the constant barrage of thin, “ideal” body shapes gracing TV screens and magazine covers, women can’t catch a break — especially women of color.

For centuries, curvier women and body shapes were the standard. As Africa was colonized, Europeans noticed that many African women were also curvy. At that point, they decided that being thicker — being fat — wasn’t ideal for white European women anymore. Sarah Baartman, a young Khoikhoi woman from what is now South Africa, became a walking museum exhibit because of her body shape. She was dubbed the “Hottentot Venus,” and her image swept through British popular culture in the early 1800s. Considered a sexual curiosity, Baartman became the object of racist scientific and medical research that formed European ideas about Black female sexuality, according to the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children. 

Sabrina Strings, professor of sociology at the University of California and author of Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia, tells NPR’s Short Wave that Europeans built a system of oppression around the idea of being thin to prove racial superiority — also known as fatphobia. Although the trans-Atlantic slave trade eventually ended, Strings notes that we are still absolutely living with these racist attitudes about body size. Like skin color, eating habits and body size became two of the characteristics used to suggest that people like me did not deserve freedom. 

Ideas surrounding anti-fatness have led to marginalization on several different levels, including fat people being denied access to employment. In 2017, 49 states still allowed employers to discriminate based on weight. Fat people also experience constant humiliation, only further pushing them down the social and dating hierarchy. This prejudice is especially prevalent in health care. BMI, or body mass index, wasn’t intended to measure the fatness of an individual, but rather for the purposes of statistics. But of course, doctors did and still do use it today. According to Strings, while the BMI is a measure of the ratio of a person’s weight to their height, it does not account for bone density, muscularity or any other type of genetic influence in weight like cultural and environmental influences. Cross-racially, the BMI is not a useful tool. Its creator, Adolphe Quetelet, was not a physician, nor did he study any kind of medicine. Even within race, there are vastly different experiences for individual bodies between their weight and health profiles. As studies have shown for decades, Black women in particular tend to be healthier at heavier weights than their white counterparts.

Since the system was already rigged against me, should I really care that I gained “all this weight”? I hated myself and my body because I had bought into an unrealistic ideal. An ideal that caused me to hide my body under dark clothes and place my hand over my stomach in photos. After all, being fat would make me less than desirable. 

So there it was — the truth. If I wanted to love myself honestly, then I would first have to stop weighing myself every day and criticizing myself for everything I ate. Soon the pressure began to fade. I didn’t need to weigh myself anymore. It was getting tiring anyway, waking up before the whole house to creep around just to see how “bad” I was the night before.

For the first time in my life, I feel free. My face is rounder. My stomach is wider, and so are my hips. Is that such a bad thing? 

I let go of the clothes that no longer fit. I say affirmations every morning, like, “I am worthy beyond my physical appearance.” Now I can embrace my rolls, laughing with each jiggle and sway. I’m not hiding myself or my body anymore. I don’t currently have a weight-loss plan, and if I lose weight, great. If not, that’s great too. But right now, I’m doing what makes me feel good, and for the first time, I’m thankful I gained weight. Who would’ve thought? 

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