My weight has always been important to me. My mom and Rosi –my second mom- used to call me “gordita” (little chubby) when I was very young. In that time when my mother called me Valentina, I used to feel she was angry at me and corrected her: “Valentina no, gordita!” It was an expression of love that soon after became a source of suffering.
I remember that as soon as I started school a boy started bullying me in the playground calling me “baby fat cheeks”. What was wrong with the rounded cheeks of a five-year-old girl? When I was 8, my mother took me to the nutritionist to start my first diet. I had to stop eating the chocolate cereal I loved because I was “chubby”. While my friends had chocolates and chips, I had to eat fruits and cookies sweetened with aspartame. What was wrong with my body? Why was it worse than that of other girls my age?
Since then I haven´t stopped dieting. I have done all diets: the tuna and pineapple one, the 13-day diet, the protein one, those I invented and every single one I was told. When I was 15 I stopped having sugar and carbohydrates. When I was 19 I lost so much weight that you could see the ribs in my back. The well-intentioned comments of my family and the positive reinforcement of my friends have always been related to my weight: “you are so skinny and pretty”, “you could loose a couple of pounds and you would be perfect”, or “fat women are only loved by their parents.”
Although now I am much more responsible regarding my nutrition and I have left behind suicidal diets, every single day I worry I will always be “chubby”. This does not happen only to me but to many women that surround me. Most of them are Latin American women from a particular social class that value skinny bodies because society and media have taught them that being fat equates being lazy, poorly fed—but mostly to being ugly. For many men and women I’m surrounded by it is unthinkable that a fat woman can be beautiful.
My mother, for example, used to have an orange juice for breakfast and dinner because she was “too fat”, although she has always been skinny. I have a friend who dieted so hard when she was 15, so that the boy she liked would like her, that she ended up becoming anorexic. Another one that ended up weighting 40 kilos because she became obsessed with healthy food. A friend that saw her mother dieting and having plastic surgeries and decided to eat as healthy as possible; but nevertheless feels that other women are constantly eying her body from head to toes and commenting on it time they see her.
I know another woman who lost so much weight after a breakup and whose family gave her more compliments for being skinny that for the books she had published or for being admitted to Harvard. And a couple more who did not want to gain weight during pregnancy, whose husbands did not like them anymore for that weight, and at the same time felt guilty for not being good mothers. I have many friends who have had babies and suffer because they no longer have the body they used to and who want to loose weight no matter what. These are only some of the stories that my friends have told me while holding their tears.
I feel bad for still worrying for my weight when I know it is a social construction, when I have learned to accept the good and the bad in me, when I work with my brains and not with my body, and when I am sure that my appeal goes way beyond fitting top-model standards. This obsession with my body is a form of suffering that I can hardly come to terms with; and it is particularly hard because I criticize superficial thinking and the notion women are mere decorative objects, and yet I am still concerned about my body weight.
Weight for me and for many others is a source of control. When my life seems to loose track, when I face challenges that I cannot solve, I know I have my weight in my hands. It is the way I find to take control of my destiny, even if it means to harm myself. It is a completely irrational feeling, which I know is bad, that goes against everything I believe in. Yet, it floods my thoughts and limits me from appreciating the beauty inside me and of the women that surround me.
While I struggle with this monster that appears and vanishes from my life, and I observe how it hunts perfect and successful women that share their dreams and concerns with me, I just hope that we are the last of a chain of women that cannot love themselves completely. We end up buying what the media tells us about what to value about our bodies, and in such ironic phrases as that pretty women -which of course only include skinny ones- are those that have a good life. We reproduce these anxieties and pass them to our daughters and granddaughters, focusing on a couple of rolls around their bellies or their round cheeks, while undervaluing their accomplishments, their skills and their intelligence.
I plan to stop complimenting beautiful women that surround me in relation to their weight, and I have agreed with my friends so they don’t do it with me. I am devoted to expose this torment that seems so superficial, but that shapes many of my priorities and how I try to control what is beyond my control, and unfortunately, that of millions of women worldwide. I really expect that we value those girls who are starting their lives for their humanity and heart, rather than for the size of their pants.
**Thanks to Laura Correa for her edits