*Trigger warning: this post contains assault*

As I have said, it took 24 years for me to come to a “tipping point” that allowed me to take 70lbs of fat off my body. It seemed like, over the years, the more I dieted, the more I gained. Not surprisingly, research backs that very notion up. Yoyo diets don’t work.

When I was around 15, a friend of the family who was jacked about fitness and thinness came to visit. She preached to me, unsolicited (as so many people did), her magic weight loss formula. She said that when she was a teen, she was also unhappy with her weight (uh, I don’t remember telling anyone I was unhappy with my weight- insert automatic assumption), and so she stopped eating carbs, and in a month, wha la, the weight had shed and she was hot, and got a boyfriend etc. etc. etc. So OF COURSE, she decided that I should also remove carbohydrates from my diet, since CARBS MUST BE THE ONLY REASON I WAS FAT. She called it the “Adkins diet,” and I can remember being skeptical, since I’d heard the Adkins guy himself died in some strange falling on ice incident (maybe he was weak from not eating carbs??).  None the less, she was not the sort of person to argue with, since she obviously knew everything about me and my weight problems (didn’t everyone??). I stopped eating carbs, but instead ate bowlfuls of Caesar salad, frozen whipped cream, meats and Adkins candy. I binged in other ways, since, carbs or no carbs, my over-eating was really at the heart of the matter.

I saw some results. In about 4 weeks, I had probably gone down a size or a size and a half, and I was getting so much external praise it was almost frightening. KEEP IT UP ASHLEY! OMG ASHLEY, YOU LOOK AMAZING!! OMG KEEP GOING!!! [Insert pressure mounting ticking time bomb here.]  About a month and a half into this Adkins thing, I went on a week-long cruise. What everyone who goes on cruises knows that Adkins Ashley did not know before setting sail, is that cruises are as much about unlimited eating as they are floating on a sea. I lasted about three hours before the all you can eat everything totally took over, and, fuck you Mr. Adkins, I was making starchy love to c-a-r-b-o-h-y-d-r-a-t-e-s once again. Almost immediately, the waves of sickness and shame and panic kicked in. I realized that any willpower I had mustered in the month and a half before had walked the plank and drown somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico. I couldn’t stop eating. I couldn’t manage my cravings. Portion control? I’m not sure I understood the concept. I gained the weight all back. FAST. Humiliation. Shame. Resentment. The cycle continued.

Diet pills. Ever heard of those? Somewhere around 16 or 17, some friends introduced me to Xenydrine, the panic attack inducing caplets that suppressed hunger while increasing insanity. I tried to starve, and then I would binge, like someone holding their breath for too long and instinctively gasping for air. I would love myself when I was hungry, and hate myself when I crashed. Power and control. Weakness and impulsivity. What a fucked up dance it was.  I got results, I lost results. Yoyo, yoyo,yuck.

And around this time, I had my first pseudo-sexual encounters. I was a boy-a-holic. I would crave and yearn and secretly beg for SOMEONE to pay special attention to me. For someone to love me, despite my fat. To accept me for this sorry excuse of a girl that I was. I “fell in love” when I was 14 through a Yahoo chatroom with a boy two years older than me who went to a nearby school. We spent the summer voice chatting every night. He called me “baby,” and I can remember how my stomach would dip at the syllables. ME? Someone’s BABY? I had sent him a pixelated photo of my face, and he had sent one similar, and I printed his out and cut it in a heart shape. I would look at it every day and my heart would practically explode with excitement. UNTIL. Until I remembered that I was fat. Until I remembered that there was NO WAY he would actually like me when he met me, and that I would be friend zoned again. I tried to ignore the paranoid beliefs that I would no longer be his baby when we met face to face, because no one wants a fat baby. Sure enough, one night we were talking and he said, “you know what I hate?” and I replied, “what?” and he said, “fat people.” And I’m pretty sure I blacked out or died temporarily because my fears had come to fruition. I didn’t fess up, I was too humiliated. I convinced myself that, maybe, just maybe when we met, he would allow me to be the exception to his fat hate. Or perhaps, he wouldn’t notice it at all. A few weeks later we met at a mall. He had terrible teeth and looked like a character out of the movie Chicken Run, but I was totally in love anyway. We exchanged short spurts of nervous small talk, and I never heard from him again. I went home, got in bed, and cried for days.  I was fat. Fat was unlovable.

