When Kelley Markland, 36, found a letter in her mailbox on November 18, she was excited. She thought perhaps she had gotten a note from a friend or an early holiday card.
But instead, the substitute teacher and education student from Port Orange, Florida opened the letter (which did not have a return address) to find a cruel meme. Using Ron Burgundy’s image, it read: “Your pants say yoga but your butt says McDonald’s” along with another image of a woman in leggings who is not Markland.
There was also a hand-written note that said, “Women who weigh 300 pounds should not wear yoga pants!!”
Happy holidays, right?
What makes the note particularly heartbreaking is that Markland had recently taken to wearing leggings as a way to feel more confident about her body. Where she once hid behind dark, solid-colored clothes, she had now begun to embrace more bold colors and patterns.
“As a plus-sized woman, your options are limited,” Markland tells Babble. “I got compliments [on my leggings] and started feeling better in what I was wearing. The more I wore them, the more I wanted to keep wearing them because I felt pretty and good in them. My wardrobe turned from black because I tried to hide and not stand out, to blues and pinks. I’m happy I finally have the confidence to wear something that isn’t solid black.”
Markland says that reading the letter felt “very surreal.”
“I was numb and I didn’t know what to think. I wanted to laugh like, ‘this is a really weird joke,'” she explains. “I kind of just froze. I walked to my bedroom to show my husband, Dustin, and he didn’t know what to say either. What can you say?”
Dustin,39, a retail manager for the surf company Rip Curl, started to crumple up the letter until Markland stopped him. In that moment, Markland says she realized that she wasn’t just going to sit at home and cry over her bully — she was going to speak out about it. As soon as her tears had dried, Markland took to Facebook to share her story.
But what began as a Facebook vent to her friends spiraled into a movement that is more powerful than any one nameless bully will ever be.
As Markland’s story spread, so did support for her and every woman who has ever been made to feel less than simply because of the way she looks. Women began posting their own stories of how they learned to love their bodies, sharing pictures of themselves in bright, bold leggings using #LeggingsWin, and local photographer Love and Limes even partnered with a friend who sells LulaRoe leggings to donate a photo shoot to highlight Markland’s beauty.
Speaking out about her experience, Markland says, has given her a new-found sense of strength. It has also made her even more passionate about teaching her children the power of cruel words. “[Bullying] is one thing I talk to my children about a lot,” Markland explains. “[I tell them that] you never ever speak that way to people, because you don’t know what they’re going through.”
Like many, Markland assumed the bullying would end once she reached adulthood. But at 36, she has learned the hard way that that’s not necessarily the case. “That’s the hard part — you become an adult and it still happens. So it’s a hard lesson to teach your children, because they see adults do it.”
The day after she received the anonymous letter, Markland shared a tearful video on Facebook about how she and her husband had taken this “crappy situation” and turned it into an amazing lesson for their two young children. “They got a first-hand account of seeing how I felt. It’s one thing to talk about bullying, but when you see the after-effects of it actually happening, that’s a real-life image and a real-life picture for them to see.”
Markland says that while she focuses on being a healthier person for herself and her family, she is also focusing on teaching her children — especially her daughter — how to love themselves now, regardless of their supposed “flaws.”
“I’ve gone through a lot,” says Markland. “[So] at the end of the day, if this person can only make fun of me for my leggings, I’m doing pretty good in life.”
And if there’s anything Markland has learned from this experience that she wants us all to know, it’s this:
“No one should tell us what we can and cannot wear, especially based on our size,” Markland continues. “We have to love ourselves, because if we aren’t going to love ourselves then who will love us? A year ago, that letter would have sent me into a big downward spiral, but that letter doesn’t define who I am. I may not like the way I look all the time, but I’m a pretty good person. Any woman goes through that, we’re all kind of struggling to keep our heads above water and be better and do more, but not always appreciating where they are in this exact moment.”
In the end, Markland says she has two things to say to whomever sent the letter:
First, he or she had better watch out, because this mom is now on a mission to wear the “brightest and boldest” leggings she can possibly find.
And second, thank you:
“Whoever wrote this letter, thank you, because you started something so much bigger. Because of this, I found some strength I didn’t have. Because of this act of bullying… the love that has come from it has been so amazing. It’s not about leggings. It’s about being confident in who you are.”