YOUNG AND CHUBBY: How I Was Described in Two Words Or Less

I have started, stopped, edited, restarted this post over the past few months. Today I acknowledge that I will never find a way to write about this in a concise, several-paragraph blog entry and to continue to try would be stifling this thing that has existed forever but is always evolving, always somehow exactly the same. This isn’t the beginning or the end and I couldn’t find either no matter how hard I’d try. 

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Early into my relationship with Ryan, I found out that I had been talked about by someone that, having never met me, described me, the new girlfriend, as “young and chubby”.  End statement.

The “young” is fine. It’s relative only by comparison, and while I suppose some people mean it to imply “stupid, inexperienced, ignorant, not to be taken seriously”, in this case there is a full 10 years between me and the person who made the statement. I am, in that respect, young(er). Okay.

“Chubby” is trickier. I want to say it’s not. I want to say growing up in a household with a brave and strong mother, a punk rock/feminist music scene that embraced Riot Grrl and discouraged body image disorders, graduating from a Women’s College with a minor in gender studies and the honor of being the student speaker at my graduation, being fully involved in a progressive/body positive/women positive subculture and lifestyle would make me simply… not care about something like that.

You would think.

I feel completely and utterly ashamed to admit to myself, let alone others, how much time is spent worrying that somehow my appearance will directly affect who I am and how others see me.

It’s not all bad. I have come to embrace, and even really like, parts of my body that previously caused so much grief. I learned early on: I’m not blonde, the closest I’ll ever get to a tan is if my freckles run together, I’m built like my father which means what I lack in the length of my legs I make up for in a way that leads my Mom to say things like, “You know Jaim, from the back you look like a Kardashian sister!” I like big, dark hair and colorful tattoos and hips and thighs, and that’s me.

I’m not sure if I’ve made peace with those parts because of or in spite of the fact that those are my genes, and I better get used to ’em, but the white flag of surrender has been waved.

Until, of course, something in my mind fires a sneak attack and burns that fucking flag to ash.

Here’s the thing: With all of my heart, I know that a person’s appearance does not equal their worth. I think all body types are beauitful, but not as beautiful as a person’s spirit or heart. I don’t think someone labeled “fat” is gross, lazy or any of the other negative implications that come with it, and certainly not less than. 

I was enraged when, a few years ago at my bookstore job, a mother turned away books about Rosa Parks, Amelia Earhart, Betsy Ross, and Frida Kahlo because her daughter would say they “aren’t pretty enough” to write about for a book report. I have studied Betty Friedan and Jean Kilbourne. I grew up reading Ms. magazine and Bust! I thought Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” happened 30 years too late, but better late than never.

I know that who we are and what we do is always more important than the things we have or how we look.

And yet.

I’d like to walk into a room without immediately comparing myself to every other woman and letting that determine how I’ll feel about myself for the night.  I want to stop feeling that because someone else is pretty with features different than mine, it means I am less pretty (and thus less, in general). I want to watch a movie, look at a magazine or website, or generally exist without the constant worry in my head that suddenly the whole world will come to a startling halt to point, and laugh, and judge.

“I don’t understand, Jaime. You are the least shallow person I know, and yet, this… this is really, really shallow thinking”, Ryan tells me when I try to talk it out. He’s right. It’s embarrassing. It completely goes against everything I believe in my heart to be true – for other people. No. For every other person on the earth, except me. For me and me only, it’s entirely rational. Why do I do that?

A couple of months ago, some ladies and I started having meetings to discuss these very issues. I was shocked (yet somehow sadly comforted) to know I wasn’t the only one thinking this way.  These woman are smart, creative, own successful interesting businesses based on their passions, contribute to the community,  have very women-positive/feminist ethics, and frankly, they’re gorgeous.

We sit around, drinking wine and eating tabouli salads, trying to figure out WHAT IS GOING ON HERE and how, with lives that are so full of loving people and wonderful friends and getting paid to do what we love and all of that, all of the really truly important stuff covered, feeling “ugly” can ruin a day. “None of us would ever allow someone we love to be talked about in the ways we talk about ourselves”, a concept that we all agree is true. In fact, just imagining that someone would speak about our mothers, sisters, daughters or friends makes some of the group clench their fists and tell in gory detail what they’d likely do to that person (which would be the very opposite of “pretty”).

I wish I could say that together we found the magic pill, THE THING that will rid us of insecurity and body-obsession forever and ever! We haven’t. But I do know: When I leave, I always feel better. Not for the griping, the complaining, the airing of grievances, but to be in the company of such truly lovely people and that, despite talking about ugly feelings for several hours, remind me of what real beauty is.

