It’s a slow process, and I’m getting there
For years, I covered my arms, my stomach, my chest and my legs—any part of my body that would draw attention to myself. Looking back, it stems from that deeply rooted shame cultivated by institutions I was part of, my all-girls Catholic high school and my Church. Women, submit and cover your bodies because men will sin, and protect them from their desires. We’re always the ones who have to adjust to make them feel comfortable; why not tell men to control themselves?
Having a chest size akin to Westerners gave me a lot to be ashamed of. If I see men on the street ogling me, it was my fault for choosing a particular top; I should have covered up. It didn’t help either that my parents were doubly conservative. At my mother’s company beach trip, I wore a bikini for the first time; I just turned 23 after all. Upon seeing my outfit, they told me to go back to my room and change into a one-piece swimsuit that was too small for me. I never wore a bikini after that, I couldn’t risk it. In Church, I hosted an event and didn’t realize my Arctic Monkeys graphic tee would cause such a “ruckus.” Leaders said it highlighted my chest, and I should no longer wear graphic shirts. I was 25 then, and I submitted.
Fast forward to 2020, the year of unbelievable loss, grief and trauma. Millions of Filipinos lost their jobs, and the economy took a deep dive—the lowest since World War II. On a personal (and more shallow) note, I could no longer complete my daily 10,000 steps confined at home where work-life balance became non-existent, and we were expected to carry on with our lives as if nothing happened. That took an incredible toll on my weight.
It was Christmas day when I finally did it. I weighed after a year and found out that I was the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life. Dealing with so much emotional and mental baggage in quarantine made me eat…a lot. The presence of food delivery service apps and my inability to cook at the age of 28 didn’t help either. After a year of loneliness and self-isolation, it was inevitable. I couldn’t escape the “tumaba ka” comments from my elders, but I refused to lose weight just because I wanted to humor them. I wanted to do it for myself, and I waited until I was ready, never shaming my body because it was a miracle in itself that I was alive.
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I decided to lose weight in January of 2021, and I didn’t make that decision lightly. I chose to do it because I was no longer happy, and I didn’t recognize myself anymore. I remembered how much being active years back benefitted my mental health. Days in quarantine blur, and introducing this one new thing gives me something I have control of every single day—a much-needed escape even just a full hour (from the dread that comes with an uncertain, unrecognizable future).
It started with me purchasing a pair of bubblegum pink-colored dumbbells, rainbow-colored weights, an exercise mat and great-fitting workout wear. (Maraming salamat, Shopee!) Through continuous hard work and determination, before I knew it, I lost 13 pounds in a month.
I don’t remember the last time I posted a photo of my body on my feed; I strategically stick with the occasional selfie, and on days when I want to go all out, a self-portrait. As someone who has experienced body dysmorphia most of her life, confronting it this 2021 took a lot of unlearning. I look at myself in the mirror, vanity rooted in contentment really, and I feel happy.
Still, it’s not perfect. I sometimes catch myself ashamed when I don’t find the motivation to work out or miss a day or two because of work. It’s a process, this “self-love” thing really. But I guess the most important thing is I’ve started and I’m slowly going from there.
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver