Back on the Wagon

For those of you who may have been unaquainted with this blog in its earlier inception, I began my life on the interwebs as a weight loss blogger. My blog was named “Honey, I Shrunk the Gretchen!” was completely, utterly, 100% meant to help me lose weight.

I began this blog in August 2010 at 246 pounds, and through diligent(ish) calorie counting, forcing myself to work out, and the support gained from readers just like you, whittled my way down to a glorious 186 pounds by October 2011. Sixty pounds gone in just over a year! Sometimes I don’t really think I’d believe it were it not for the photographic evidence that I used to look like this:

God, I miss those arms.

Anyway. Through the course of the years that followed my initial weight loss, I found out a lot about myself. I found out how to be kinder to myself, how to love myself better, and how to start going after what I want in life, but primarily, I found out that weight loss is really hard for me to maintain. I experienced first-hand the reality of how easy it is to gain it back. And ultimately, I found myself right back where I started, more or less.

It wasn’t a linear process, re-gaining my weight. It’s not like I just suddenly hit 186 pounds and immediately started sliding backwards. It happened in small increments. I maintained my complete sixty pound weight loss for a while… until I didn’t. It happened slowly and completely unintentionally. It seemed so innocuous at first. You know, just a few pounds gained here, a couple pounds lost there. Up and down, back and forth. It all balanced out.

But then… a few more were gained, but not lost. And so it went, until one day, the clothes that I was once so excited to wear didn’t fit anymore. And I found myself untagging myself from more and more photos on Facebook. And I was reaching for cardigans to cover up even when it was 90 degrees out.

The weight, well, it all came back.

So here I am, five years later and pretty much back where I started. Well, when it comes to the number on the scale, that is. Life-wise, I’m in a much, much better place, and I can chalk it up to these three major differences:

First, I am happy. I mean, man, I’m so happy. I’m engaged to a great guy. I have literally THE best job in the entire world. I have two awesome pups, a wonderful family (which has just grown by one more — my sister had her second baby last week!), and generally, life is pretty sweet. Five years ago, I was depressed, in a not-so-great relationship (hindsight really is 20/20), had a boring, unfulfilling job, and felt generally aimless.

Secondly, I really do like myself a lot more. I know, most of that can probably be chalked up to being a 27-year-old versus a 23-year-old (aaaand now I feel old), but I really did go through a nice, big, cliche journey of self-acceptance. Sure, I still have a lot of annoying qualities, but I dunno, I guess I’m growing on myself.

In fact, the whole reason for rebranding this blog came out of this idea of me liking myself better. Because I didn’t want to be known as the girl always trying to lose weight. I just wanted to be me, and being me meant being able to love myself at any weight. And I truly believe I’ve taken a lot of strides in making that happen. But just because I love myself regardless of how I look, doesn’t mean I can’t want to change the way I look, right?

The third difference is one of those love-hate things. Because I love that I can say that my weight gain this time around isn’t the result of binge eating and a toxic relationship with food. It has been very liberating for me to live my life without the shackles of disordered eating. But, I also kind of hate that I don’t have that as an excuse this time. I know that probably sounds super messed up, but it’s just so much less embarassing to say “I got to 246 pounds because I had a binge eating disorder,” than “I got to 242 pounds because donuts are pretty much the perfect food and also I am lazy as fuck.”

I mean, it probably doesn’t help that the aforementioned most perfect job ever has me like

Food and Drank

all the freaking time. But, still, I know, it’s not an excuse.

Anyway, I think you can all pretty clearly see where this is all heading (in case the title wasn’t a dead giveaway, hahaha.) I am actively trying to lose weight… again. I don’t think that the fact that this is happening is a huge surprise to most of you — I made it pretty clear when I rebranded this blog that I probably would get to a point where I wanted to lose weight again. So the question instead is: why now?

And well, I’ll be honest. It’d be pretty easy to chalk me up as another wedding cliche — a bride-to-be trying to lose weight for her big day — because that is definitely a contributing factor. I can’t say that the fact that I’m getting married in five months has absolutely nothing to do with it. I mean, I’m only human! Of course I want to look and feel as beautiful as possible on my wedding day. BUT. That really, honestly, truly is only part of the reason.