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The afternoon I found out about the “young and chubby” comment, it hit hard. Is that what people think when they see me? Is that what I am, who I am? That’s me summed up?

I felt sick to my stomach and was thisclose to calling in sick at the bookstore, convinced I couldn’t go in public because somehow my existence was offensive.

The holiday season had just begun, and every year the store does a book drive: Buy a new book and it is donated to the organization chosen that year, always one where children that may not own books will get to take it home. If you choose, you can fill out a tag, “TO and FROM” and write your name on the FROM line.

There were barely any donations the entire night, when finally a couple in their mid-twenties decided to buy a book as a donation. They took care in selecting a special one, “Our daughter loves this and I’m sure another child will, too” they said with big smiles as I offered them to tag to fill out.

After they left, I realized that on the FROM line, instead of writing first names like “Danny and Megan”, they wrote:

someone who loves you

Chills ran all over my skin and in that second all the feelings of self-doubt drained from me, from my body, from my body that is me and that is mine. The body that is okay just as it is, which I know and somehow forget over and over. But these people, these wonderful people passed through at just the right moment to help me remember: love is all we have.

And that includes the love and respect we give ourselves.

22 thoughts on “YOUNG AND CHUBBY: How I Was Described in Two Words Or Less

  1. Thanks for your honesty. I think if everyone was this open about their self-image we would never feel the need to compare ourselves to others.

  2. so powerful to me because i feel the same exact way about myself. some days i just dont even like looking in the mirror. it really shouldnt be that way. i hate that i feel the need to try to diet or ‘get back to the gym’. its all very frustrating… and for the record, you are amazing and gorgeous and i wish i lived closer to you so we could be friends in real life.

  3. Just Awesome, Jaime. What I’ve come to know, is that each and every one of us is just as scared, anxious, and self deprecating as the next. And, each of us has the ability to turn that off, and be who we truly are. Beautifully written, thank you SO much for sharing yourself with us.

  4. Fabulous post!
    I understand that feeling of wanting to hide because of feeling somehow offensive to the world. A few years ago some anonymous creep left me a comment that said I had a big nose (I’d never even THOUGHT about my nose before then), was fat, had stupid tattoos, and didn’t know how to take care of my dog (regarding a post about a vet visit). I let that comment burn into me and it haunted me for quite awhile. I knew these things were not true, but ifsomeone felt that way, they had to be, right? Anyway, I didn’t want to post anything on the internet for months after that or even show myself in public places and made everything possible private (photo accounts, etc.) because this person was obviously digging things up to hate me about for some reason. I told no one because I was too embarrassed. Anyway, phew, personal!

    While the comment about you maybe didn’t come from as hateful a place, some people will just never know how their words can affect someone. It’s up to us to not let them 🙂

    • I’m so sorry to hear about that negative experience, Angela. You, who of all people are so kind and positive! (Some people get really pissed off by a positive outlook, frankly, which is so… ironic.) Funny how we can have a hundred wonderful experiences in a day but just ONE bad one, in comparison, can stick with us. I’m glad you’re back at it. No one should ever give someone else the power to take their dignity or self respect away, not you, not me, not anyone else 🙂

  5. what an insightful post..i know exactly where you are coming from. i think it’s a problem that most females have- they often are never completely confident in their bodies, features, life choice, etc. on the inside, i know i’m not fat or ugly, but still those negative thoughts enter my mind on a fairly regular basis. but the way i look at it, i can’t do more than i do already- i eat healthy, i exercise, and take care of my body. i am conscious of the people i allow to be a part of my life- those who are positive and share a similar outlook on life. i try to live a productive life and one that helps others. and thinking of those things, it becomes more difficult to put myself down. but still, that ugly dragon is still in the dungeon.

    • I know so much, and have, and I think we ALL inherently KNOW that it is in our heads. It’s amazing how much we can do, all we can learn and contribute and become and act on, and across the board it seems like somehow this hurdle in our minds is always the tallest one. I guess we just need to work that much harder 🙂 Thanks for writing Caitlin.

  6. I’m SO frustrated because I REALLY wanted to join you and Alison for this support group type meeting, but I’m limited to using the bus these days – and it doesn’t run often enough after 6pm. If you ever meet up on a Saturday afternoon and you’ll still have me, let me know. I’m still very interested.