When I was 16, some friends of mine had met a group of guys at a local beach. They came to my house one night while my parents were working, and I sat in one of the guy’s cars with him in my driveway, while my other friends “took a walk” with the guys they had paired with. He was from some country in the Middle East, and if I really tried, I could convince myself he was cute. Well, he was giving me attention, so of course he was cute. We talked for about an hour, sitting in our separate chairs, then my parents got home, freaked out to find such a sight, and the lot of them left. Giddy and innocent and wounded, I decided I would go for THAT GUY! The first one to give me special attention. He was older, maybe early 20’s? My friends at the time (also 16 or 17) went gaga over the guys they had met, who were all somehow related, and we met up with them again on an afternoon one day after school at one of their apartments. I remember being SO NERVOUS about what was going to happen… maybe I would get my first kiss?! I was wearing an orange and yellow striped sundress from Target, that dipped in a low V cut in the chest, and I was not wearing a bra (don’t slut-shame me). The guy sat next to me on the couch, while my other friends were in another room. I remember I was so nervous I was playing the game “snake” on the oldschool Nokia cell phone I had at the time. He sat very close to me and I’m pretty sure he could hear my hear thudding from his distance… I was SO NERVOUS. I was SO INSECURE. I was waiting for him to realize how gross I was and leave. Instead, he began groping my chest and stomach, and I pushed his hands away, but the quickly returned. He grabbed under my dress and I began to yell “no!” and push him off. I was horrified. He was touching my breasts and trying to get under my dress, and I didn’t even KNOW this fucking guy. A friend overheard my struggle, and she came in and interrupted. She told him to come with her, where she too, also overweight and totally starved for attention, took him into a room where she too was assaulted. It was a fucking mess. It was traumatizing and I thought I deserved it because I was fat, and he had settled for me, at least he was interested. I can’t remember all of the details, but I do remember it all ending in a cloud of pepper spray my friend had sprayed at one of them and all of us running out. I went immediately home and stared at my wall for maybe 3 days straight. I wouldn’t talk. I was in shock. My parents asked my friends what was wrong, but no one would talk. And my friends and I… we never really talked about it again. We didn’t have the language.

My body. This fat, disgusting, hateful thing… vandalized. A doormat. A disposable piece of trash.

This was not the last time my body was assaulted. This was not the last time I rationalized abuse for attention.

I was a prisoner in my own prison. And all I ever wanted was to grasp the key.

More about love and pain, heartbreak and triumph to come.

But for now… keep sweating!


On Being Fat

Being labeled “fat” or “morbidly obese” for 24 years is something I would not change; it gave me deep experiences of pain and suffering that shaped my world view. I am a white, educated, privileged woman.  I was not abused, nor did I ever worry about going without a meal, or where I would sleep at night. In many ways, I lived a life far more kind than many, many people around me. And yet, I felt discriminated against and bullied by those around me for the way that I looked…for my fat. It seemed to tell the outside world a story about me I didn’t feel like I could control; a narrative about my character that was inaccurate and unfounded, based on stereotypes and fiction.

The strange thing about being a fat girl, and then a fat woman, is that I somehow seemed to fall outside the realms of what is considered “discrimination” in our society when I was bullied and shunned for my appearance. There are many, many, many fat jokes about women that are part of normalized and celebrated pop culture. Watch the movie “Shallow Hal.” Listen to stand-up comedians. Turn on the “E” channel. Or my favorite, those obnoxious stickers (often on large pickup trucks driven by fat men) that say “Fat Chicks Can’t Jump,” and “No Fat Chicks” (*Cringe*). Making fun of, or blatantly insulting girls and women who are fat was seen as a normal and acceptable form of collective criticism. Why? I’ve pondered this for many years. I think the answer is multifaceted.

First, I think that the unrealistic beauty standards created by mainstream media to SELL BEAUTY PRODUCTS brainwash us to believe that thin is normal, healthy, beautiful, and elite. That being thin is “cool” and “sexy” and somehow translates into an accurate assessment of happiness, health and success. These are messages sold through movies, music videos, fashion, tabloids, television, Hollywood, and advertising. Who has traditionally owned the entities that create these unrealistic beauty images? Men. I’ve watched enough Mad Men to know the power of advertising and the collective desire to be the unattainable. Buy me, fat girl, buy me!

I’m also in that parade that believes we are taught that pleasing the penis is valued more than about any other damn thing in this universe, and if the penis is socialized to value thin bodies, then anything bigger is “unnatural” or almost, might I say, “offensive” and “immoral.” We’re sexualized and we’re objectified and we’re dehumanized. Fat is gross. Fat is unnatural. Fat is dirty. Fat is sinful. Fat is a choice to be unwanted.

