A big goodbye

In My Size

Writing about body positivity has been one of the most difficult and liberating experiences I’ve ever had. I’ve come to realize that in the journey to love my body, I am never alone — I have the support of an entire community of individuals who support me and those who are also learning to love their bodies.

I am forever grateful that I have had a chance to relate my thoughts and experiences in The Daily Californian. Last year at this time, I could never see myself where I am now. Writing to the entire student body at UC Berkeley originally terrified me.

The thought of voicing my story to a large audience was intimidating, especially because I would be writing about my curvy body — a topic that has always been sensitive for me. I never thought I would have the courage to look at myself as a beautiful, curvy woman through the lens of body positivity.

My journey to write about body positivity began in my second semester as an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley.

On the first day of my English class, I made a friend I’ve become very close with. One day after class, we decided to go eat together, and while we were enjoying our food, the topic of our body shapes came up.

“Even though I am slim and semi-tall, I love myself just the way I am,” she said.

Though I had never shared my story with anyone else, her openness and honesty gave me the courage to tell her about my journey toward body positivity.

She listened to my experience without judging me. I explained to her that loving my curvy body was not easy, but I had come a long way from where I was in high school. I even mentioned that I dabbled in plus-size modeling, and she was thrilled when I showed her pictures from my previous photo shoots.

“I am all about body positivity now, but it has taken a great deal of self-love to get where I am,” I ended my story, smiling.

She thoughtfully looked up from browsing my modeling pictures.

“You know, Shirley, sharing your journey with others would empower them and let them know that they are never alone. To see a curvy girl and hear about her journey from a platform like the campus newspaper would be inspiring,” she said.

I pondered the idea as we finished lunch. Despite wanting to share my story, I was scared. I wondered if I was even capable of writing about my body. Would others see my ideas as inspiring, or would I be just another curvy girl trying to justify her shape? I considered what my friend had said to me — my story was unique and worth sharing.

The next week, I attended an informational meeting for the Daily Cal to learn about writing as a columnist.

When my first column went into print, I got an email from a man who claimed my body experiences were “all so great” to read about, but I was forgetting that scientifically, I would always be fat.

My heart sank when I read his email. I couldn’t believe that someone I had never met, who I had shared my intimate experiences with, could be so degrading. The word “fat” is destructive, and I refuse to use it when I refer to my own body or others — we are more than our body shapes.

I almost quit as a columnist in that moment. But then I thought about it — if I had read a column about body positivity in middle school or high school, maybe my experiences would have been different.

Maybe I would have been less concerned about how people viewed me and enjoyed the time I spent hanging out with my friends. Maybe I would have spent less time wishing my curves away in the mirror and more time loving my partner. Maybe my relationship with my parents and my family would have had less friction. Maybe my journey would have been less painful.

I decided to respond to the man’s email, thanking him for reading my column and reminding him that I was not going to quit sharing my story because of his cruel words — I had just started preaching curvy love, and I wasn’t about to stop.

Upon printing my second column, I was so scared that I would get other negative reactions making fun of my body or my story, but something surprising happened — I began to receive comments on social media about how much I had inspired people with my writing.

A professor from San Francisco State sent me an email congratulating me on my valiant effort. She wrote, “I am grateful that you empower other women with your column, please keep writing!”

I began to feel like my curves were challenging the way individuals viewed their own bodies. I finally felt like my own struggles had a purpose. In the following weeks, I began to write more personal stories; I wrote about finding love and refusing to limit myself to plus-sized fashion, all while continuing to represent my Mexican American background with pride — con orgullo!

All of these experiences I never imagined I’d be comfortable enough to tell my closest friends, let alone the entire UC Berkeley campus.

In the future, I will continue writing in order to inspire myself and others. Writing about my curves is still hard at times because I have to expose the parts of my body that I have spent most of my life hating, but overall, I love it.

Mostly, I am thankful that being a columnist has allowed me to communicate with individuals who’ve had similar experiences to my own and to know that, in my size, I can offer them comfort, confidence and companionship.

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