I mean, let’s face facts. You can’t say that being at the weight that I am is healthy, because it’s not. I definitely don’t feel healthy. And I can’t say that I look good at this weight, because I don’t think that I do (and believe me, I think very highly of myself, so it must really mean something when I say that, hahahaha.) But while I’ve been at this weight for a while now, just like the first time around, it’s just taken me a while to get to the point where I actively want to do something about it.

So you’ll probably see me throw around the term “wedding diet” a lot in coming months, partially because it’s a convenient way of hashtagging the overabundance of food photos that tend to grace my Instagram, and partially because I am, indeed, trying to lose weight before my wedding. But I’m also going to try to continue losing weight after my wedding, until I get to a weight that I feel good at again (I’m not going to put a number to that just yet). And generally, I do hope that this time I’ll figure out the magic formula that allows me to keep it off for the long term.

The thing is, weight loss wasn’t exactly easy the first time around, but it wasn’t really that hard. I mean, hell, I lost sixty pounds in like, what, sixteen months? That’s really not a lot of time for a pretty significant amount of weight. This time around, however, it has been legitimately difficult. It’s like my body doesn’t want to let go of the weight again. “C’mon,” it’s saying, “we already did this once, that’s all you get!”

So despite going through the same process — counting calories, trying to clean up my diet, increasing my activity — the scale barely seems to budge. I’ve lost about four pounds since restarting my “weight loss journey” (barf at that phrase, but whatevs, it’s apt) but each ounce feels like pulling teeth, especially because I can’t help but compare it to the first time around. I lost something like eleven pounds the FIRST WEEK back then, and here it’s taking me weeks and weeks to see any progress at all.

I really hope that my decision to lose weight again doesn’t undermine what I’ve said in the past about body positivity, body-acceptance, and self-love, because I still truly believe in all of that. I still think that there’s far too much societal pressure for women to conform to one standard of beauty, and I don’t want to propagate the idea that you have to be thin(ner) to be worthy.

But, that being said, if I wanna lose a little weight, I think I should be free to do so, and that’s exactly what I’m attempting to do. Again.

Here we go.

Engagement Paparazzi

I gotta say, one of the real perks of having a wedding photographer duo as your brother and sister-in-law is a lightning quick turnaround time on your engagement photos, hehe.

 

That’s riiiiight, our engagement photos from Taylor & Ben are back, and I’m in lovelovelove! So many great shots of Sean and me together!

See, whereas I basically put my entire life on the interwebs for all to watch, observer, and comment on, Sean, um, doesn’t. He changes his Facebook profile photo like once every other year, the only thing even close to social media that he participates in is Reddit (and even then, he mainly lurks, never comments). What this all equates to is a high level of resistance to the number of selfies I try to take of us. In fact, trying to get him to pose for a photo with me often results in, well:

Heh. So, imagine how wonderful it was for me to have a built-in excuse to take a plethora of pictures together with him! He was a very good sport about the entire thing, putting up with an outfit change (we literally changed in the street, hahaha) and multiple locations. Although, to be fair, he certainly got his jollies out of the whole experience too — telling me I had an imaginary bug in my hair, or bear-hugging the crap outta me, for example.

Of course, that being said, I was not without a few bloopers of my own, hehe:

Is it weird that these are some of my favorite ones? 😛

We shot our photos outside the US Botanical Gardens, as well as at Blind Whino, this really cool old church-turned-art gallery/event space in SE DC.

 
Now, it’s admittedly very difficult for me not to be super critical of myself in every photo, zeroing in on flaws that I imagine nobody else really cares about. Even with all of my preaching about loving thyself no matter your pant size, body love, and whatnot (all of which I really do believe!), I am still my own worst critic.

But I think having these photos taken is genuinely helping me live those things. I love these pictures — I love what they represent, what they portray, and I even love the way I look in them. I feel like they really showcase how truly happy I feel (cheesy, I know, but true!). Do I still wish that I didn’t have a back roll in one picture, or that my chin was jutted a little further out in another? Sure, but not enough to make me stop loving each photo nonetheless.

These pictures are a true, perfectly imperfect account of who I am now. The me that is getting to marry the man that I love. And I would much rather show the photos off than hide them away just because I don’t like the way a certain specific part of my body might be looking.

Anyway, enough with the heavy. Back to how much I freaking love the photos we took at Blind Whino! So colorful, despite the chain-link fence surrounding the building that I definitely did not realize would be there, hahaha.

