Like most women, I have definitely struggled with body image in my adolescence, my teen years, and my young adult years. Unfortunately, the shape of my body has been a source of many insecurities throughout the duration of my life. I have been body shamed for the majority of my life by both family and peers, which is something that young women in this society must deal with on a consistent basis more than their male counterparts. Now that I am a vegan, and my body has changed, I have found myself being questioned about my diet because of the shape of my body. Despite my restrictive diet, I am still very thick and I absolutely love it. Though I love my diet and now love my body, I am in a position where I have to defend myself against those judging my body type and questioning my diet and lifestyle, on top of having to defend the diet itself, which as vegans we all know, is way more frustrating than missing a rack of ribs.
When I was younger, I was definitely one of the larger kids in school, and when I look back at my self perception, I always saw myself as fat. And not the cute chubby kind of fat. Not like when I see young girls now who hold the same shape and I think to myself, “oh my goodness she’s so pretty”, but the unattractive fat (that was just me). When I looked at myself, I saw a pudgy little girl, and as discouraging as it was, and the other kids in my class did as well. When I look back at old pictures of myself now, I was not fat, but I was not as small as some of the other kids in my class. I definitely got teased about my weight by peers, which was a large contributing factor to my insecurities that had developed at an early age. And I remember around that time, there were other young girls that were my size, maybe a little bigger, but they carried their weight with such confidence, and I was dangerously envious that I didn’t have the same type of confidence. As I got older, I continued to gain weight, and as a result, the teasing increased and the love that I was supposed to have for my body and myself as a whole, was not there at all. By the time I was 12, I loathed every single thing about myself and my body. My family passive aggressively picked at my weight by constantly making negative comments on the food that I ate or telling me that I would look better if I was like J-Lo or my skinnier family members (which made it hit close to home). I noted that although many people had a lot to say about my weight, nobody was willing to put in the work to support me through a transition, so I knew that my journey was going in my own hands.
I had pretty low self-esteem by the time my teen years kicked in, due to the way that my body had developed in comparison to my female peers, in addition to the fact that by the time I was in the 6th grade, I had been in 4 different schools, and I got teased at every single one of them. Once everything hit the fan (once puberty kicked in) I had acne, accompanied with several acne scars, crooked and spaced out teeth, a large stomach, large thighs, and a large backside. And although my body began to develop, I was having an increasingly rough time having to deal with being teased about my size and appearance by my peers. So, eventually I started trying to make some efforts like eating better, exercising regularly, drinking more water, washing my face consistently, etc.. Though I felt as if I was not getting any actual results, it boosted my self-confidence because I had motivated myself to change what I didn’t like, which took strength. And although I had it a little rough because I was in a Danger Zone called “Middle School”, I knew that there was going to be a light at the end of that tunnel.
Soon enough, I lost a noticeable amount of weight. My body transformed from its pre-pubescent shape to having noticeably large breasts, a smaller waistline, and a very large backside. When I was about 13 going on 14, I exercised full time and I made better decisions when it came to my diet, as I decided to quit pork and beef on my own, and I was determined to not just lose weight, but to be healthy. But not long after I began putting in necessary work to improve my health, my confidence took a full nosedive because I found out that I was pre-diabetic and actually had been for some time. So I continued to make efforts to reverse that. I shrunk down to decent weight by the time I was 16, but after being forced to deal with relationship troubles, family issues, depression, stress from AP courses., IT courses, and college prep/applications as well as an addiction to pizza, Chipotle burritos, Macaroni and Cheese, and Honey Buns, I had gained over 40 lbs and was 222 lbs by the time I was 18 years old, my shape kept up, but I was much wider than before, and I hid my body insecurities from myself and my peers. I was a pescetarian at that point, and I was still pre-diabetic. I was very discouraged at that point because the only thing that I could see at the end of that tunnel was me living with diabetes at a young age. And unfortunately, I was so discouraged at that point that I stopped caring. In 2014, I was 18, and I unintentionally reverted back to eating chicken and turkey, but because I was in college without a car, forced to walk the campus (In South Carolina) on a daily basis (While being forced to only eat college food) and decided to begin working out at the free campus gym, I managed to lose a few pounds instead of gaining the Freshman 15.
