I flew from Reno to Nashville twice last month. To do that, I sat on eight airplanes.
I prefer an aisle seat, in deference to my life-long claustrophobia, but I had one aisle and two middle seats, thanks to one of those trips being planned at the last minute.
Here’s what those flights would have looked like a year ago.
I would have had to whisper to eight different flight attendants that I needed a seat belt extender, please. I would have taken it and tried to tuck it against my body so that no one saw it.
As if I could have hided the fact that I needed it as I turned sideways to ease down the aisle. I would have barely fit in my seat, even with it.
Whoever I was sitting next to would have made that face, even if they would never have said anything out loud to me.
Someone probably would have been a “tell it like it is” type. They would have moved beyond that face and made me practice my well-honed skill at silent, tearless crying.
They would have felt like they were doing the right thing. Someone has to tell the fat lady that she’s fat, right? Otherwise, how would she ever know?
My feet would have swelled. The silent, tearless crying would have given me a migraine. I’d have needed a nap as soon as I got to my hotel. The heat and humidity in Nashville, even in October, would have made me want to die.
And while all of that was happening, I would have had this playing inside me on constant repeat:
You are disgusting. You are gross. You are ugly. You are disgusting. You are gross. You are ugly. You are disgusting you are gross you are ugly youaredisgustingyouaregrossyouareuglyyouaredisgustingyouare…
(See what I did there? I didn’t even do it on purpose. I transferred me to you. That voice? It really says: I am disgusting. I am gross. I am ugly.)
It didn’t matter that I took those trips because I started this little business and it exploded this year and I’m doing exactly what I’ve always wanted to do. That voice didn’t care.
I had 80 percent of my stomach removed, so I fit in an airplane seat these days. Even the middle one. But that voice. That repeat. Jesus.
There’s no surgery to remove that. It still hums and vibrates and insinuates itself. It doesn’t actually matter if I fit in my airplane seat. If I was a little smaller, if I took up a little less space, if I could just manage to be a little less.
I had that refrain going on when I was 10 and my stepmother sat me down to tell me that I wasn’t fat yet, but if I wasn’t careful I’d wind up just like my mom.
I had it when I was a teenage athlete with a body that was a finely tuned machine with Olympic dreams that were at least on the outskirts of not-crazy.
I had it that one time my first husband told me that he was leaving me for a woman who weighed 112 pounds.
I had it when I did a much better choice the second time I fell in love.
I had it all three days that I gave birth to perfect babies.
It’s made me spend four days on a Greyhound, just to avoid the possibility of that one tell it like it is dude. Then four days back home.
It’s made me afraid to speak, when I had something to say.
It’s made me doubt myself, even when I have a wild, unexpected success.
Shut. The. Fuck. Up. Inner. Voice. From. Hell.
Know what I learned from hanging out in places where women who have lost a lot of weight congregate? I learned that that voice is something that has to be manually disconnected.
You’d think that women come with it factory-installed. It feels like I’ve had it all my life. Only we don’t. I don’t. We learn it. It’s imprinted.
I took my 11-year-old daughter roller skating the other day and a little boy her age made a nasty comment about her thighs.
An 11-year-old boy told my 11-year-old daughter that her thighs were big. As an insult.
Want to guess where he even got the idea that “big thighs” is an insult?
I shrugged and told my kid that her thighs were perfect. She’s a soccer playing roller skater with big, strong thighs. She believed me. (I still could see a little cog slip into place in the corner of her brain where that voice would like to take up residence inside her.)
But that boy? He’s got a mother. Or an aunt. Or a sister. Or a grandmother. And that woman has that voice whispering: You are disgusting. You are gross. You are ugly. Look at those big thighs. No, don’t look. Just do something about them, you lazy, worthless…
At some point it came out of her head, out of her mouth, into her son/nephew/brother/grandson’s ear, out of his mouth, onto my daughter.
Fuck all of this. I’m so over it. I’m not passing it on to my kids. I’m not passing it on to anyone’s kids.
I’m not doing this to myself anymore.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She lives in Reno with her husband, three superstar kids, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes, is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nation, and is the original Ninja Writer. You can visit her at whatisaplot.com.
A version of this post originally appeared on Medium.
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.