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Opinion columnist

APRIL 18, 2019

“Congratulations, you have been admitted to the University of California, Berkeley!”

I didn’t even finish reading my acceptance letter before I started dancing with excitement. After five years of community college, I had only dreamed of attending a school like UC Berkeley. My entire life people had always judged me for my body, and I was relieved to be valued for my intelligence for once.

I ran to embrace my parents, who were sitting across the table from me to support me as I opened my admissions decision. They were excited that I would be the first in my family to attend college.

After we had thoroughly celebrated, we sat down on the couch and my dad asked, “So will you accept the offer to go study at Berkeley?”

“Absolutely!” I exclaimed with a gigantic smile on my face. I was already prepared to sprint to the computer and hit the acceptance button when my mom stopped me in my tracks.

In a soft and cautious tone she said, “Maybe you should think about universities closer to home instead.” She explained that in a new environment, like UC Berkeley, I would be very far from home and people might discriminate against me because of my body shape.

As I listened to my mom’s harsh words, I felt like my journey to study at UC Berkeley was over before it even started — just because of my curvy shape. I was discouraged that my own mother was not supporting my possible success at UC Berkeley because she believed my body would be an obstacle.

And almost worse than my mom’s explanation was my dad’s silence. His face was emotionless as he stared straight ahead. Why wasn’t he saying anything to counter my mom?

I wanted to make myself and my parents proud, but I didn’t agree with them that my body was a potential barrier to my educational success.

My mom’s judgmental speech faded into the background as I remembered how many times I had restricted myself in my teen years because of my curvy shape — I remembered how I didn’t want to open my heart to love because I was scared that guys wouldn’t want my curves, I wouldn’t wear color because I didn’t like the way it made my stomach and my thighs stand out, I limited my meals because I wanted to be skinny, I even avoided mirrors because I never wanted to see myself. Was I really going to limit my education because of my curves?

No. Something was different now. I had confidence, I loved my curves and I wanted the best education I could obtain for myself.

I interrupted my mom, saying, “No mas limitaciones” — ‘No more limitations!’’

I didn’t understand why she thought my body would limit me. My parents had both immigrated from Mexico to California so I could have more opportunities for education. My mom always told me that my education was the only inheritance she would ever leave me, so I better make good use out of it.

I sat down next to her on the couch and continued calmly, “Mom, I think you need to stop judging me. Try to see past my body so that you can watch me become the person I am meant to be. I want to go to Berkeley.”

She took a minute to ponder over what I had said and then she apologized, explaining to me that she was just trying to protect me — she wasn’t trying to limit me.

I smiled and told her, “I can handle my curves just fine.”

My mother was stunned at my response. She understood that my educational success was not tied to my body size. She admitted that it was wrong to believe that the heavier I was, the less successful I would be. So, we gleefully walked over to the computer monitor together, and as I held her hand, we clicked, accepting the admissions offer.

Today, looking back at my first semester at UC Berkeley, I can happily say that my size has never once kept me from being successful. I have made many lifelong friends in my dorms at Unit 3 as well as in my classes, and never once has my body become a barrier in friendship or in my success in school. My body shape will not stop me from continuing to find new avenues to express and challenge myself.

I am me — a proud, first generation, Mexican American women who will represent her family at next year’s graduation ceremony. When I finally get to hold a diploma in my hand, I will think back to the day that I almost denied myself a chance to graduate from UC Berkeley because of my curves. My body is an empowering part of me, which I embrace with confidence, but it will never define my success!

Shirley Ojeda writes the Thursday column on body positivity. Contact her at [email protected].

APRIL 21, 2019