Towards the end of 2015, when I just turned 20, and I was still not a size that I was pleased with. And knowing that I had been prediabetic for so long, I decided to test out a vegan(ish) lifestyle, and see how my health would improve (because cutting chicken, turkey, and fish out of my diet was definitely not enough). The transition included cutting chicken and turkey out of my diet, switching to plant based milks, yogurts, and cheeses, snacking on 75% dark chocolates instead of milk or white chocolates, consuming fresh fruits and vegetables on a consistent basis, and testing out cool new recipes like chia pudding, smoothie bowls, and vegan mac and cheese. In February of 2016, I had a checkup with my primary care physician and I gave her the whole rundown of what the results are most likely going to come out as: “I should be fine, but I’m sure I’m going to test positive for being pre-diabetic, and I have been stressed so my blood pressure could appear to be high.” A few days later, I got a call from her saying that I did have a Vitamin D deficiency, but that there was no sign of diabetes, so I should just keep up the good work. And that was the moment I knew what direction I needed to go into decreasing the chances of me developing one of the illnesses that had been running in my family (Cancer, Diabetes, and Hypertension).
Though I did manage to lose a noticeable amount of weight just from cutting dairy, eggs, and meat and making sure that I replaced it with fresh fruits and greens, I still had a thicker shape than what most people would assume a vegan would. And even though I exercised regularly in 2017, my shape kept up, even though I was a size or two smaller, which was perfectly fine with me given that I knew that I wasn’t going to be suffering with Diabetes in my young adulthood AND the fact that I was weighing in less than what I was in middle school, definitely helped. So, when I began telling people such as coworkers, family, friends, etc. that I was vegan, I always got a “Really?? Wow!……… Really?!” *Insert shocked facial expression*. After that, the conversation either proceeds, “well what made you do that?”, “How do you still have that shape?”, “You don’t look like you’re missing anything” or just a simple, “Good for you!” (which is my favorite because most time that means that the passive part of the conversation is over). The funniest question that I have received to date was, “I just want to know how your butt is still big” to which I responded, “Oh baby, I eat rice, pasta, potatoes, and sandwiches like it’s my job” (and then proceeded to list all of my favorite dishes in each category, to which I didn’t feel sorry for because she honestly brought it on herself). And I realized at that moment how secure I finally was with my body.
When I first went vegan, it was not easy. The only vegan cheese that was accessible and meltable, was Daiya and that was not in every store, and also had a noticeable aftertaste that I couldn’t get over. And not all of the meat replacements were that good. So I was being very experimental with my meals. Veganism and I were always on the first date. We went through this really awkward phase back when I was broke, had maybe $20 to work with at the local Giant. I was really nervous to make certain moves (meals), because I didn’t know how it would turn out. There were only two vegan restaurants in the vicinity at the time, and one of them wasn’t even fully vegan, it just had an incredibly lit selection of vegan Jamaican food (which I freaking LOVE) but of course, I rarely had enough cash for it. And when I did, I made myself work for it and walk from my house all the way up Georgia Avenue. But she and I stuck by each others side even though we were both pretty difficult at times. I have grown to love my diet and my body fully, and more importantly, I love what this diet has done for my body, inside and out. So I don’t take offense to the questions or comments due to the fact that I struggled with my body image for the majority of my life, and I am now in a place of peace with it within myself. My health and my body are in the best place that it has ever been in, and even though the transition of my diet and body is something that has worked for me in regards to my body image and improving my health overall, it may not be for everyone. My diet has improved many things about my well being, giving me the confidence to love myself and my body more than I ever have, but in retrospect, I was beautiful in different ways before I began changing my lifestyle, I just didn’t have the confidence to see it fully until now. I transitioned into veganism as I was transitioning into womanhood. Not the womanhood you go through as a teen and your body develops, but the womanhood that requires you to make serious, lifelong decisions and the full transition of everything has caused for my spirit to flourish significantly.