 

As an extra bonus, the building is located in this really quiet neighborhood in DC, so we were able to get a few street/crosswalk shots as well! I loved the way the trees arched over this street. Made for a pretty perfect picture, I tell ya.

Also, a fun thing about shooting photos in the middle of the street is that you will get people shouting “Congratulations!” from their cars as they drive by, hahaha!

Engagement Shoot solo pictures together

I was superextraspecial excited (hard to imagine something beyond my normal level of excitement, I know, but it’s true!) to get these photos back because I have been chomping at the bit to send out our Save the Dates!

I know that January is still relatively far off, but since we have a lot of friends and family from out of town, plus with the proximity to the holidays, I want to give people as much notice as possible. Plus, I think I’m just looking to how official it’ll feel to have something printed with our wedding date on it, y’know?

Not without difficulty, we have narrowed down the Save the Date photo to these three, and I’d love your input! I definitely want to use a photo with the ampersand in it, so what do you think of the following? 1, 2, or 3?

I love all color going on in #1, but the overall image of #2 seems more striking. And while part of me thinks that #3 might be a little silly, well, so I am. So it’s definitely the most personality-ish one. Anyway, I’d love to hear your thoughts! I’m like 99% positive we’ll be doing a magnet Save the Date if that makes any difference.

I also can’t wait to get some of these photos uploaded to the wedding website that I’ve been working on! And to replace basically every profile photo I’ve ever had on any website ever. And to make it my phone wallpaper. And computer screensaver. And basically just pore over them obsessively forever and ever and ever and… okay, I should really go.

‘Til next time!

Gown Hunt: Plus-Size Edition

So, as you may have already seen, I said “Yes!” to my wedding dress a couple of weeks ago. In fact, it was the very first major wedding decision that I made, go figure! One thing to immediately check off the Wedding To-Do list, hehe.

Now, I know that for many people, buying your dress before you even have your venue or date solidified is a little bit crazypants, and I didn’t necessarily intend to have my decision made so early on, but that being said, it wasn’t a quick decision either. It took visiting quite a few different salon visits and trying on just a few different dresses before I made my decision, so I’m glad I got started early.

Now, for those of you who may be hoping for a fairytale story all about how I tried on The Dress, knew immediately, cried, and it was all over, I hate to disappoint you, but that’s not exactly how it went for me. I mean, I did find The Dress, and there were tears (eventually), but it didn’t exactly go down the way you see it on TV.

I was actually pretty anxious about the dress-buying process, due to a combination of my love of designer wedding dresses and the fact that I am most definitely NOT a sample size. See, unless you’re shopping exclusively at big box stores like Kleinfeld’s or David’s Bridal (or at a salon that specializes in plus-size gowns), sample sizes dresses are what you have to work with. And for those of us ladies with a little more to love, the wedding dress samples in bridal salons will almost certainly NOT be your size.

Allow me to elaborate for those of you who might not be familiar with the process. Bridal salons usually own dresses in one size, and that size is usually a “wedding” size 10 or 12. Which, in real life, equals about a street size 6 or 8. (How cruel is that, by the way? C’mon, wedding industry! How about a little vanity sizing, eh?)

Soooo, what this means is that if you’re smaller than the sample size, when you try on a dress, your consultant will use clamps and pins to pull in the dress to make it fit closer to your body.

And for someone on the other side, when the sample is too small, the salon will use clamps and pins to clip the dress to your bra, or use other means of securing it, since it won’t be able to zip up all the way.

But what did this mean for someone who is a size 16, like me? Well, it meant that I was admittedly pretty nervous going into the whole dress shopping experience, that’s what. After all, what if I would be physically unable to try on the dresses I liked? You hear horror stories about plus-sized brides going dress shopping and having to do things like hold the dress up in front of them to “get an idea,” since they can’t actually put it on. I was definitely not excited about that prospect.

Complicating things further was the fact that I knew dress shopping wouldn’t exactly be a “classic” experience for me. You know, the kind that you see on SYTTD, where you go in and tell the consultant some things you like, and they pull dresses for you. Stuff like, “I like lace, I don’t like beading, I’m open to a mermaid-style silhouette,” and all that.

But I’ve spent so much time reading blogs, watching TLC, and generally being a crazyperson, that I already knew specifically which dresses I wanted to try — Hayley Paige Dori, Lazaro 3450, Jim Hjlem 8500, Monique Lhullier Bliss ballgown, and so on. So I actually chose bridal salons to visit based on whether or not they carried those gowns (most salons list what designers they carry on their website, so I just called to ask if they had those specific gowns.) Which also meant that I wasn’t able to simply go to a plus-sized bridal atelier to find my gown, because the two that are in this area don’t carry the dresses that I wanted to see.