    First of all, I think a big component is the guilt and punishment we put on ourselves immediately after having these feelings. We think to ourselves, “I’m ugly.” Then, we tell ourselves, “Ugh, I did it again. It’s so stupid to think that.” It’s a double whammy. Instead of just allowing that moment of insecurity to happen and forgiving ourselves for being human, we beat ourselves up even further. We treat ourselves worse than we’d ever allow anyone else to treat us.

    Also, there has to be something bigger going on. A root issue. Your family was very supportive, but perhaps someone wasn’t. For me, I was teased in kindergarten, before I even knew what self-esteem was. I think that being teased when we’re introduced to our first peer group can be really damaging.

    It’s also powerful to become aware of our thinking patterns. It’s helpful to challenge those thoughts as soon as we have them. By challenge, I don’t mean putting ourselves down and calling ourselves shallow for having the thoughts. When you tell yourself you’re repulsive, ask yourself immediately if that’s really true. Did you look yourself in the mirror that morning and gag at the sight of yourself? Did little children run away screaming yesterday because you were so hideous? How many people complimented you for your style, out of nowhere, and how many said you were ugly? Once you test the theory that you’re repulsive, it just doesn’t hold up. Then, take the time to recognize the part of you that is beautiful. A physical feature about yourself that you’ve really come to like. There has to be something.

    I notice that when I go through that routine, it works… versus beating myself up. I still need a lot more practice. I imagine this could work for you too.

  7. Beautiful essay, Jaime. It’s hard to put this subject into words because it is so conflicting but you did a great job. And you’re a great gal, inside and out 🙂

  8. If your worried about the word “chubby” how would you like to be in my shoes? People will always talk, it’s a way of life these days. I always felt like this, “If you don’t like it don’t look” and I lived by that my whole life. The result was I never felt bad about anything anybody said. Am I proud of the way I look??? Hell no, but I’ll be dammed if I let anyone get to me. The fact of the matter is “REAL” beauty comes from inside. It’s the person that you are and “NOT” what you look like. I’ve known you for a very long time and trust me Jaime, YOU ARE A BEAUTIFUL PERSON!!!!!

  9. Body images issues notwithstanding, which I understand is the larger point of this post, why automatically construe “chubby” as negative?

    I mean you might have access to a larger context than I do (like who said it and how they said it and what they generally say about people and size-acceptance) but there is at least a chance that they meant it entirely positively. I’m a big fan of “chubby,” in other women and in myself.

    As for the heavier body image stuff, I will simply refer to you to “Fierce Free-Thinking Fatties” because they are, well, fierce.

  10. I have to say, and don’t take this the wrong way, but your post typifies “young” thinking. Young can be used as an age description – as in “not old.” I think you’re taking it too personally. Young is not a bad thing; if this person was older than you, calling you “young” can mean “younger than me”. But frequently, younger people don’t have as much self confidence or awareness of their identity and can be more likely to take something that someone else says about you personally when you shouldn’t (especially if they don’t really know you). I found, that once I hit a certain stage in my life, I stopped caring about what everyone else thought of me or whether they liked me or not. Your self worth is not attached to what others think or say about you. Just be you.

    • Hi Chelsey! You are so right when you say it wasn’t about me personally, and more about someone looking for ways to insult and then feel better than whoever it happened to be that filled the role of “new girlfriend”. Me, someone else, wouldn’t have mattered. THAT is the real immaturity: disrespectfulness. Thank you very much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts 🙂

    • While I think I know where you’re coming from, saying a “too skinny girl” is not a woman or is unlovable is just as offensive as saying someone fat is unattractive. We have to stop saying any one body type is what a “real” woman has because that’s just untrue!

  11. I am very wary of self help books, but “The Four Agreements” discusses the effect that words have on ourselves and others. You might find it an interesting read. I had to read it to quiet a coworker of mine who wouldn’t stop bugging me to read it, and I grudgingly found it to be very thought provoking. It has a lot of parallels to your latest post.

    I would say you are exactly right in concluding that the chubby label had much more to do with the speaker of those words than you. I don’t even know you (other than from this blog), and I can’t imagine describing you as “young and chubby.” As just a casual observer of “Save the Kales,” I would use words like these to describe you: smart, innovative, cool, rebellious, creative, energetic, happy, positive, funky, etc. So, that’s how I think you appear. But then again, you exemplify things that I admire, so maybe my own words say more about me and my values than anything else. The bottom line is, we cannot let other’s judgement of us be our benchmark of success in life. You know this to be true, so just keep reminding yourself of what you really are.

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