I remember the first time I realized that my body was different, that I took up too much space. I was in my elementary school gym class and I was playing dodge ball and my team mate told me to get off the front line because I was a bigger target and therefore would be easier for the other team to hit.[i] Before then, aside from family members offhand comments about my “baby fat” I had never thought about my body. It was merely the vessel I shoved dino nuggets and kool-aid in while I played pretend in the backyard. I started to compare my body to the other girl’s in my class, most of them tall, thin, gangly, kids while I was short, squat, and thick. I never had to think about my body as different yet, because up until that point I had kept up: I could do regular kid things.
There’s a funny thing that happens when you’re big, you automatically want to be small. Not just physically, but you want to make your entire being small. You shrink yourself to fit into the spaces between people, the spaces between words. I became obsessed with thinness and hiding. I was quiet, shy, a pushover, and wanted above all to please people. This meant that I silenced myself, I folded my body into itself trying to create myself into something that was more beautiful, more palatable. Wanting to make yourself small and insignificant is not only a means of survival for a fat[ii] teenager, but it’s also a means of survival for a scared Indigenous teenager.[iii] All of these things layered together: not being white, not being thin, not being conventionally attractive made me feel uglier than the troll in the first Harry Potter. Jokes aside, it makes you question if you’re deserving of loving and feeling loved.
The politics of desirability are complex. Caleb Luna described it best in their article “Treating My Friends Like Lovers: The Politics of Desirability”: “our desire and desirability is not just about who we do or want to have sex with, or who or how often people want to have sex with us. It informs how we treat people in the larger world” (Luna, 2016). My interactions with others, especially straight, cis, white men, has been dictated by my perceived level of desirability (spoiler: most of these interactions are horrific). This constant reminder and societal reinforcement makes the idea of love seem like something that does not exist for people like me. It feels like love is a scarce resource and that I am not deserving of infinite, boundless, reckless, love. Living in a body like mine is constantly seeing skinny white people fall in love on TV, applauding your thinner friends on finding partners, and reading books where you just automatically assume no one looks like you; there is no representation to remind you that yes, thick Indigenous women get to fall in love too.
So you try to fall in love with yourself, because your favourite aunty tells you that no one will love you until you learn to love yourself. So you look in the mirror and make yourself list off five things you love about yourself. You get to two and start commiserating about the way your thighs touch. You fall in love and you think you’re brave enough to take a leap on a crush and you stop because you remember that time in middle school where a boy asked you to dance and you were so excited until you looked over and his friends were laughing. You also remember every person you kissed who wanted to keep you secret. You’re constantly reminded that love, even the most boring normative ideas about love, just aren’t for you. So you wave the white flag and accept that maybe you’re just not loveable, you’re too big, too mixed, and have too much baggage to be worthy of love. You do what it takes to survive even though sometimes the things we do to survive are the same things we use to self-sabotage ourselves from feeling vulnerable and forming loving and intimate relationships. You begin to exist in a purgatory where you force yourself to believe you’re unloveable in order to survive. You become simultaneously too small and too big at the same time.
Indigenous folks, especially queer folks, two-spirit kin, and Indigenous women, cannot hate ourselves for the ways we have tried to survive. We can’t hate ourselves for the shells we have built in order to make it through the world. Every thick, brown, Indigenous babe I see gives me life and I want to hug them and worship them. I want them to know that their existence is so integral and important and beyond beautiful. That their beauty cannot be expressed in the awkward syntax of English. I know that we are the land, and our bodies are sacred and our bodies are ceremonies and that our survival is integral to decolonization. I know that when we fall in love it’s a revolution. I know all this, and maybe one day I will be in a place to believe this for me.
I wish I could end this in a way that made every single boy in middle school who called me fat, weep. I wish I could end this in a way that made every person who kept me a secret, regret it. But I can’t. This body, my body, is not an apology. It’s not a regret. This body, my body, is a battle field. It’s a place I love and hate at the same time. I am constantly trying to make peace with stretch marks and cellulite. I know I exist because of the love of my ancestors and I continue to exist because of the love of my communities, but sometimes when you’re looking in the mirror that’s hard to remember. Pure, true, radical self-love does not exist as a destination. You cannot follow a map where X marks the spot where you overcome your colonial trauma enough to see yourself as a perfect being; pure radical self-love is a violent revolution fought with yourself, friends, and lovers. It’s battle plans and whispers in twilight between bed sheets.
[i] I’m excellent at dodge ball, fyi.
[ii] I am very uncomfortable reclaiming this word, but I raise my hands up in thanks and appreciation to all the fierce fat babes who own this word with reckless abandon.
[iii] I want to acknowledge my darker skinned kin who do not have the same privileges as I do as a light skinned Indigenous woman. I also want to acknowledge my trans and two-spirit kin who do not have the same privileges I have as a cis Indigenous woman.
Luna, Caleb, “Treating My Friens Like Lovers: The Politics of Desirability.” https://thebodyisnotanapology.com/magazine/how-to-be-fat-caleb-luna-sub/