Anyway, knowing that I loved certain gowns but being unsure as to whether or not I’d actually be able to try them on, one of the first things that I did was make an impromptu solo visit to David’s Bridal (where the above photos were taken as well.) I wanted to be able to try on some different shapes and silhouettes, since they do carry most of their dresses in larger sizes (and they also go by normal sizing there — I tried on dresses that were primarily sizes 14 – 18.)

While I already had a pretty good idea of what I wanted, this appointment definitely confirmed the silhouettes I liked (A-line and ballgown):

Versus those that, well, just were simply not as flattering (pretty much anything else, haha):

None of the DB dresses I tried ended up being “the One,” (the Melissa Sweet in the upper left corner of the first collage was the one I liked best), and even if I had fallen in love that day, I knew I wouldn’t have been able to commit without first being able to see the other dresses that I already had in mind. So, armed with some knowledge of how different shapes looked on my body, and a lot of hope, I made my bridal salon appointments.

And, lo and behold… the dresses fit!

Lazaro 3450

Sort of!

This Lazaro blew my mind with its ombre skirt, but was reeeeeeally far outside of my budget, womp womp.

I mean, obviously they didn’t fit. But, amazing, miraculously, astonishingly, I was able to get on every dress I had my eye on — with a bit of finagling, of course. They were barely able to zip up at all, so the bodices were basically left totally open in the back and all had to be pinned/clamped on. But! I was able to get a real idea of how the dresses would look… with just a little of imagination needed to reassure my mom that my boobs will (hopefully) not be spilling out of my dress once it’s in my size. Heh.

Now, I do think that it just happened to be good fortune that the silhouette I loved was also the easiest for me to try on (since the size of my hips/butt doesn’t really matter with ballgowns), but if I had been looking for a more fitted style, I would probably have been SOL.

Anyway, from there on out, it was basically just a matter of trying on the, um, not small number of dresses that I had my greedy eyes on, hahaha.

Clockwise from top: Lazaro 3108, Hayley Paige Londyn, Monique Lhullier Bliss ballgown, Hayley Paige Dori (white), Jim Hjelm 8500, Hayley Paige Dori (alabaster)

And I did also try on additional dresses that the consultants recommended, some of which I also really liked:

Clockwise from top: Lazaro 3018, Watters Carina bodice and Ahsan skirt, Hayley Paige Lennon (omg this sample was so small), Lazaro 3100

So yeah, as if I hadn’t been annoying enough throughout the dress-buying process, as it turned out, I basically loved every single dress I tried on. Oops. So trying on dresses turned out to be more like a process of elimination rather than a “This is the one!” kind of experience.

I was able to say goodbye to some because they were too expensive (the easiest way to eliminate options, haha), some because they didn’t feel quite “bridal” enough (though I still looooved the gowns), and some just didn’t have quite the “unique” factor that I was looking for. And eventually I narrowed down my choices to just two dresses!

I actually ended up trying on both of my final contenders multiple times because I was so enamoured with them both, and had a pretty difficult time deciding between the two of them because they were so different. Which, I know, sounds super cliche, but it’s true! They have totally different aesthetics and general feel, even if the silhouette is similar.

We did do our own little version of “jacking me up” (as Monty from SYTTD Atlanta puts it, haha), with the whole veil/belt/hairpiece reveal and, I am happy to report, that I did finally have my tearful reaction (hooray!) to one dress in particular. But I was still torn because while I did have that visceral reaction to one dress, I kept thinking that the other dress was more in-keeping with the overall theme and vision for the wedding.

So I left the final bridal appointment having decided not to decide just yet. I wanted to take the weekend to think about it, and I’m definitely glad that I did because…

… as you probably already suspected, eventually a decision was made! Turns out that over the weekend, I couldn’t get one dress out of my mind (the one I ended up crying for), and I knew that was probably a pretty good sign. So, I headed back to the salon and officially made my purchase!

