[Side note: I am now a contributing writer for xoJane! This is the first article I’ve had published. Check it out on the website, here!]
My family is filled with boisterous, big-breasted, sassy ladies with hearty laughs and bottomless hearts. Among these women was my Great-Grandma Dorothy, whom I adored and admired for over 18 years of my life. She passed away my first year at college and I still feel her absence in my life and her presence in my heart every single day.
A jet-setting social butterfly who frequented Vegas every year with her gal-pals (even well into her 80s), she was the kind of woman who did not take well to the idea of being a wallflower.
She was big, loud, and unashamed to be anything but what she truly was: uniquely Dorothy.
Her everyday wardrobe consisted of heavily beaded gem sweaters and cardigans, every inch of fabric drowning in sequins or loud, colorful prints. Her ears, neck, wrists and fingers dripped with costume jewelry, and she was always adamant about getting her hair done every weekend.
She was forever stunning.
[Mom and Grandma Dorothy, circa 1988, guessing by my mother’s perm…]
Above all else, her warmth was infectious; a hug from Grandma Dorothy was like coming home. She’d wrap you up in her arms, press you to her breast and happily swing you around as if incapable of containing her love, refusing to acknowledge your inability to breathe.
“I love you, a bushel and a peck. A bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck!” she’d crow lovingly, always singing a song or releasing peals of uninhibited laughter. Her spirit had no restrictions and she’d set a room alight when she entered in full force, super radiant and full of life.
Over the years, she had acquired an impressive collection of costume jewelry that my sister and I would use to play dress-up during our weekend visits together. We’d watch black-and-white Mickey Mouse cartoons on VHS while inspecting trinkets and sifting through old photos, while gaudy clip-on earrings dangled from our lobes. On these nights, I hoped that I might hear a story or two about the faces I could hardly recognize as family in the stacks of stolen moments in time.
Among the hundreds of faded pictures were snapshots of my grandma Dorothy at different stages in her life. In one of my favorites, she stands with my great-grandfather (who passed soon after I was born), holding hands across a rose bush. She is tall and curvy with a girlish smile on her face, wearing simple capri pants and sneakers — the adoration on their faces palpable through the yellowing image.
Looking at this photo, and many others of her, serves as a constant reminder to myself that true happiness and love is meant to be captured, embraced and continued — that confidence in oneself is a better alternative than letting trivial, meaningless things overtake you and that now is always the time to treat your body, and yourself, like a fucking queen. Because you are one.
Reflecting back on her influence, I realize now how very much I owe her. She taught me how to love myself more than anyone else I know, simply by living an honest life embellished with fervor and contentment. Despite the hardships she had faced over the years (she faced plenty), she remained fat and fabulous well into her 90s, and she is always smiling at me in my mind.
Over the past 4-5 years, I have noticed a change in myself that has recently manifested into a desire to wear clothing that I wouldn’t normally wear — or even allow myself to consider the pleasure of wearing. Learning how to wear what I want has been one of the biggest milestones for me on my path to body acceptance and was the slowest to come because in the process of dressing my fat body, I also make it much more visible, more vulnerable and open to ridicule.
I have had to unlearn all the typical “fat girl fashion rules” in favor of telling “flattering” (or potentially “slimming”) clothing to go fuck itself (I’ll wear what I like no matter how much it accentuates my fat rolls, thank you very much).
I’ve reclaimed horizontal stripes, embraced bright patterns, and banished fat-pinching, roll-smoothing Spanx from my wardrobe.
I’ve learned to breathe again.
Throughout this process, I am constantly reminded of my grandmother — especially now, as I enter a phase in my life where I feel like I can finally overcome my own unwillingness to stand out in a crowd. She always seemed so unafraid of the perceptions that other people had of her, and I feel like now, more than ever, I am capable of tapping into that “give no fucks” attitude she has passed down to me.
[Sometimes I buy items of clothing with my grandmother in mind.]
I have to wonder — where would I be now without her influence, without having found the world of fat acceptance and positivity?
I have gone from hating my body, punishing it with disordered eating habits, shame, and disappointment in weight that never shed itself, to learning that embracing everything my skin contains is an actual possibility.
Slowly but surely I have been erasing (ignoring, challenging, picking apart) all the negative visual stimuli in the world around me that I thought was so inescapable. I’ve been replacing it with positive discussion, coupled with empowering images of my own selection.
I seek to reverse all the shit that has ever made me second guess myself until there is nothing left but the goodness and beauty shared between myself and others. As I reject more sources of negativity from my life, I find it easier to harbor a boundless desire to maintain a hold on positivity — even when I’m at my lowest.
I so look forward to the possibility of being for someone else what my grandmother was to me — a fashion icon, a role model, a confident heroine. If I have a daughter someday who inherits my frame, I will try my best to lead by the examples instilled in me by all of the strong women I’ve come to look up to in my lifetime.
My pseudo-future-daughter may be compelled to imitate a prescriptive and unattainable beauty ideal but she will, I hope, know that her body — although different from that narrow ideal — is no less stunning, no less worthy of decoration and expression than any other.
That there is no reason for fat, or fear of fat, to hold her back.
That she is forever stunning.