The conversation around weight loss and fitness for women in mainstream media tends to follow a very linear, simplified story line: Woman feels dissatisfied or ashamed of her body, decides to lose weight following a strict diet and workout routine, loses weight, and instantly feels better about her life. Celebs such as Christina Aguilera or Shonda Rhimes talk about the empowerment and positivity that comes with weight loss, both of which are things that are valid and true.
But no one ever talks about the discomfort that can come along with seeing yourself in a new skin.
About a year ago, I made the decision to go on a journey with my body to develop a healthy lifestyle. My mother had been struggling with heart disease for three years, with eight stents and a heart attack within that time. After graduating college last year, I decided my health was something I should make a priority.
Growing up, I was always the fat kid in class. I was teased mercilessly in elementary and middle school, but then puberty slimmed me out a bit. Of course, I had family members who would drop not-so-subtle hints about what they thought my body should look like. But I had already suffered so much criticism from peers at such a young age (I was eight years old when I first started getting bullied) that the last thing I needed was pressure from loved ones. In high school, I politely but sternly told them I didn't want to hear any comments about my weight. I told them I loved my body the way it was and if I wanted their opinion, I'd ask for it. This was without a doubt one of the most empowering moments of my life — I felt like I had broken free from all of the things that tried to shame my body.
Losing weight was never particularly about body image for me. I loved my larger-than-life Puerto Rican butt, the cellulite that carved valleys into my thighs, and even the pinch of belly that poked out in a tight dress. I found peace with my soft curves a long time ago. I decided that my journey couldn’t be about my appearance, or else I wasn’t going to make the strides I wanted to make.
What solidified my decision to lose weight was when my doctor told me I was at risk for polycystic ovarian disease, an illness caused by a magical combination of crappy genes and being overweight. My gynocologist told me I was still borderline, but he could see the cysts developing on my ovaries. If left untreated, the cysts could potentially cause infertility. From then on, my decision was simple — I was going to try my best to live the healthiest life I could.
I started working out four to five days a week, doing cardio and strength training. I switched to a high protein-low carb diet and ate salad like it was my job. A couple of months later, the changes I wanted to see in my life finally came. As my body became tighter and my clothes became looser, I felt a new sense of accomplishment that I had never felt before. I was down a clothing size and had lost 15 percent of my body weight, as my doctor had recommended.
But there’s a sort of muscle memory that exists in your body after you lose weight. You go to suck in belly fat that no longer exists when you slip on your jeans, feel the shift in gravity of how your arms would flap if you moved them too quickly, and turn around to the mirror, waiting to see a piece of your butt hanging out a short skirt.
My fat had been mine, and I had owned it because it took me so long after years of body shaming — from family members and peers alike — to do so. I felt sexy in it because every time I wore booty shorts, the softness bulging out of them was an act of rebellion. My curves clapped back against everything that told me I wasn’t allowed to be beautiful.
Losing weight felt like I was missing something that I had grown so at home in. An aspect of my appearance that was such a large part of my identity for my entire life was suddenly gone. It’s only recently (particularly in writing this essay) that I’ve been able to reclaim my body all over again in its new, evolving state, that I've been able to love my body in all of its versions. I’m able to say yes, my butt is still obnoxiously large, but it’s tighter now because I have a love/hate relationship with the stairmaster. My stomach, while still not washboard status, is just the right balance between muscle and fat because I nourish my body with things that I know will keep it from harm.
I didn't take any before or after photos besides the ones in this essay, because I personally don't believe in them. I didn't want to get caught up in the idea that my progress was solely based on appearances, or get high off of the approval on social media via an Instagram "like." This is a personal journey I'm going on with my body, and I felt like the best way to measure my success was the literal feeling of getting stronger and healthier.
I am actively loving my body in a new and different way from what I’ve ever known before, and that’s okay. I decided to put my health first, and it’s something I don’t regret for a second. I truly believe that if you are happy in the lifestyle you are living and the body that you live in, that’s all that matters. All bodies should be able to stand in their truth, being loved and honored unconditionally — no matter what "healthy" means to you.