I won’t be revealing my dress here on the blog on the off-chance that Sean suddenly decides to start reading here (he doesn’t normally follow my blog, but you never know…), but I will share with you what the runner-up was:

Hayley Paige Josie

The Hayley Paige Josie was in close, close contention for being my wedding dress, due to it’s incredible fully beaded bodice (these pictures really don’t do it justice) and beautiful color (it comes in both white and moonstone.) I also thought it had a really glamorous feel, which fit very well with the overall wedding vibe I was thinking of.

Ultimately, though, I decided that this dress had so much wow-factor, it was almost overwhelming. I also thought it would be harder to accessorize with, since the bodice of the dress is already so blingy. And when it came down to it, the dress I chose just felt entirely more “me,” which definitely makes it feel like the right choice.

So, I put my deposit down and couldn’t be happier with my decision! The agonizing part now is going to be waiting for it to come in! Designer dresses can take anywhere from three to six months to come in, and then have another month or two of alterations after that. Whew!

It does bear mentioning that I had to pay a “size surcharge” on top of the cost of the dress, which, let me tell you, didn’t feel super great. Apparently with Hayley Paige any dress over a bridal size 18 come with an extra fee. Which, I gotta say, does kind of feel like BS to me, because you could be a street size 10 or 12 and still have to order a bridal size 18 depending on your measurements.

See, to be safe, wedding dresses are usually ordered based on the size that matches your largest measurement (since it is infinitely easier to take in a dress over letting it out.) Actually, that was a bit of a dilemma in and of itself, because my hips measured several sizes above my waist, but the consultant said that it should be fine to order the dress based on the smaller size because of the silhouette. Anyway, what’s done is done with regard to paying the fat tax surcharge, and I’m still happy with my choice. It just wasn’t the most self-esteem boosting part of the experience, haha.

So there you have it! My “I Found the Gown” experience from beginning to end. Well, from beginning until I get it in my hands, and then the alterations process can begin, haha. Hopefully, I was able to accurately portray my gown shopping experience. There aren’t a ton of resources out there on what dress shopping is like for a plus-size bride in general, let alone for someone who has as, ahem, particular tastes as me, so I’m hoping this will be a helpful accounting for at least one other person out there? And if not, at least I got to post a lot of pictures of gorgeous dresses, so that’s fun. 😛

What was your gown shopping experience like? And what did your wedding dress look like?

Beauty, Confidence, and the Concept of Being “Brave”

Tess Holliday has been rocking headlines over the past week when she was announced to be the newest model signed to MiLK Model Management’s roster. At 5’5″ and a size-22, she is (by her own admission) essentially the biggest plus-size model ever to be signed to a major agency, an amazing feat in and of itself.

I’ve followed Tess (known also by her birth name, Tess Munster) on Instagram for quite a while, always admiring her for, yes, her insane beauty and ALWAYS on-point eyebrows, but also for being such a fierce and admirable woman. She is the creator of #effyourbodystandards, a social media movement that preaches and promotes self-love, body-positivity, and acceptance regardless of size.

 
Now, it probably comes as no surprise (sadly) that Tess gets lobbed a lot of hatred and judgment on her IG account. I’d say about two-thirds of her negative comments seem to come from ignorant jerks (via such meaningful and eloquent comments as “Ew!” or “Fatass!” or, best of all, tagging their friends with a couple of laughing emojis), and the rest come from concerned citizens of the interwebs (“She’s beautiful, but you have to wonder if she’s healthy?” or “Her confidence is admirable, but promoting obesity is just as bad as being too thin!”).

Now, I don’t really feel like traipsing down the rabbit hole with regard to the idea of Tess “promoting obesity” because I honestly think that it’s flat-out ridiculous. The fact that Tess exists at her current size in no way means she is promoting or glorifying having a fat body. She’s just Tess. This is not about obesity glorification or the promotion of unhealthy habits. This isn’t even a discussion about Fat Acceptance or Health At Every Size or anything like that. It’s about accepting yourself in general, and I do firmly feel that Tess is a real champion in the body love and self-acceptance sphere.

Of course, haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate, so it’s a good thing that Tess is also a champion of shrugging of them haterz. And even if she wasn’t, she has more than enough loyal fans willing to jump into the fray on her behalf.

Besides, while hateful comments do always seem to find their way onto her posts, the majority of comments are ones of adoration and admiration. There are even quite a few heartwarming stories of the self-acceptance that Tess has inspired in her fans. Which are my favorite ones to read, of course. It’s really wonderful to see how Tess has helped others take steps away from self-hatred and towards self-acceptance.

