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This is what it was like to grow up struggling with my weight

To: Anyone ready to understand

From: Emily Felmet (Written with Lauren Brill)

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To anyone ready to understand,

Throughout my life, most people have described me as happy, sweet, and friendly. Growing up, teachers and friends gave me nicknames like “Smiley” and “Giggles” — and I was always rich in love and support from my family. I look back and remember wearing rose-colored glasses, enjoying life, and always finding the best in others. But when I pause and dig deeper, I get a little pit in my stomach – thinking about what it could have been like if I didn’t grow up struggling with my weight and if I didn’t overcompensate because I wasn’t the “ideal” girl.

For as long as I can remember, being overweight impacted my social worth and my self-esteem. There wasn’t one specific a-ha moment about my size, but there are some memories imprinted in my brain more than others. For instance, I will never forget Ryan’s face. Ryan* was a “cool kid” in my Saturday morning religious education class. I was so young, somewhere around eight years old, sitting on a mat with six or seven other kids reading, when he turned around, looked straight at me, and said, “Emily. You’re fat.” No one said a word to him in response. It was as if he was putting me in my place, letting me know I was beneath him because of my weight. 

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My weight defined me at different moments over time. Like getting picked last in gym class when everyone knew why, or when I landed a lead role in the fifth grade’s production of Cinderella — the Fairy Godmother — and, while overjoyed, someone told me, “It was obvious you’d get that part.” The looming judgment has filled the air dozens of times, including the confused looks on faces when I’ve shared that I’m a vegetarian. Those punches to the gut weren’t just from mean kids; it was by society, culture, it was all of it. 

I took a crash course in weight bias and weight discrimination before I knew there were terms for them and well before I stopped normalizing the behavior. Weight bias and weight discrimination: what are they? Simply put — after a lot of reading and work to understand these terms — weight bias is a negative attitude about someone because of their weight, and weight discrimination is treating someone differently or unfairly because of their weight. 

In high school, I often went to the mall with my best friends, who were the sizes and shapes people envied. When we walked into clothing stores, sales associates completely ignored me. They didn’t say hi; they didn’t ask me if I needed help or if I needed a fitting room. I was completely unseen, and I knew it. I knew they didn’t make clothes for me, which taught me that a popular store didn’t have a place for a girl my size. I didn’t have a place with that store, the image they were going for or the demographic I so closely identified with otherwise.  

When I started college, I was having fun. I was meeting new friends, but I was so affected by weight bias that I also felt that I needed to prove I was “fun” and “cool” because I wasn’t the textbook friend you make in college. When it came to boys, I just assumed the guys I liked wouldn’t go for me. I wish I could go back and shake me and tell me that it wasn’t always true, but I also wish I could go back and hug me for the moments it was true. 

When I started college, I was having fun. I was meeting new friends, but I was so affected by weight bias that I also felt that I needed to prove I was “fun” and “cool” because I wasn’t the textbook friend you make in college.

After college, I entered the real world. With the decades-long hope and dream of becoming Katie Couric one day (and the journalism degree to prove it), I eventually landed a job in broadcast news. In the starting days of online journalism for the station, I was behind the scenes but ultimately made regular on-air appearances, too. I knew I wanted to be on air, but I also heard the whispers other colleagues and viewers made about other people’s body sizes. After I received the opportunity for a small on-air role, a co-worker told me one of my good qualities was that I “looked like” our viewers. And after my very first on-air appearance, someone tweeted the station asking how much weight my chair could hold. 

I was smart and hardworking, and I was a hometown girl with great news experience and well-connected sources within the community. However, I never pushed hard enough to take my career to the next level because I knew my weight was a barrier and impacted how some viewers and bosses perceived me.   

For a long time, despite how it hurt me, I was complacent with how the world treated me. Whenever someone offended or hurt me, I’d push it deep down and move on. I was sweet, happy, and fun — that’s who I wanted to be. I gave people a pass, as I accepted the idea that this was the way our world is for overweight people. I was not worthy of the same respect as everyone else. The reality was I just never knew any better. 

My mindset eventually changed. At the end of college into my first few years in the real world, I lost 60 pounds. Suddenly, I walked into rooms and felt a sense of belonging. Guys paid attention to me, and sales associates even (sometimes) offered me dressing rooms. The drastic change in the way people treated me was a culture shock. I realized all this time how drastically different I was being treated because of my weight — it was as if I was in a different class because of my weight. 

