My name is Amanda, and I’m a second-year medical student at the East Carolina University Brody School of Medicine in North Carolina. I’m currently studying for Step 1, a major, career-determining exam that indeed was pushed back because of COVID-19, and why yes, I am mildly stressed!
This stressed, heavily AAA personality hasn’t really changed since I was a kid back in the Bronx, New York. I really think it was the constant pressure to perform well in school as well as the psychological manipulation I endured from my mother when I didn’t know something or was just learning a subject. I once got an 86 on a test, and I distinctly remember trying to be more upset from the get-go so she might console me instead of yelling at me for the 86. But there never was consolation. I instead became an anxious child to the point I would become nauseous before bed most nights because I didn’t know if I was going to be successful. I had a lot of pressure put on me.
But I wouldn’t say I had a bad childhood per say. I had a roof over my head, I was in extracurriculars like dance and cheerleading, and I had parents who would always try and do what was best for me. They were figuring out this parenting thing which is so hard One of my favorite childhood memories was my dad coming home from work and me running down the street to hug him; a yummy Boston crème donut usually came with my dad as well.
I think this is where my binging tendencies and emotional reliance developed with food. I equated food with happiness, eating made me happy when I didn’t know how to deal with my emotions like boredom, and I was also in a household where you finished your food no matter what. And I never had a fast metabolism. I don’t even remember overeating when I was a kid to be honest. I just have always been a fat person. Thankfully, I never was really bullied by other people, mainly by my own family. Maybe this is why my internal monologue is so vicious. Because the people who were supposed to have my back and be kind to me were so critical of me.
Back in New York, I was at my grandmother’s apartment one day, and I remember sitting on the plastic she had on her kitchen chairs. I was maybe six or seven at the time. She asked me what I ate for breakfast. I rattled off a couple of things I liked like cereal and Poptarts. She proceeded to say with a laugh,
“No wonder you’re so fat!”
I think she thought I ate that all for breakfast at once, which I didn’t; it was one or the other. But it still affected me because at that age, I already associated being fat as something that was bad and no one wanted to be.
Thinking back on it, no one ever bullied me or commented on me being fat that I can remember.
In high school, I just lived my life. I became involved in theatre my freshman year and had my first romantic relationship, too. I very much enjoyed them both. I was the lead only once during my four years, and it was part of a play full of short stories. Since the lead needed to speak Spanish, and I was the token Spanish-speaker, it was a shoe in. But despite my bitterness with never really being given a chance for different roles, I did love theatre. I always wanted to look like my thinner cast mates, but there was diversity in terms of body size so I never really felt out of place.
Until my mother commented on my love handles when she saw a picture of me during a theatre competition called Odyssey of the Mind. I was half turned to someone behind me, and I remember I was wearing someone else’s white fluffy polka dot pajama pants. Instead of my mother commenting on my performance, she mentioned how I need to start watching what I ate because those love handles didn’t look good. She said I shouldn’t want those there. I remember feeling so ashamed and wanting to rip the fat off my body right then and there.
My romantic relationship was with a guy named Chris, and looking back, he looked like a walnut (but a very cute walnut), and I was enamored with him. He was my first love… in more ways than one. He was so kind and so patient with me. However, my parents didn’t want me in a relationship until later on, and since I was 14 at the time, I decided to keep him a secret.
The picture on the left is one of the first pictures of Chris and me from 2010. And the picture on the right… you see what I mean about a cute walnut?
My relationship with theatre lasted longer than my romantic one. I was horribly insecure, which made me make up silly tests to see if he actually liked me and was committed… like faking a pregnancy for a few minutes. I know; I was trash. I constantly asked for validation from him. While no one really commented on my weight, social media and society kept pushing the idea that thin kept a man. Thin is what a man wanted. If you’re fat, fix it, and your man will find you a million times hotter. Different iterations of that sentiment followed me ever since I became interested in having a relationship. Unfortunately, I never could let the relationship be, and after almost two years, my parents found out about my relationship and exploded. They took away my phone and access to my computer, and I could only see him at school. It was hard to keep a relationship that way, and so he broke up with me in 2011. I never thought it was because I was fat, ironically; I knew it was because of past events that were the final straw. I mourned that relationship for so long. I never knew how to mourn and process my emotions correctly, and I couldn’t go to my parents because they would just slut-shame me, so I cried and festered in my sadness. I never got over him.