But, alas, just like the negative comments come in various forms, comments telling tales of self-discovery and acceptance are not the only kind of “positive” comments that I see. No, the one I feel like I see more and more often on Tess’s photos, or on the photos of the many other strong and beautiful plus-sized women that I follow, and even occasionally on my own photos, look a little more like this:

“Your confidence is incredible! You go, girl!”

“You’re so pretty! I wish I had your confidence!”

“Damn girl, work it! Confidence is sexy!”

And it’s these comments that never really sit that well with me.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t appreciate the sentiment being shared here. I know that these comments are well-intentioned and, in fact, accurate. Tess is confident, and confidence is sexy. Tess is a very beautiful woman who has no reason not to be confident in her beauty… other than, according to society, the fact that she is fat.

Because people don’t say, “OMG! You’re so confident and inspiring!” to folks who aren’t fat. They don’t say it to your average straight-sized model, or to someone who doesn’t have some kind of obstacle in front of their beauty — whether it be their weight, a scar, an amputated limb, whatever. You don’t say, “I wish I had your confidence!” to someone who has no reason not to be confident. To someone whose beauty you have no reason to question.

It all reminds me of this quote from the ineffably wonderful Mindy Kaling:

It’s the same when people say, “You’re so brave!” I’ve gotten that one, too. Like, really, I’m brave for putting a picture of myself on Instagram? I’m pretty sure that impulse stems out of my personal vanity, not some drawer full of bravery that I have on reserve.

I mean, jumping in front of a car to push someone out of the way is brave.

Standing up for someone being bullied is brave.

Going to teach children in Ghana or build houses in Chile or rehabilitate Russian sex workers is brave.

Having the strength to leave an abusive relationship is brave.

But just, I dunno, living my life at an above-average weight? Not being ashamed of myself because I’m not conventionally thin? Really, that’s what is considered brave? Oookay.

Now, sure, for Tess, maybe it is a little bit brave. But only because she knows that every time she posts a photo of herself online, she’s going to experience so much negativity for it. So it’s not the actual act of putting herself out there that is brave, it’s doing so in our current fat-shaming culture. I know that if I were in her shoes and received the kind of crazy, in-your-face, outspoken hatred that she receives on a daily basis, I imagine it would take a heckuva lot of bravery for me to keep doing what I was doing too.

I don’t think that the general standards of what is considered “beautiful” are really going to change anytime soon. Take a look at Greatist’s article about how the standards of beauty with regard to body shape have changed over the past century to see what I’m talking about. Even with the variations in the cultural norms of the time, there’s not THAT much of a difference in what’s “ideal” — it’s still best to be slim, to be tall, to be white.

But, that being said, I do think that other aspects of our societal attitude towards beauty is starting to shift. It’s becoming more and more acceptable to, well, accept yourself, even if you’re not that perfect size 6. We’re starting — just starting — to put more of an emphasis on how you feel about yourself than how you look to others. On loving yourself, whether you consider yourself a work in-progress or totally happy as-is. And even though there are tons of hateful people and “concerned” citizens and inflated egos that might be working against her, I think that Tess Holliday is helping to tip the scale in the direction of love.

My Big Fat Fabulous Life and Fat Shaming Culture

So yesterday I watched a couple of episodes of TLC’s new show My Big Fat Fabulous Life, which debuted last week. The show centers around Whitney Thore who, at 5’2″ and 380 pounds, reached internet notoriety after her “Fat Girl Dancing” video went viral on YouTube, in which she gets diggity down to a Jason Derulo song.

The show seems, at least thus far, to be trying to focus its gaze on Whitney’s venture into teaching dance classes, losing weight, and loving herself unabashedly along the way. Definitely three things I can get on board with, especially since as far as I’m concerned, girl can really dance! She’s also pretty funny, has a vibrant personality, and I do think that she makes for good TV.

Of course, as with most shows on TLC, I find myself a little bit torn about how I should “feel” about it. On the one hand, I appreciate the show’s attempts to portray an obese woman (relatively) honestly on her quest to live her life doing what she loves (dance) and get healthier without a specific focus on weight loss (though that is something that Whitney says she does want to achieve.) I also appreciate that she offers a frank portrayal of the difficulties she has being obese (chub rub, she has to have her mom help shave the back of her legs for her, etc) while not being apologetic about it.

