Part One: MY BODY AND I FROM THE BEGINNING
The relationship I had with my body at a young age was a harmonious one. I started studying dance (ballet mostly) at the tender age of three well into my late teens. I remember my mother and grandmother always commenting on how I had the body of a dancer. I was made to dance. For those who don’t know the body of a dancer is very lean, slender physique with long limbs. I was so thin sometimes you could see my ribcage. This of course was not on purpose and numerous times my mother took me to the doctor to find out if I was malnourished. However, the problem was simple I just wasn’t a big eater and could not stand the sight of meat. Now coming from an African-American family with southern roots; most meals consisted of a lot meat dishes. I was a natural vegetarian. I only wanted to eat the side dishes. I’d take two to three bites of my meal and push it to the side. My mother finally caught on a filled my plate with the things I loved although I still remained “super skinny”.
You may think being skinny has its perks, but children can be cruel. I was constantly teased, called Olive Oyl, told I had poles for legs and because I was tall (a whopping 5’8 by the time I was in the 7th grade) didn’t help either. I was taller than most of my class throughout school. It wasn’t until I went to my first real high fashion show and saw these beautiful gaunt, statuesque, beauties that I knew where I belonged. At the age of 12 I was discovered by a fashion photographer, had a photo shoot, and was whisked away to meet who would soon become my agent. My years as a high fashion, standard size model weren’t like most of the horror stories you hear. I wasn’t put of a strict diet. I practically ate whatever I wanted and I still loved to dance regularly. Years went by with no real change in my body.
As I grew into a woman, I noticed that my mother started being very critical about my body image. She would say, “Shalon don’t get pregnant, having babies will change your body and not for the better…” I was raised in family with beautiful curvy, plus-sized women. I remember wanting to have big breast, curvy thighs, and a portly figure. I didn’t see anything wrong with it. But, my mother was constantly criticizing me about my body. If someone commented on my figure, she would say, “My body used to look just like Shalon’s until I gave birth to her.” Can you imagine how this made me feel? I realize my mother had good intentions but she was (like many women) conditioned to think if your body doesn’t look like a model’s body, you’re ruined. Sadly, this ideology was indelibly ingrained in me. I found out I was pregnant with my son. I was so afraid my career as a model was finished and it didn’t help I had my mother in my ear. I feared stretch marks and the like. I gained 10 pounds (YES 10 POUNDS) every month of my pregnancy adding up to 90 pounds when I went into labor! Soon after I learned my mother and I were not the same person. I lost all the pregnancy weight fairly rapidly, returned close to the size I originally was and continued being a straight size model.
Several years passed and my mother was diagnosed with chronic end-stage kidney failure. As her only child, caring for her was left to me. It pained me to see my mother in this condition and a part of me became depressed. With an intensely busy schedule as a single mother to a toddler, full-time student, and care provider my eating and workout habits slacked off. I slowly started gaining weight, but, like I said before I didn’t mind. My body started popping curves out everywhere. I called this phenomena “Growing into My Woman’s Body”. As I gained weight my being a high fashion model was pretty much finished. I didn’t have time to think about how or why this happened. I simply retired…
One day out to dinner with someone friends I saw my old agent. We chatted for a bit and he asked me if I ever considered being a plus model. Plus modeling??? I didn’t think I was a plus sized woman. I was a size 11 juniors. I laughed it off but, didn’t forget our talk. I started doing my research about the plus model industry. I saw beautiful curvy women and said, “Hell yeah! I wanna do this!” In 2007, I found out Torrid was having a model search in my city, tried out, made it to the finals, and my plus modeling career was started. Since I was on the smaller end of the spectrum, I found it hard to book mainstream clients because they complained about me being too small. This was backwards from what I was used to. I was grateful for the leeway of gaining weight if I chose to do so.
In 2011, the passing of my mother and other life instances caught up with me. I went to see a doctor who put me on anti-depressants and before I knew it I had gained over 50 pounds in a month. My body hurt all the time, I could barely walk, I didn’t look like myself, I wasn’t booking modeling gigs anymore and I was scared to death; scared that I was going to die like my mother at an even younger age. There was no diagnosis to explain what was happening to me. I reached out on Facebook hoping someone would have an answer. Some said,” It might be multiple sclerosis, others said fibromyalgia.” I was sent to a specialist who diagnosed me with fibromyalgia. Here’s the catch, there are no tests for fibromyalgia and it’s usually coupled with some other disease/disorder. All of the tests taken came back negative. It was then and there I realized I needed to take control of my health and body. I made a declaration in January 2014; I was going to get healthier for good!
Since then I have lost a total of 40 pounds, got off of prescription drugs, and no longer have symptoms of fibromyalgia. I choose to live my life healthy. It doesn’t matter what size I am. What matters is how I feel. I listen to my body and pay attention to what it’s telling me. In the words of Nayyirah Waheed, “…and I said to my body, softly. ’I want to be your friend.’ it took a long breath and replied, ‘I have been waiting my whole life for this.’”
What is Unconditional Body Beautiful?
The creator and founder of Uncondtional Body Beautiful is blogger Rebequita Rose. She, myself, and 20 body positive bloggers from around the world have joined together celebrate our bodies and all that entails. We want to inspire our readers by touching on body issues that aren’t talked about in the media. Reminding everyone, how important self-love and acceptance is necessary in this day and time. You are #BeautifullyHuman just the way you’re intended to be! Please stay tuned like, comment subscribe not only to my blog but to my sisters in solidarity. Below is a list of the #UNCONDITIONALBODYBEAUTIFUL bloggers below. Again don’t forget to like, comment and subscribe! Also sharing is caring please share our series with someone you love today!
Olga Gonzalez Ramos
Aarti Olivia Dubey
Josephine JosoFabulous Lee