When I was 23, my girlfriends and I went out on a super snowy night. We stopped at this random bar in Williamsville, New York because that was the farthest we could drive in the storm. Three handsome guys came over to talk to us, and one of them happened to sit right next to me. We talked the whole night. We went on our first date a month later, and he was perfect. With him, it was different; I felt confident, happy, beautiful, and worthy of his love. Around that time, I started to find my voice and use it. 

That was about 15 years ago. Since then, so much has happened. I’ve grown a life, and I have a career and a range of interests that make me proud. I’ve lost weight, I’ve gained weight, I’ve conquered some intense health issues, and eventually I lost 130 pounds. Miracles (and science!) brought me children and motherhood — and my weight struggle continued. All of these experiences inspired me to start a raw, honest, and spirited Instagram page and YouTube channel, “Humble and Hungryyy.” I want to be transparent about my journey, connect with people who need that connection, and fight against weight bias and weight discrimination. I have spent time learning about the causes of obesity and weight struggles, and I’ve done the work to understand myself, my body, and my brain. 

There are biological and genetic factors, as well as physical and mental health factors, that contribute to a person’s weight. The relationship someone has with food and eating is complex, and it’s almost impossible to understand someone else’s experience. If any of this is hard for you to swallow or understand, I ask you — I implore you — to learn more. Understand how weight discrimination impacts your friends, your family, your colleagues, and even that little girl in religious education class on a Saturday morning. 

Photo by Meccay Photography

People who are overweight are not a protected class. You can be discriminated against because of your weight at work, in school, or anywhere else without consequence. But that doesn’t make it OK. I’m addressing this letter to anyone ready to understand, to ask you to be better, do better, be educated, and be aware.

I’m asking you to give grace to others and not make judgments, negative comments, or microaggressions about another person’s behavior or appearance. It’s cruel, harmful and unnecessary. And if you see someone acting biased or discriminatory, speak up.

Don’t talk about how much weight someone has gained or shame yourself for eating too much. 

Don’t put your body down in front of someone whose body is much less accepted if you don’t know how they feel about it.

Don’t just stop bad behaviors — start good ones by realizing there is beauty in people of all sizes. 

Celebrate the recent changes in clothing size availability — mainstream stores are starting to offer more sizes, big and small. 

Get comfortable with celebrating body positivity and the idea that every body is a perfect body. 

I am now a mom of two young boys. The man I met at the bar is now my husband of 11 years and the person who stands by my side as my weight changes. My weight has absolutely nothing to do with why he loves me or the fact that he tells me how beautiful I am all of the time.

I am no longer complacent with a world that is unkind to someone who weighs more than others. I am standing up for myself and against a judgmental world so I, as well as others, can be the happiest and healthiest person possible for me and my family. 

While I am currently trying to lose weight, I am doing so simply because I want to be at a weight where I feel my best and can live freely. But unlike when I was a little girl, now, I know I deserve respect and kindness no matter what the scale says. 

I have come so far. There are moments when I look back on old pictures of myself when I was more overweight, and I don’t cringe — I’m not thinking about my size. I think, “Oh God, I love that picture.” And the truth is, I am proud that I can see myself as beautiful at any weight.

My confidence is growing each day, and I love the woman I am and the person I have always been, which is someone who is rooted in showing love and kindness to everyone.

I won’t legitimize judgment, bias, or mistreatment anymore. I don’t accept any of it because I know my weight does not determine my worth. Finally, I know better, and now, I hope you do too.

Vulnerably, cautiously and with love, 

Emily Felmet
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One thought on “This is what it was like to grow up struggling with my weight

  1. Emily,
    This story was absolutely beautiful. Coming from someone who has been (and continues to go) through these struggles, I can’t begin to explain how you stole the most perfect words and feelings from my mind. This is exactly what this feels like. From the dressing room details down to the commentary made by others. I’m sorry you went through this, and I understand precisely what this is like. I thank you for putting yourself out there in a way that is so vulnerable to share so that others (like me) can feel support in a world that doesn’t do just that. I appreciate this story more than you will ever know!

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