We almost missed the new counter at the mall, but the salesman caught my mom’s eye.
Curiously, she walked us over to chat with him about a new product, designed to help all of our body image problems disappear. Eight large diet pills, filled with a ton of caffeine and what the guy behind the counter called “herbs” would be the daily remedy for helping my thin-bodied mom and I lose even more weight than we needed to.
I was 16 years old at the time and looking for any reason to make myself smaller, so I jumped at the chance to try it out.
Since entering seventh grade, I’d already joined weight loss groups and engaged in restrictive eating, binging, and purging. I had even starved myself to shrink my body. Yet despite the physical evidence of my obsessive tendencies to be skinny, I always felt the need to be skinnier. Even if it came at the cost of my health.
So, the salesman easily sold us two gigantic six-month packs of the drug. One pack was for my mom, and one pack was for me.
Four years later, I opened up to my college boyfriend and revealed my crippling diet pill addiction.
I hoped that by sharing my pain with him and tossing those awful things in the trash, it would be enough to heal all of my self-esteem issues. Sadly, it didn’t even come close. At the time, nothing could save me from the constant worry of gaining even a single pound of weight. No amount of pep talks could free me from the prison I was keeping myself in.
Today, my body and I have a much different story to tell. And finally, a television show has come along that explains why I hated myself for far too long — and more importantly, why I don’t need to anymore.
That show is called Dietland, and it’s helping change the narrative for women of all sizes. It’s also especially timely for me, considering I’ve just spent the past three years falling in love with new motherhood and my now plus-size body.
Back in my teens, those caffeinated pills seemed like an obvious answer to a problem that ran so much deeper than weight loss. Society had done a fabulous job of teaching me that a fat person held absolutely no worth in society, so I spent much of my life doing anything in my power to keep from gaining weight. To my impressionable mind, a fat body translated into an unlovable one. The more I physically disappeared, the more I thought my peers and family would accept me.
So you can imagine the surprise and comfort I found in seeing Plum Kettle, the main character in Dietland, religiously attending weight loss meetings, treating food as a punishment, and all-around hating on herself in a desperate effort to be treated well by those around her. Plum was steeped in the same kind of self-loathing I’d been plagued with for so many years. Finally, I found a character who seemed to share the inner struggles I’ve had my whole life.
Except there was one key difference between our narratives — I’ve spent most of my life in a thin body, and Plum has only known life in a larger one.
In case you’re a newcomer to the show, let me catch you up to speed. Dietland follows our 300-lb. female protagonist, played by plus-size actress Joy Nash, as she navigates a lonely life as a ghostwriter for a women’s magazine called Daisy Chain. After a lifetime of battling against her fatness, Plum is bound and determined to surgically reduce her body weight, however unaffordable and risky that option is. She’s spent a lifetime on restrictive diets and lives her days in black clothes that keep her disguised from the outside world, for very good reason — many of those around her, including her employer, see Plum’s body size as a contagious disease.
As the show progresses, Plum is pulled into the world of underground extreme feminism, which turns every single belief she’s ever had about herself upside down. In doing so, the character experiences a total body-acceptance revolution and cancels the life-altering surgery she had spent years preparing to undergo.
As I cheer Plum on, I realize something so important. For the first time ever, I’m witnessing a main character on television who discovers that the impossible societal standards around her are largely responsible for why she hates her body. As she learns to let go of the worldly pressure to have everyone approve of her size, I’m reminded of how freeing it has been to fall head over heels in love with my 200-lb. postpartum figure.
I may be considered to be plus-size now, but I won’t even begin to pretend that my story is the same as Plum’s journey. All of my childhood fears around having a fat body remained carefully at a distance, as long as I kept myself skinny. Those same exact fears have been made painfully real for this character as she struggles, and fails, to make herself smaller. While I at least had the comfort of seeming physically acceptable to those around me, heaps of societal shame have been poured onto Plum just because of her larger size.
But despite our lifelong physical differences, both of us have been hardwired to believe the very same thing — that being thin can offer us a one-way ticket to being loved and valued. Now that I’ve managed to live on both sides of the spectrum, I see firsthand how incredibly damaging this belief is. I cannot in good conscience keep giving power to these lies, because my daughter and stepdaughter are counting on me.
Even more than that, my teenage self is counting on me.
Because of Plum, I have hope that I can actually raise my children to believe that acceptance comes in every size. I’ve also had the profound transformation of discovering my own bias against marginalized bodies, and I plan to spend as long as I can sharing what I’ve learned with the world. Most importantly, I’ve realized that society pressures women and moms to be something so unattainable that even if achieved, doesn’t come with a guarantee of love and belonging. So we may as well enjoy exactly who we are right now and learn to love ourselves wholly.
If you had told me as a teen that I’d grow up to be my happiest self in a plus-size body, I would never have believed it. But that’s exactly what happened. Becoming the very size I had feared most of my life surprisingly set me free. Because, just like Plum, I’m beginning to realize that no amount of weight loss can teach me how to truly love myself — and no amount of weight gain can keep me from being an entirely lovable human being.