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  • Writer's pictureJulie Cali

Being A Plus-Size Mom But Thinking You are Chrissy Teigen

Updated: May 12

While sunning ourselves by the pool, my darling daughter proud that the Easter bunny finally got her a tankini, asked me if I preferred bathing suits that showed my belly or one-piece bathing suits. She pulled hers up a bit and revealed her belly button. I did not reciprocate. My tankini comes to my knees for a reason. I responded that I had never worn a bathing suit that showed my belly. “No one needs to see my belly,” I joked while bopping her on the nose. I don’t mind that I’m overweight, but generally still don’t show off my curves. She pulled back, generally confused and said, “Oh, why wouldn’t anyone want to see your belly?” I had no adequate answer. I couldn’t explain to her that I had been plus-size since I was born at nine pounds. I couldn’t explain that society deems being fluffy offensive. I couldn’t explain that child-birth had stretched my skin making it unseemly. I couldn’t explain any of that to her freckled face because my eight-year-old daughter doesn’t think that being overweight makes me any less desirable. She doesn’t think there is anything wrong with me being “fat.”

When my son was in kindergarten, one of his classmates told him that I was fat, and he was baffled by the description and asked me if that was a nice thing or a mean thing and whether it was right. I didn’t know how to respond. I never use the word fat to describe myself. I use fluffy euphemistically. Objectively, I am more round than other people. I can accept that. And the definition of fat is to carry excess flesh, which I can’t deny. But our society equates being “fat” with being lazy, unkept, ungroomed, and somehow less than your worth. I have walked on average six miles a day for the last three years. My A1C is 5.0. My total cholesterol is 134. My blood pressure is 120/78. My doctor reviewed my blood work last year, and said clearly at some point you’ve been thin. Nope. Just because I carry some extra pounds does not mean I live an unhealthy lifestyle. On the contrary, I try to model good eating habits and exercise so my children will also have said habits. Although I’ve technically been fat my whole life, and I wouldn’t define myself as any of those things. I explained to him what the word meant, and asked his opinion on the issue. He said, “I think you are perfect.”

I remember even now how happy his words made me feel. Even though I don’t generally wear a two piece, I don’t fixate on my weight as a measure of my value. I never have. I am a fluffy person who thinks I’m amazing and wonderful, and I don’t want my children thinking it’s part of my value either. Weight should never be used as a measure of how someone is doing, equating it with success or failure. I have several friends that when I ask how so and so is, they will always respond with “well, she gained ten pounds” or “she’s lost a few pounds." But I don’t want to know how much they weigh. I want to know how they are doing, emotionally and mentally. You can be successful and be fluffy. Your weight doesn't define you.

My sense of self-acceptance stems from being raised by people who valued me for who I was. My grandmother told me I had a smile that lit up the world, and that was all I ever needed to feel confident and secure. My sister always tells a story of how, as a child when she was round, she felt out of place in her tutu among the sea of slender ballerinas. After one class when my sister was particularly self-conscious, my grandmother pulled her close and said, “boy, some of those girls couldn’t get one leg off the ground, but you soared and were amazing.” My sister remembers laughing to herself because it was her who couldn’t get one leg off the ground. But our sense of confidence developed because the people around us didn’t define us by our weight.

The same can be said for my husband of twenty-years. He has never once referred to me as anything but spectacular. Nine months pregnant. Forty pounds overweight. Sixty pounds overweight. It never mattered. He always tells me I’m beautiful. (Now if I cut my long brown hair, he might divorce me, but as per my weight, that has never been an issue.) Being surrounded by people who built me up gave me a sense of identity that doesn’t revolve around how many rolls I have. I’ve never been in a relationship with someone who puts me down, and that’s probably why I don’t put myself down either. At times, I have lost weight to keep myself healthy, but I have and always will be plus-size and that is okay with me. It’s tempting to jump on the celebrity bandwagon of taking the new weight loss medicine to have that ideal figure—but ultimately, I’m comfortable as I am. Much like Amy Schumer in “I Feel Pretty,” I genuinely think I’m the most amazing thing that’s happened to the world since someone thought to put cream in a Twinkie. You can be plus-size and happy with yourself.

I think it’s also important to model this measure of self-acceptance for my children. Negative body image begins so young now. If you tear yourself down, your children will tear themselves down. When my ten-year-old was on the scale at the doctor’s office last month, the nurse said, “Wow, you are over 100 pounds. You are getting so big.” And I saw him twitch. It made me incredibly sad to see him be self-conscious so young. He knows his older brother weighs less than him. But I reminded my son that he’s an athlete and is very tall for his age, and that there are a lot of different pieces of him. Just because he weighs a few pounds more than his brother, it doesn’t mean anything bad. I want my children to feel valued for who they are, not what they look like. I also want them to value other people independent of their waist line. More than anything, talking to my children, I realize, as with most things, these stereotypes of being “fat” are learned. My children don’t see anything wrong with me because I don’t see anything wrong with me, but as they grow and learn, they are picking up from their environment harmful body image stereotypes. I need to be confident so they mirror my sense of self-confidence.

So maybe my daughter is right. Maybe I should just go for the swimsuit that shows my belly. Saying I’m fluffy and proud and actually being fluffy and proud are two separate things. Maybe for once I will let the world see me for who I really am, a woman who’s happy in her own skin. Someone warn the neighbors, Julie Cali’s belly is about to be displayed! It's not going to be just toes anymore.


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