I was trapped in a body I created and hated

Photograph of Brittany Gibbons

The art of fearlessness is often reserved for the brave souls who parachute from tall buildings or planes, or scuba dive to unknown depths. Fearlessness is not often applied to chubby, thirty-year-old mothers in Ohio. Outside of the seasonal tornado or grumpy raccoon, I rarely found myself in a position of peril or danger. Still, my life was terrifying.

Being called fat by a stranger in a restaurant. Reading an online forum about how ugly I was. Seeing judgment in a nurse’s eyes while I stood on the scale at the doctor’s office. Hearing my thighs slap together during sex. I had moments of disabling fear throughout my daily life—trapped in a body I created and hated. My clothes didn’t fit and so I rarely left the house. I would stand in my closet sifting through hanger after hanger, until I eventually just melted into a sweaty pile of tears and bloat. I cropped and edited every picture I posted of myself online. My husband hadn’t seen me naked in years. There was nothing remarkable about my life, and certainly nothing brave.

Fat Girl Walking book jacket

Then I had my daughter, Gigi. She was born with coarse wavy hair and thick thighs. She was me—right down to her big feet. Gigi was beautiful, everyone agreed. I spent my days mesmerized by her, as she told the most magnificent stories with these giant brown eyes, and I spent my nights looking into a mirror, at those same brown eyes, and telling myself how disgusting I was. And then one day she told herself that, too. The beautiful little person I had created inside me like magic was suddenly looking into the mirror and finding all the parts of her I’d been showing her how to hate. I was a one-woman show of insecurity.

In that moment, every part of my life changed. I couldn’t love my body for me, but I could love it for her, even if it was just pretend. I started telling her I thought we looked beautiful, and that the thighs that rubbed together when we walked were perfect for dancing and jumping. The fizzy hair we often tamed with creams and hair ties, while miserable in the humid Midwest, was better suited flowing behind us in the ocean like mermaids. The deep curves my hips made were the perfect spot for her tiny hugs, or pinches from her father. I spent months turning all the unbearable parts of me into gold, and the craziest part is: I believed it.

What began as a plan to trick my daughter into shedding the body hate I had doomed her to, turned into a renewed love affair with myself. I treated myself to clothes that fit now, and not in twenty pounds; I went on vacation with my girlfriends, unconcerned about the looks and whispers of those around me; and I had lots and lots of naked, lights on, thigh slapping sex with my husband.

Eventually, the chronicling of my body love journey led me to stripping on the stage of a TED Talk, into the pages of fashion magazines and the boardrooms of fashion brands, and onto the sets of television shows and the shelves of bookstores. And I walked into every new experience the same way: fearless.

Brittany Gibbons
Brittany Gibbons (brittanyherself.com) is the author of Fat Girl Walking: Sex, Food, Love, and Being Comfortable in Your Skin…Every Inch of It.