Eventually, I moved on and found a half rebound named Eric my senior year of high school in 2011. I say half rebound because I actually was interested in him, but never as much as Chris. This time my parents knew about this relationship. I had the same insecurities with Eric, but nothing monumental really came from these insecurities like they did with Chris. I broke up with him in 2013 during my Spring semester of college, and I didn’t have another relationship. I just let loose and experimented. Coincidentally, Chris and I reconnected. For some reason, me being fat didn’t deter me from engaging in sexual endeavors with others, and I think it was because Winston-Salem State University had people of all sizes just killing it. They looked fabulous and confident no matter what size; fat women were in modeling troupes, and they were gorgeous. In hindsight, this normalization really did help me see that even if you were fat, you could express yourself however. Fatness did not stop you. But when Chris would come to see me, I would be so anxious; it was only with him I would feel this way most likely because I still liked him despite what I told myself and him. I still intensely hated myself. I compared myself to everyone. I couldn’t pull off clothes like other women could or do makeup as well as them. I wasn’t as attractive. I didn’t have pretty hair like them. I went to sleep every night for the first two years of college with a crushing pressure in my chest from hating how I looked and who I was; if I was fit and thin, half my problems would go away. At least I would be thin.
After being accepted for the Medical Education Development program at UNC Chapel Hill in 2015, I gained more confidence. This was a 9-week experience crash-course of the first year of medical school. I got three As and a B, and I was on top of the world. I fought the idea of being a doctor for so long because I thought that someone like me couldn’t do it, but I realized why I wanted to become a physician during that time. I wanted to be a doctor for people like me who needed support, who felt alone, and felt like they couldn’t turn to anyone else. I wanted to be a doctor for the people who needed to be reassured. I had a clearer direction for my career, and I never felt better about life. I even became the President of a medical group back at my undergrad university. Who was I?!?!?
I could rattle off so many more experiences because as I’m writing, they’re emerging from the depths of my memory. But in sum, ever since around 4th grade, I was obsessed with tucking in my fat.
Tightening the belt of my uniform.
Lifting up the hem of my pants when I’m sitting to cinch in my fat.
If someone said it looked like I lost weight, I would ride that high for days. I felt better. My self-confidence skyrocketed. I chased the dream to be thin so I could feel like that constantly. I was obsessed with being small.
It’s sad that I’m just now realizing that it was my family that created this hateful inner voice of mine. Every athletic or aesthetic deficit about me always goes back to being fat. Everything would be better if I wasn’t fat. It’s easy to shrug off stranger’s comments, but when your family says it… maybe it’s true. It was why I became anxious to the point of nearly vomiting when Chris would come and see me in college. If someone so close to me commented on my weight, it would be true. Even to this day, I made my Instagram, chubbychinups, because I feel like it’s easier to share things with strangers than to those closest to me. It’s impersonal, and so if I get a mean comment, it’ll be easier to ignore. However, therapy made me realize that external validation has been what I’ve based my self-worth on because I never learned to see it. My accomplishments were never the focus for long. It was always “What can you do to be better?”
This was a lot. If you’ve read this far, welcome! It gets better, I promise.
In an effort to shorten this blog post, I’ll say that I got into weight lifting my junior year of college. A friend of mine who always said I should work out (for my health, not weight loss) died from complications of cystic fibrosis, and I thought it was the time to start. I even trained for a bench press competition my senior year of college and came in last. I normally would’ve beaten myself up over that, but I went from benching a 50-pound bar to benching 110. How could I be upset?
That marked the moment that I started looking at my body a little bit differently. Even though I always hoped that working out would make me thin (it didn’t), it started to show me that improvement isn’t always measured on a scale.
In 2016, I graduated on my birthday which was Friday, May 13. Spooky. I was sitting at 200 lbs at this time. I didn’t have access to the gym anymore so I did what I could with the Nike Trainer app and the treadmill at my parent’s house. On a whim, I tried yoga. I always heard it was good for flexibility, which is important to prevent injury. The first video I tried, I couldn’t follow it. What she was saying didn’t make sense to me, and I ended up in positions that weren’t even what she was describing. But I tried again with Yoga with Adriene, and the rest was history.
I would say 2016 was the first year I really fell in love with what my body could do. Yoga was personal time for me where I could celebrate my strength, enjoy what I could improve, and laugh at my trembling arms. Yet that mindset didn’t follow me off the mat. Curiously, Chris lived 10 minutes away from me, and we would go on walks with each other nearly every day. Every time, I felt insecure and wore loose fitting clothes, so my belly fat didn’t show, only my muscular legs. It was especially hard because this boy has always been lean, and I felt self-conscious being a fat girl next to him. I was afraid of how he viewed my fatness.
