Sitting on the edge of the pool at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs, surrounded by hundreds of plus size women clad in bathing suits and kimonos, I found myself staring... at all the thighs. Big thighs, small thighs, curvy thighs, lumpy thighs, tone thighs, jiggle thighs, thighs that pressed together tightly with no visible gaps. There were thighs everywhere around me, out in the open, loud and proud. I had never seen such a display of thighs before. If I were being honest, I found it... comforting. Because under the material of my boho-style harem pants were thighs that looked an awful lot like the ones around me.
If 68% of the population is overweight and 35% is considered obese, it's a safe bet to say that not all those folks, myself included, were born large babies who became overweight toddlers that would, eventually, grow into these same obese adults. I would wager that most adults who are currently overweight were born pretty average babies and experienced pretty average growth through toddlerdom. Then, at some point in time in adolescent growth and development, for whatever reason (be it life choices, genetics or both) we may have started to become larger than our peers around us. And with this probably came some sort of realization that were unlike others.
For some of us women, the realizations came in soft and subtle as we played the roles of "Funny Best Friends" and "Girls Who Have Guy Friends but Never Dates." We became indoctrinated to the idea that overweight women simply weren't considered Leading Lady material. Others may have had more abrasive experiences that left them teased for their weight and ostracized in the cafeteria. Regardless of the delivery mechanism, the messages impressed upon us were the same: we were, simply put, considered different.
Which is totally ok. The world craves uniqueness in order to function, no? But, as teenagers, in middle school, and as young adults, so many of us long to "fit in" and identify with those around us. With that identification comes recognition. Security. Confidence. In knowing others are like you or, at least accepting of you, comes some reassurance that you're OK. And, as a teenager, that can make all the difference.
Before I go on, let me clarify something. I am NOT suggesting the world would be a better place if more people were overweight. And I am NOT here to debate the merits of health. This is not about that. What I am saying is this: I believe when young people are empowered at an early age to feel a sense of identity with peers around them, that there is more of a chance that the same young people will grow into balanced and empowered adults. If young persons aren't made to feel shame because of their weight or size (or, frankly, any defying characteristic outside the social norm) what kind of relationship would they have had with their body as adults? And, how would that affect their overall personal growth and confidence?
Cue to the present. Surrounded by two hundred plus size women of every size, shape and color at a pool party thrown by clothing brand Torrid, where scores of ladies were socializing, swimming, laughing, dancing and living freely within their own bodies and breathing life into the brands self-proclaimed #OwnIt hashtag. I am struck by the thighs. Thighs I never saw growing up. Thighs I never saw at the pool with mine at camp. Thighs I never saw in the locker room changing after gym class. Which makes me wonder...
How would my confidence as a teenager have changed if I had other Thighs to identify with? And, even if I hadn't had other Thighs to identify with, but I had never been made to believe that Thighs Like Mine were "wrong," how would I have felt about my body?
What messages would I have told myself about my value? How much more self-assured would I have been? How much bolder? Would I have embraced a group sport or more active hobby? Would I have demanded that life treat me like the Leading Lady I always have been instead of settling on playing a second fiddle, cliché side character?
And how would those value believes as an adolescent effected me as an adult? Would I have extradited myself from crappy personal relationships because I knew I was worth more than what I was being given? Would I have tried to please others less and, simply, stood on my own two feet proudly? How many more chances would I have taken if I had never felt that I was worth less than those around me?
At 37 now, I've grown into a stronger, independent thinking and unafraid woman. I've learned to look a lot of my fears in the eye and, can admit, I remain a work in progress. I've recently decided to address my general health and weight and have taken proactive steps to assure I live a long and strong life. But THAT is not what this is about. This is about how I still, very clearly, remember those times in high school, or those moments in college, when I retreated into my cocoon to eat my feelings and self-sooth in unhealthy ways. And I can still, very clearly, remember sitting on the outside looking in knowing something about me was wrong and unaccepted. How isolated it felt. How alone.
Surrounded by all those thighs that day in Palm Springs... I felt a sense of peace. Group identity. And I silently wished my twelve-year-old self could have been sitting right there alongside me. Watching. Laughing. Swimming. Surrounded by women with big thighs, small thighs, curvy thighs, lumpy thighs, toned thighs, jiggle thighs and thighs that pressed together tightly with no visible gaps. And so I sent my silent wish into the Universe; that more women could have the chance to be surrounded by bodies they can relate to as I was at that moment. Bodies of all shapes, sizes and colors. That can only be a beautiful thing.