But on the other hand, there’s also something, I don’t know, not quiiiiite right in the way that the show shapes its message. Whitney has Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, something that I admittedly know very little about. I understand that it can cause sudden weight gain and make it very difficult to lose weight, in addition to a myriad of other symptoms, and I don’t doubt that it has had a very serious impact on Whitney’s life. However, at least within the first few episodes, I feel like the PCOS thing is continuously shoved in viewers’ faces. Like, “Just so you remember, Whitney has PCOS! Her weight isn’t her fault! Don’t forget!”

There’s also the fact that the show does seem to focus on some of the more ridiculous (for lack of a better word) occurrences in Whitney’s life. I guess this is an argument that you could make about any kind of reality TV, to be fair, since these things tend to make for better TV. But when the show is spending so much time focusing on things like Whitney’s pants splitting at the grocery store, taking her measurements but the tape measure is too small to fit around her, trying on heels at the mall and almost toppling over… it still feels a lot like making fun.

Overall, I do think the show has a lot of good going for it. I try to take all reality TV with a big grain of salt, but for the most part, I do like this one. It helps, of course, that Whitney’s got a really likable persona — she really is pretty fabulous! And even with the skewed lens that TLC might be filming the show through, I can still appreciate its messages about self-acceptance, body love, and encouragement to those beginning their health journeys.

For me, the real heart of the show is in its portrayal of how Whitney has been treated due to her size. The show really shines light on the culture of fat shaming that we live in (something you can also pick up on in about 0.043 seconds of reading the comments on her YouTube dance video). In Episode 2, Whitney is walking out of a store with her friend, when a guy in a car stopped at a light calls her “Shamu.” In the same episode, she and her friends read hateful comments about her from folks on the internet, which say things like, “You should lose weight and then dance, not the other way around!” To which Whitney responds, “How am I supposed to lose weight if I can’t exercise?!”

And there’s the rub. America wants it both ways: we’re to lose weight, be healthy, and stop being the lazy fat asses we obbbbviously are, but ehhhh, nobody really wants to see it. We need to make like Monica on Friends and somehow magically lose all our weight in secret. (As a sidenote: I’ve been rewatching Friends since it’s been put on Netflix, and while I’m still in love with like 99% of the show, including the total lack of internet and shocking number of denim overalls worn, I gotta admit I don’t really love the Monica-was-fat jokes anymore. Go figure.)

Anyway… I recognize that I am super lucky to never have experienced outright hatred or animosity because of my size. Granted, given the fact that I put my entire life out here on the interwebs, I have experienced my fair share of anonymous comments and concern-trolling, but I’ve never been laughed at to my face. I’ve never had to deal with people gaping in awe at my girth. I’ve never felt outright discriminated against because of my weight. I’ve never incited commentary from random strangers out in public.

That said, I absolutely still feel the effects of our fat-shaming culture. We live in a world where people actually think it’s not okay to love yourself if your pants are over a certain size. Where people feel free to comment on your body and your choices because “it’s not healthy” and they’re “concerned.” Where if you are overweight and aren’t actively trying to change that fact, to lose weight, to slim down, you’re lazy and a “bad role model.”

We live in a culture where one of the worst things you could possibly be is fat. Far worse than being stupid or unsuccessful or mean or selfish is being fat.

Which is why, despite the fact that it may still be working out its kinks, watching My Big Fat Fabulous Life made me pretty happy. It’s chock-full of positive messages, even if there are times when Whitney herself is clearly not as totally body-confident as she would probably want us to believe. For example, she almost turns down being in a plus-size fashion show in episode 3 because she’s worried that there won’t be any clothing that fits.

Regardless, it is a show that challenges common misconceptions about weight + health, and the idea that you can’t love your body if it’s not the perfect size-whatever. And that’s something I know I can get behind, since even as I am working on my own personal fitness and trying to lose a few pounds, I’ve long-acknowledged that it’s unlikely I’ll ever be conventionally thin. Even at my lowest adult weight, I was still donning a size 12, and even with me trying not to make my weight the main focus of things this time (trying being the operative word, haha), I still need all the help I can get in shifting my mentality.

Oh, and as one last aside, episode 3 makes a big deal out of Whitney making herself a banana and mayonnaise sandwich for breakfast — apparently this is a thing in the South?? Would love to hear if any of you guys have eaten this concoction before… I mean, peanut butter and banana sammies, sure, but banana + mayo?!