Although now I am seeing the different side to veganism now. We are now in the time where veganism is at it’s coolest. Not like 10 years ago when all we had was Tofu. Veganism is evolving to a point where we are unable to say that we’ll miss Eggs, Cheeseburgers, or Chicken Nuggets. You can literally go into whole foods and pick up plant-based chicken patties, nuggets, burgers, cheese slices, and ice cream, and have a vegan McDonalds Party at your apartment. You can even brush up on some cooking skills and make yourself a Jackfruit Seitan McRib Sandiwch while you’re at it (and the ice cream machine won’t be broken. Yes. I Said it.). There is no shortage of Beyond Burgers, Vegan Cheese, Vegan Nuggets, Vegan Eggs, Breads, Sugary Cereals, Sugar-Loaded Granola Bars, Pasta, Potatoes, etc. We’re in a time where people have to resist all of those temptations when they go vegan to lose weight. Going vegan is now TOO easy. And even though I manage to cut back on my portion sizes and sugar as well as increasing my fiber, due to some other internal issues, I actually ended up gaining weight, not long after I posted about my plan to drop a few pounds. And it has been my first major weight gain since I’ve been a vegan. But the weight gain didn’t stop me from posting all of the bikini pictures that I took while I was on the beach of St. Lucia. It didn’t even stop me from putting my bikini away altogether. The most beautiful thing is that I don’t feel insecure or less attractive with the extra pounds. Even when someone told me, “that vegan food is making you fat”, I was able to disregard it because there are only a few other things will give you thicker skin other than being a Dark-Skinned Vegan Black Woman that weighs over 160 in a society where Dark Skinned Black Women, Black Women, someone who does not weigh a size 0, Women in general, AND Vegans are shamed horrifically and that’s a fact.
I asked a dear friend of mine from college to write about her own experience being a beautiful full-figured vegan woman. As a little backstory, when she and I first met, neither of us had any interest in being vegan. As a matter of fact, I had her and a few other friends come over for Shrimp and Chicken Alfredo, orange chicken, cupcakes, pancakes, and more. It wasn’t until after I left the school that I started to transition. Around the same time I was a “Seagan”, her parents were also making some transitions so she took interest and not long after I became a vegan, she did as well. She is lowkey my soulmate, even though we haven’t seen each other in a while. While I was transitioning into my womanhood, she was present and I was able to grow from seeing how confident she was. Here’s what she had to say:
” I, myself, have always been a full-bodied woman, ever since I was a younger child. Of course, with that, I also had many self-esteem issues dealing with body image until I went to college and really found an appreciation for what this body does for me. I started my meatless transition being a vegetarian from July 2016 and became a full vegan in February 2018. My reasoning for this large transition started as a way for me to reduce my environmental impact on this planet, and slowly has shifted to many other reasons as well, like health for example. The transition out of meat alone helped me lose 10-15 pounds immediately, which of course boosted my confidence, and my body had a very similar reaction when I first went vegan, weight just fell off at first. I’m still a larger girl going from a size 18 pants to 14 with little to no consistent exercise. I have found that being vegan, even when my weight has spiked up, my body carries it differently than ever before, and it’s even less noticeable with any pounds I have gained. I am always striving to live a healthier life style, but being vegan helps me enjoy double cheeseburgers and fries with a little less guilt. You can always be healthy, happy, and full-bodied on a vegan diet, and that is beautiful. “
Whether I’m eating a salad loaded with kale, avocado, beans, and tomatoes, or a Double Beyond Burger with Violife Cheddar Cheese Slices, Ketchup and Mustard, with a basket of fries with more ketchup on the side and a boozy cookies and cream milkshake, being a vegan has become a part of my life and it is one of the most beautiful changes that I have ever made, whether I am 200 lbs or 150 lbs. The journey to self-love was not easy, and I still have a long way to go, but being a vegan was the healthiest outlet I could find and I wouldn’t take it back for anything. Veganism has been such a force in my life that it has fueled future career aspirations and I love the confidence that it has brought me. What I have realized throughout this process is not just women and young girls that have struggles with the way that they view themselves, but all people need to look inwards and find what they need to do, in order to gain the self love that they deserve to give themselves, and begin the process, because it is not over night. For me it was going vegan and getting my heart broken a few too many times. Whether it is changing your diet, getting a new job, seeing your family and friends more often, treating yourself to your favorite snack, taking a dance class on your free nights, or buying new clothes for yourself. The journey to self-love is never easy, and takes a lot of effort and concentration, but it is a journey that is well worth it. Invest in it. Invest in yourself.
-”To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance”.