Plus-sized isn’t always a choice

When most people see a curvy body walking down the street, they judge the person as an unhappy and unmotivated individual — they never stop to think that maybe the person didn’t choose to be curvy. When people look at me, they would never guess that I am curvy because I have a deficiency in my digestive system.

At 8 years old, I was diagnosed with fatty liver disease, a condition in which a buildup of fat in the liver makes it harder for fat to be processed. That means that if I eat a slice of bread, my liver might take up to a whole week to process that single piece of food.

I remember being terrified when the doctor diagnosed me. He led me and my parents into a large white office and sat us down on a big leather couch.

He looked at me very seriously as he said, “Shirley, unfortunately, you have fatty liver disease. It is unlikely that you will ever be slim with such a condition.”

I was too young to understand, so I looked to my parents, hoping they would meet my gaze with optimism and positivity, but I realized they were crying. A cold chill ran down my spine as I began to feel their fear for my health.

I felt like the doctor and my parents had already given up on me.

In fact, my own body had given up on me.

At such a young age, I felt hopeless and angry with my body for not functioning the way it was supposed to.

It was because of this diagnosis that I spent all of my teenage years hating my curvy body. I used to think my curves were given to me as punishment — a way of sabotaging my chances of ever being slim and beautiful.

When I grew older, I became aware that the only thing that was preventing me from having a positive view of myself was me. I separated beauty from my body shape and allowed my curves to empower me.

Yet there are still people who will only ever see me as fat. They don’t even stop to think that maybe I am fat not by choice, but because of a medical condition I have no control over.

Too often, I have to deal with the repercussions of how judgmental people view me.

This past weekend was one of those instances. I was hanging out with my friends at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, and it was a sunny day, so I took advantage of the nice weather by deciding to wear a long, sleeveless dress. As I was walking out the door, I stopped to grab my camera so I could take pictures with my friends.

At the park, we took many group pictures, after which I begged my boyfriend to snap a picture of me next to a redwood tree. I felt so beautiful in that dress that I began to strike sexy poses for the camera, with one hand on my hip and another on my head.

As I was posing, a random stranger approached me, tapping my shoulder to get my attention. I spun around to see a man holding a white business card in his hand.

He smiled at me.

“I was once fat and insecure like you, but I had liposuction by a great doctor. His information is on this business card,” he said, still smiling and stretching the card toward me.

The smile on my own face was gone. I knew he saw my body and immediately assumed I had chosen to be curvy and was unhappy in my size.

I stood staring at him in shock and speechless as he walked away with his friends.

Suddenly, I felt like I was 15 again, struggling with my insecurities and wanting to hide. The stranger transformed into the mirror on my closet that I used to fear; the way he judged me was how I used to judge my reflection. I stood there not as a person, but as a fat blob.

My friends murmured words of encouragement around me.

“You don’t need to prove anything to him.”

“Yeah, you know you are more than curves. Just don’t think about it too much!”

Despite their words, I still felt belittled. My hands were clenched with anger. I would not let individuals like him judge curvy girls like me simply for their bodies. His ignorant words hurt, and I began to doubt that I was more than my curves.

I had to talk to him. I had to let him know he was wrong.

I walked over to the place where he was sitting and cleared my throat to get his attention.

“Despite what you think, your offer was not kind,” I said. “Not everyone chooses to be curvy and is unhappy with their body. If people like you would just stop judging people like me, maybe you could see us flourish into who we are actually supposed to be — curvy and beautiful!”

I walked away with my head held high. I had done something that teenage Shirley could never have done — I confronted negative implications put on me by other people.

As I approached my group of friends, they were all clapping in approval of my action. I smiled because I knew I was able to stand up against the belief that all people with curvy bodies like mine are unhappy.

Being curvy was not my choice, but I learned to embrace my body by separating my beauty from my curves. I am who I am — beautiful and unique — because I am curvy! I love every inch of my body, and I won’t ever let anyone destroy that positive perspective because in my size, I deserve to love myself.

Shirley Ojeda writes the Thursday column on body positivity. Contact her at sojeda@dailycal.org .

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