Fast forward to today, I’m back together with Chris (I know, it’s nuts), and we’ve been together almost a year and a half. I’m still doing yoga, mostly at home, and I’m trying to make it a daily occurrence. At first, I think I only continued yoga because the movements were fun, and I didn’t sweat too much while seeing noticeable progress. I hate how strenuous other workouts can be, but since I did dance, yoga felt like home. It was low impact and felt so beautiful. Even if I don’t do a full practice, I try and do a tree pose while I’m microwaving some food or deepen my breathing when someone changes lanes without using their blinker. My 2016 self didn’t realize that yoga wasn’t only a way to cross train; it was a habit, a mindset. There is no shaming in yoga, only celebration. Yoga has become a moment where I can be with myself and check-in mentally, which is why I think I’m so reluctant to join a studio. It has become self- therapy. I love doing yoga at home because I love being by myself in silence, and I can go at my own pace and explore poses further if I want to. I want to be creative on my own terms, but it’s unfortunate that my insecurities and constant comparing wouldn’t let me enjoy a studio experience even if I wanted to. I will always notice I’m the biggest person in the room and the weakest. Negativity wins when I’m around others; there’s this need to not be the biggest person.
This is why I’ve been going to therapy and have been for almost 2 years. There’s no shame in it. Along the way, yoga has shown me how positivity and self-love feels, and I’m tired of hating myself and basing my worth on my weight. My weight has yo-yoed my whole life; therefore, my confidence has ebbed and flowed with it. At my smallest, I was 165 lbs last year, and I’m currently sitting at 204. Why does this affect me so much? I’m tired of my insecurities making me cry myself to sleep because I feel like Chris is going to leave me for a prettier and thinner woman. I’m tired of feeling like I’m not going to amount to anything every time I score a percent lower on practice tests for Step 1. I’m tired of feeling less than in general. I love feeling happy and enjoying what I’m doing. I love how yoga showed me how to love the little things, yet that negative voice in my head constantly berates me.
“If I was thinner, I could do certain poses without my ankles hurting. It’s the excess fat holding me back. If you stopped eating so much, maybe you could do crow and not have to hold up so much weight. If you were thinner, maybe you could run faster.”
And for those struggling with this, you aren’t alone. Here are my realizations for you:
You deserve love no matter your size. You aren’t disgusting or an embarrassment to the person who loves you. It’s true. I asked Chris, because for so long, I felt so embarrassed that this strong, fit man had me for his girlfriend. I felt like I was holding him hostage for making him be with a fat woman. And you know what? That man has never once felt that way even being the fit man that he is. You don’t have to “count your lucky stars” that someone deigned to love you because you are equally deserving of that love. You are not a charity case, but it’s okay to ask for support like I did on your way to being able self-validate. It’s exhausting having to unpack trauma. I’m in a back and forth with my body; I have good days and I have some really bad days. No, the journey will never be smooth or pretty despite what social media may present, and that’s why I try to include my bad days on my Instagram; it’s real. It’s also really weird and uncomfortable trying to stay positive when the self-loathing has been around for so long and is so familiar. I haven’t built the scaffold of positivity for myself yet, but I think as I continue trying, it’ll get easier to be kinder to myself. Maybe it will be the same way for you, too. But I promise that this journey to self-love is worth it. Who wants to be miserable for the rest of their life?
I have decided to stop this voice that my family created for me. I’m done. I’m not where I want to be in loving my body, but I know this will be a journey. Our society has groomed us to want instant results, but if yoga has taught me anything, enjoy the journey. Celebrate your progress, reflect on what you want to improve and then celebrate that! I will be happy with my body one day. I am speaking it into existence.
WHOO! That was a lot! I really appreciate if you’ve read until the end! I tried to condense everything, but I’ve realized that a lot has contributed to where I am today. But I’m going to wrap up with some fun, final tid-bits about myself!
1. Favorite meal: My mother’s Easter meal (double fried plantains, codfish with onions, and boiled yuca and other roots); if I’m fending for myself: microwave noodles with cheese and egg on top and hot sauce
2. Favorite TV show: The Office and 7.5 seasons of Game of Thrones; I’ve watched The Office four times!
3. Favorite book: I love the Inkheart series especially the first book by Cornelia Funke. She made me fall in love with the fantasy genre even before Harry Potter!
4. Favorite Instagram: @quadzilla619, @greekliftinggoddess, and @parkerandlily; Two powerful women and cats!
5. Favorite way to spend a day off: NOT STUDYING!! Catching up on sleep, reading, and watching Roosterteeth video game videos. In sum, being a lazy bum since I’m always go go go!!
Again, thank you so much for your time! My DMs are always open for questions or if you need a friend!
I also want to thank my friends like Alayna (shown below) and Sharidan for always being so supportive on the days when I’m down and especially to Chris who knows me better than anyone. I have never once taken your support for granted, and I love you so much! You are so appreciated and mean the world to me!