• Portia Bartley

Why I’m Not Losing My Quarantine Weight

It was mid-afternoon when my new clothes arrived in the mail. When it was time to try on my jeans, they didn’t fit. While I was used to jumping into them (thanks Beyoncé for feeling my pain), I was unable to close the zip on what had been my size for years. I took them off, placed them back in the packaging, and reordered a bigger size. I had several reasons to see that as a moment of defeat. Instead, I chose to come to terms with the weight I had gained. Especially with my history in mind.

I was as young as nine when I had my eye on a black and pink top that tied at the front. Although I was beaming as I showed it to my Mum, she gave a resounding no when asked if I could get it. Looking back, I understand that she couldn’t afford it. But instead of telling me the truth, she insisted I was too big for the top and repeated herself when I tried on bigger sizes.

For the first time, I was ashamed of my body.

The rest of my childhood was spent trying to shrink into an “acceptable” size. I ate less, did every sport I could in school, and steered clear from “fattening” snacks, all in the hope I would lose weight. That day, at the clothing shop, was the first of several comments I heard from my Mum: all of which implied that not being stick thin was one of the worst things you could be. This trickled into my adulthood as I began to skip meals often. I measured my waist constantly and hopped on scales whenever I could to ensure my weight was the same. Tight clothes lead to flashbacks of my Mum saying she could see “every lump, bump and roll” I allegedly had.

As an adult, this time in quarantine is the longest I’ve spent eating three meals a day.

I no longer suffer through hunger pains or only eat when on the verge of passing out. This weight to me is not a burden; it’s a clear sign I’m eating as much as I should. However, it’s easy to think otherwise with social media. Like many, my time online has not been void of pressures to be hyper-productive. Ads for online exercise classes, shame ridden tweets and fat-phobic memes reinforce the belief that gaining weight is a direct result of laziness. This rings even more true if you’re a woman.

This further proves an issue that’s been prevalent in society for decades: that a woman’s worth is measured by a number - one that should be as small as possible. Be it our weight, waist, or clothing size, it tells anyone outside these confinements that something is seriously wrong with them. It’s why women can amass thousands of followers from their tiny waistline alone. It’s why an ex-friend told me I needed to “tone up” when I changed clothes in front of them. Even in 2020, fatphobia and body-shaming are so heavily embedded in society, that many of us will laugh at memes about weight gain before we notice there is a problem.

I refuse to buy into it, because I know I won’t win either way. I think of Britney Spears’ song Piece of Me: “I’m Mrs. She's too big now. She’s too thin," because I’ve experienced just that. The same parent who planted the seeds for my body insecurities was the same one making jokes about there being nothing left of me once I lost weight.

When I was at my smallest, I was also the most miserable. The compliments from strangers and fitting into a size four weren’t worth the mental hang-ups it came with. I never ate in a healthy way, continued to obsess about my body, and was in turn imprisoned by it. I was always on the edge. I knew I needed a break, but didn’t take the time to figure out why. It took this pandemic for that feeling to get addressed and force it to go away.

Like every other beauty standard, thin bodies being deemed attractive come from regulations made to uphold whiteness. Even now that curves are “in”, they’re often celebrated on non-black, appropriated bodies. I’ve spent most of my life trying to maintain the figure people wanted me to have, leaving me tired in more ways than one. Now that I know better, it makes no sense to try to squeeze into an ideal that was created to exclude black women.

I’m not ashamed to say that I love to eat. I always have, but never acted upon it out of fear of what others would think. I’m privileged to say that this quarantine has given me the chance to learn more about myself and the things that bring me joy. Like many, trying new recipes is on that list. Going up a size or two doesn’t bother me, because I have a better understanding of the changes our bodies make through time. I will never have a thigh gap, nor do I want one. I no longer pick at the folds in my stomach when I sit, as it’s a natural thing our bodies do. Most importantly, I know my value doesn’t decrease due to an increased number on a scale. I will continue to do whatever is best for me at the moment. Be it working out, trying new recipes, or spending time in bed.

The current climate may be chaotic or harmful, but that doesn’t have to translate into the way I treat my body.

*all art by Lana Elanor

Portia Bartley is a writer, actor and filmmaker of Caribbean descent. Whether in front or behind the camera, she strives to tell stories that explore the human experience - especially as it pertains to black, queer women from across the diaspora.

Read more of her work here: https://linktr.ee/Portia

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