The very notion that fat is a choice, for many of us who were brought up eating food from our American kitchens, is a farce. I was raised eating Snackwell cookies, diet soda, and every “reduced fat” product known the the 90’s. My parents thought what they were doing was right, because the grocery stores packed it. We ate fruit roll-ups. They say FRUIT on them. “Strawberry” Poptarts. “Lean Cuisines.” Diet food. That’s healthy, RIGHT? The label says DIET on it, so it can’t be making her fat. RIGHT? WRONG.

There was, at least in my experience, such a lack of education about nutrition. Thin women eating cheeseburgers on my television screen. It must be something intrinsically wrong with ME, right? They can eat that and they’re not fat. So many mixed messages, so much guilt, so much shame.

And well, there was also that stress eating. I grew up in two households that were black and white opposite. I now look back and appreciate the “grey” shade I have become because of it, but there was a lot of anxiety that came from the split people I felt like I had to be to meet the basic approval of my parents. My mental health issues greatly influenced my eating habits; I learned to binge eat at a young age to escape feelings of anxiety, the cause of which I was not responsible for (I did not cause my parents to create me or divorce and hate each other). But somehow trapped in the middle, I remember sneaking into the kitchen at night at friends’ houses and binging on packs of Doritos and chips ahoy cookies. I looked forward to it. I looked forward to eating for the escape.

And so, how much responsibility can I take for the fat that was on my body, that was there from the start? The habits I was born into, the habits I created as a result of my environment, the habits I created to cope with problems with living. I didn’t deserve disrespect, I deserved compassion.

I can remember being on the school bus in Kindergarten. I was sitting near the window, and two second grade girls sat in the seat with me, crushing me against the wall. We were near the back, away from the bus driver’s eye, and they pinched my cheeks and called me “little piggy, piggy piggy, little piggy, fat pig.” I was scared and humiliated. I was 5. Hello world, fuck you, world.

I can, and will in time, share way more bully episodes, all directly due to the fat content on my body.

It was a struggle. And I hated myself, deeply, for being mortally flawed. My BMI, my BMI, my fucking god awful BMI.

So how much was I responsible for all of this? I’m not sure. But the trauma of so many experiences from fat shame caused me to dis-associate from, avoid, and hate my body. I was so sensitive with the topic that I tried to avoid it all together, I wouldn’t engage in any helpful self-talk about health, wellness, or how to get better. Instead I focused on my shame, guilt, anger and insecurities, which held me back from pursuing so many opportunities, and caused me to feel depressed, anxious and isolated on and off for many years.


Yes, back to that day in June, 2010, when I faced the scale again. When I begged and pleaded with myself through tear-stained words on paper that this time would be different. This time I would have the COURAGE to face myself.

And that night, or perhaps the next, I looked at my face in the mirror and I forgave myself. I forgave myself for the not-knowing, for the lack of understanding about nutrition, for the ways I coped with anxiety, for all the ways I had somehow been responsible for contributing to the numbers on the scale, and for my parents who I believe did the best they could. Instead of shaming and running, I looked at myself with compassion. I took responsibility for what I had contributed, and forgave myself for what I had not. I realized that I could blame others for my state of dissatisfaction, and if I continued to do so I would remain powerless. When I took responsibility for my fat and my shame, I realized I could too be responsible for changing it. And I did.

That heart to heart, that facing myself with compassion and responsibility, was the thing that made all the difference. I decided to take responsibility, from that day forward, for my health and wellness. I realized that if I wanted to escape the “I eat because I’m fat, and I’m fat because I eat”  paradigm, I had to stop avoiding, stop shaming, and start empowering myself. I was a capable, intelligent, driven and strong woman despite the labels fat had given me.

In 1 year I had lost most of the weight. I was exercising three to four times a week, I was eating fulfilling foods, I was buying new wardrobes (from 14/16 to 4/6) and getting massive amounts of new attention. In some ways, it was like a physical and social rebirth. No more guys honking and calling me a “fatass” as I walked down the street. No more humiliation in malls as I walked through store after store knowing there was not one thing other than a sock I could fit into. And most of all… no more shame.

Ah, but don’t be fooled. All that glitters is not gold. There were prices paid, expectations unmet, and pots of gold missing from ends of rainbows. There was anger, resentment, disgust and confusion. All that and more, next time.

For now, keep sweating!