A Guest Article from Chrissy Dunham
Let’s get one thing straight: Body positivity has nothing to do with being fat. Let me repeat this because I want this to be abundantly clear: Body positivity has absolutely nothing to do with how big, small, curvy, thick, dark, light, feminine, masculine, straight, gay, bi, trans or anything else you might be. Body positivity is simply this: Celebrating whatever body you and your fellow humans are blessed with. So many people tend to view the body positivity movement as some sort of “fat-only club” out to normalize the flaws or imperfections of the plus-sized body. There is so much wrong with that blanket statement. My main source of contention with it however, is not so much at the belief that it’s a group of people promoting obesity rights, but rather at the very root of the statement itself. To put it simply: Our bodies are not flawed nor do we need to normalize anything about them. The moment we start rationalizing or excusing the amount of space a body takes up, even in the name of equality, is the moment we add to the stigmatization and marginalization of an entire population of individuals that need no special justification to simply exist and find happiness. So, it is with this heart and steadfast belief I began my journey to find a healthier (and albeit, happier) me.
While my journey to find health was admittedly abnormal, it pales in comparison to the amount of strange and sometimes rather ingenious workarounds I created for myself just to make it through the day. On the outside, I was holding it together decently well for a 525lb, 20-something year old woman. I worked fulltime and I went to school fulltime. I had a nice apartment, beautiful truck and great friendships with a core group of individuals. Post-divorce, I struggled in the long-term dating department, but never seemed to be without male attention for too long. From the outside looking in, I was doing OK – I was just fat. What I’ve yet to tell people, is that holding that façade together was a daunting, every day task. What I’m about to share are some of the most intimate details about my life before weight loss and just a few examples of why I chose to make some drastic changes. None of these issues are glamorous nor will your doctor warn you about them as side effects of obesity, but I feel they deserve to have a voice nonetheless. And if no one else wants to talk candidly about them, I will. One of the single greatest challenges I faced was one I don’t often hear discussed in the plus-community forums. For me, trying to maintain good hygiene was the source of my greatest anxiety and shame. You see, for years growing up I always told myself I didn’t want to become the stereotypical “fat, stinky kid” at school. Instead, I settled on becoming the “super-smart, decently funny kid” who obsessively showered 2 to 3 times a day. By adulthood, that number jumped to 3 or 4, sometimes plenty more if it was during my period or if I had more than my typical bowel movements in a day. By the time I reached 500lbs, I was planning much of my work day and any free time off around when/if I could shower. This obsessive showering caused a plethora of other skin and feminine issues. I had more than my fair share of pap-smears searching for answers to my ongoing bladder and vaginal infections. There was just no way around it. To add insult to injury, I once had a doctor offer me pamphlets on geriatric assistive devices, but clearly none really solved the issue. I became physically unable to reach the areas I needed to clean and I essentially became chained to my bathroom.
Unfortunately, that’s just the start. Like many women, my periods were incredibly irregular and they came on heavy and without warning. During those weeks, I’d take my lunches and breaks just to go home to shower – Often bleeding through my multiple layers before I could even get there. It was during these weeks I always made sure to wear black, just in case. I couldn’t reach to put tampons in and, as I’m sure many plus woman are aware, there are absolutely zero feminine pads on the market that will securely fit into a size 15 pair of women’s underwear. This is where I got really creative. I would unwrap 3 of the super, overnight pads and stick them together in some sort of triangle shape and try to place them just so to get the most coverage I could. This worked for the first 20 minutes or so, but I learned quickly they would bunch when you move at all. So, this is where I started adding safety pins to hold my “makeshift diaper” to my underwear. Surprisingly, it worked…And I only got poked once or twice. (Although I put tons of holes in my good undies in the process.)
The worst of it all was when I had to travel. During my honeymoon years ago, I remember sobbing in a hotel bathtub at 2am, having bled through all but one of the extra pairs of panties I had brought. I was miserable, in pain and terrified I’d bleed through the last clean pair I had – And purchasing new ones in a physical store just wasn’t an option back then. I hadn’t had a period for over a year and randomly, my body decided that a week before my wedding day was a great time to start. I bled for 8 weeks straight. Doctors blamed my weight and I blamed myself. It was after this moment, my best friend for now almost 20 years, starting putting tampons in for me whenever we had to leave town for the day. She never blinked an eye, but I was beyond mortified every time I had to ask for her help. I just didn’t want to be chained to that bathroom any more than she wanted me to be.
I went about my life like this for years – And these are just a few more poignant of countless embarrassing ways I made it through life trying to feel normal. It became my standard way of living and I just accepted it as my norm. The larger I got, the more adjustments I’d make. Can’t fit behind the wheel? Just buy a bigger truck. Can’t find clothes in stores? Order custom online. I avoided new restaurants because I might get stuck in a booth or break a chair. I’d eat before and after events, so I didn’t eat too much in front of people. I’d avoid all full-body pictures, because I was afraid to physically see how out of control my addiction had gotten. I let men use me as sexual fetish objects, simply because I craved affection and was terrified a man might have legitimate feelings for me. I became so out of touch with my emotional well-being because if there was an emotion, positive or negative, I drowned it with abhorrent amounts of food. I was obsessed with the idea that “I’m not ugly, I’m just fat,” and tirelessly told myself I was deserving of unconditional love and yet I treated myself crueler than any human ever deserved. I fed myself not because I loved my body or even because I loved food, but because I needed to ignore my head.
This is where I want to paint a very vivid line in the sand. There was absolutely nothing wrong with my body. There is still absolutely nothing wrong with my body. What there is something wrong with, is the way I viewed it and treated it. I would often lie awake at night, set into full-on panic because I was sure I would die before I could finally make my mark on the world. I wanted to be a wife again someday and more than anything I wanted to be a mother. I knew I was smarter than the mundane in-and-outs of the life I’d created for myself up until that point. I wanted out of the same small town I’d grown up in. I wanted to see the world and touch the lives of others. I didn’t know how to do it, but I also knew I couldn’t tackle the world when I could barely get out of bed in the morning. There was nothing wrong with my body, aside from the fact that I was limited only by its physical limitations.
The end of 2017 started an unexpected journey of 1000’s of miles and almost 200lbs. I started at 525lbs and today am sitting at 335lbs. I’ve been on national TV, spent months at a 5-star fitness resort, met a handful of famous people and have met some of the most inspirational and motivational people from around the world. I’ve learned that my relationship with food was one born out of years of abuse, neglect and self-sabotage. I’ve learned that it’s OK to speak to myself kindly and to give myself grace. I learned that healthy doesn’t always equal thin. I’ve learned the mind is a labyrinth, one you have to navigate daily, armed with knowledge, respect and an unwavering belief in your ability to do better than you did yesterday.
I didn’t share this today to promote some kind of lifestyle, one way or the other. And I’m certainly not sharing for some selfish desire to make you feel sorry for me or because I want you to feel guilty about any decision you make for yourself. I shared all of this, because I want you to know that you are not alone. In every moment you struggle finding clothes that fit. During every awkward first date spent wondering if they’re really that into you. Or even in the quiet evening moments where you’re trying to feel anything other than numb, I am with you. I am with you, as are countless other people on their own journey to love themselves and their bodies. Remember, the only problem with obesity is not the shape our bodies take in the world, but rather our take on how we’re shaping the world.