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The last time I swam in the ocean I found myself floating face up, thinking: “This is what it’s like to be light.”  The sun kissed my torso and as I let the tide take me away I felt, for the first time in a long time, free.

***

The old photos that my family recently unearthed confirm that there was never a time in my life when I wasn’t a little bit fat. The extra padding has always been there, the result of genetics and an over indulgence in milk, one of my longest constants to date.

But the shame? That’s a different story.

I don’t have an iconic moment that points back to when my personal vendetta again myself began. Maybe it started in my teens, when the rumor-slash-half truth that floated around was that boys would only like you if you were ‘sexy’ – and I clearly wasn’t. I was awkward and shy with messy hair and a very confused sense of fashion. To top that off, I also had very visible belly rolls, white stretch marks, and the hint of a double chin.

Sexy was another word we threw around that was supposed to mean beautiful/ pretty but I fell a little bit off the mark. Not ugly for sure but also, because of the weight, not very pretty either. A could-have-been. In Filipino: sayang. What a waste.

***

I don’t know if I am addicted to food. I don’t think I am but I do use it as a defense mechanism on the days I don’t feel happy. I am self-aware enough to recognize that, at the end of it all, food doesn’t make me happy. Not really. But the diversity of taste and the sensation that comes with being so incredibly full – sometimes this is a much better space to inhabit to than sadness.

Except, of course, that it’s not.

Bingeing leads to temporary relief and after, complete and utter self-loathing. It’s a gross and self-destructive pattern. It is also my only true vice.

Maybe I am an addict.

***

When I got diagnosed with PCOS two terrible things happened: first, losing weight became ten times harder and second, gaining weight became ten times easier, forcing me into a classic lose-lose situation. The first 20 pounds rolled in along with the very real terror that I would stay trapped in this awful state of fatness forever.

***

I’m not sure when I started showing my body a little more kindness.

What I know is it happened around the same time Ashley Graham started gaining traction on social media. Other plus-size models began making waves and suddenly an entire body love revolution was born. I hopped on that train so fast because I wanted to learn how to celebrate. I wanted to get deep into the hard work of love, which meant fully embracing the skin I am in right now. As it is. Not an idealized version but the gritty gorgeous reality of it all.

For those of us who struggle with our weight and how we look, who hold ourselves to an invisible and, perhaps, unattainable standard, the process takes a lifetime.  My story doesn’t end with complete self-acceptance. I still have mornings where I wish I didn’t exist in this body, in my body.

But we’ve at least come to a truce.

I will allow a few days of self-loathing in exchange for greater grace. Perhaps I will look this way forever. Perhaps I won’t get my unhealthy eating habits completely right. But if I can still have moments where I stand in front of a mirror and see beauty then maybe I’ll be okay.

The ones who body shame only see a small portion of the story. They don’t see the struggle or the wholehearted attempts to be better; they don’t hear the demons that plague us or recognize that whatever they say will really never be as bad as the monologues we conjure up in our minds.

The truth is that I was terrified to write this. The issue of self-love is something I still fail at on stupendous levels. But I realize in the writing of that the story isn’t about the hate, it’s about the love. It’s about a body that’s not quitting. It’s about a girl who likes herself enough to keep trying. It’s about decades of unlearning, of rebuilding again and again.

And somehow in this moment my heart feels the way my body did in that dark blue ocean: light. Effortless. Free.

llustration by Madel Crudo

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