It was 2010, but would be 2011 in just five minutes. A group of us sat in a circle in my mother’s living room as she passed around small pieces of paper and those miniature pencils we never bought but that always seemed to be in the house anyway. “Ya llego la hora,” she said cheerfully. The time is here.

It was a decades old family tradition to write down our New Year’s resolutions shortly before the clock struck midnight. During the final countdown to January 1, we’d throw our scraps into the fireplace, willing the words on them to come true.

Instinctually, I wrote down the same thing each year. It was the same thing I’d written for a decade. It was the same thing I thought about multiple times a day, every day of the year. In 2011, I wanted to lose weight. I wanted to unleash the “thin woman within”—a version of myself who was not only thinner, but by default happier, prettier, and simply more fulfilled in every possible way.

As I watched the flames consume my wish, eating it up rapidly and hungrily as if to signify the end of “old me” or “fat me,” I never could’ve guessed that this would be the last time I resolved to lose weight. I certainly never could’ve guessed that in doing so, I’d feel happier, prettier, and simply more fulfilled than ever before.

A New Year

For a very long time, I’d been convinced that weight loss would change me, both inside and out. I hung onto this belief, despite plenty of evidence to suggest it was untrue. The handful of times in my life I had managed to drop enough weight to land me into single digit sizes, nothing about me was all that different. I wasn’t less anxious or depressed. I wasn’t more confident or adventurous. I didn’t feel freer, or more beautiful, or like more of a romantic “catch.”

The only thing that ever changed was how others treated me.

I’d been convinced that weight loss that would change me, both inside and out.

I will always remember their applause and accolades, even in the times when I was plummeting headfirst into serious disordered eating. I’ll always remember the boy who’d bullied me for years asking me to homecoming. This happened when I reached my lowest weight; the same year I was placed into outpatient treatment for anorexia. I’ll remember how proud my friends were. How much nicer my teachers seemed. I’ll remember my doctor’s encouragement; his advice to “keep doing what I was doing,” even when I was the sickest I would ever be.

Things began to change in 2011, but not because I lost weight. It was the year I moved abroad as part of my undergraduate studies. Although it was my third year of college, it was the first time in my life I was truly alone: separate from the family I had still seen regularly, the old friends who’d never really been that good for me, and the body shaming mentalities I’d lived by for too long.

It was the first time in my life I’d meet fat women, like me, who didn’t obsess over their waistlines; who loved the way they looked, and sometimes even accentuated every curve and roll with the clothes they wore. I met a partner who loved every inch of my figure, and never once made me feel inept, or ugly, or like I was failing them, and myself. I heard terms including “fat acceptance” and “health at every size,” and began interacting with activists, writers, and artists within those movements. For the first time, I wore shorts without leggings underneath. I didn’t insist on turning off the lights during a hook-up.

It was the first time in my life I’d meet fat women, like me, who didn’t obsess over their waistlines; who loved the way they looked, and sometimes even accentuated every curve and roll with the clothes they wore.

When I look back on photos from that year, I see that it was the first time I began smiling in pictures. At least, the first time since I’d been a child.

A New Life

Things began changing rapidly from that point on. I didn’t just interact with fat-positive people. I became one.

I began buying clothing that made me happy, without thinking about how “flattering,” or in other words “slimming,” it may have been. I began distancing myself from those whose love and approval was conditional and associating only with those whose affection was not dependent on my dress size. I began saying “yes” to more opportunities, and stopped saying “no” on the basis that I’d be “too fat” to participate, or to be well-received.

My New Year’s resolutions began changing, too. I’ve become better to myself in every way.

I began distancing myself from those whose love and approval was conditional and associating only with those whose affection was not dependent on my dress size.

Since then, I’ve resolved to travel more, to read more, to regularly set aside time for myself, to get enough sleep, to live free of body shame, to ignore those who do not approve of the space I occupy, to surround myself only with those who lift me up, and do not tear me down.

These are resolutions that have forced me to live more thoughtfully, listen to my instincts, extend more empathy to others, and nurture my mind and body in the ways that feel healthiest to me—none of which require dieting.

Life is nothing if not ironic, and so as my resolution stopped being rooted in weight loss, I ended up finding the version of myself I had wanted to know all along.

She was not thinner, but she was happier.
She knew how to enjoy herself.
She knew how to enjoy the company, and touch, and affections of kind people.
She knew how to pursue the opportunities that would bring her fulfillment, and how to say no to the ones that wouldn’t.
She knew she was beautiful.

Maybe not in the way that most folks would still define beauty, but in plenty of ways that fit her own definition.