Body Mod Revolution 

My lovely friend Alyssa recently wrote a post about body mods and how they’re helping her take control over her body. Her post inspired this one.

I grew up thinking tattoos were worn by “bad” people. These people didn’t obey the law, they cursed, they were probably atheist. Good ladies also didn’t have tattoos. Outwardly I thought those people were outrageous. Inwardly, I envied them.

I wasn’t allowed any creativity with my body or features. I had lots of curls but my mother constantly shaved my head because my “hair was too much deal with”. Once I became old enough to say I didn’t want the haircuts, she’d take me to beauty salons to have my hair relaxed. I remember crying because those creams burned my scalp. I was told to suck it up because ‘beauty is pain’.
In the past year and a half I’ve stopped straightening my hair. I realized why I hated my curls and have learned to love them. I cut my hair on my own terms and dyed it purple.

I was always fat and told I should be skinny. I wasn’t allowed, and I’m still not, to feel comfortable in my skin. I am fat but don’t I know I’m beautiful? I’m not fat, just chubby, thick, curvy, voluptuous, full-figured. Anything but fat. But, I am fat and I own that.

I didn’t bother doing my hair or my make up when I was younger because I didn’t believe those thing were for me. Those things were for pretty girls. “Don’t you want to have a boyfriend?”. “No”, I said lying. “Any dude who wants to be with me will have to deal with me without all the prep”. I didn’t think I’d ever have a boyfriend since I was convinced I was uglier than sin.

At 17 I got my tongue pierced. Kids in school said I didn’t look like the type to have piercings other than my ears. I got made fun of and accused of being a “poser”. I was much too meek to have a tongue ring. What they didn’t know is that under the insecure little girl who thought she was ugly was a BAMF who didn’t give a fuck what they said. I’m currently stretching my earlobes.The next piercings I’d like are a vertical labret, tragus and daith.

At 19 I got my first tattoos. They’re tiny wrist tattoos and they’re pretty cliche; one’s the peace symbol and the other the equality symbol. I do plan on covering the equality symbol. I’ve grown past wanting equality. I demand justice.

I’m currently not able to afford tattoos so in the meantime I’ve come up with ideas and designs for them. I want the ink I get to have meaning to me.

Thanks to Alyssa and another friend, I’ve started embracing my Taíno heritage. I want to get the sun petroglyph because that’s one of the things I miss most about Puerto Rico. The sun just doesn’t feel the same in the States.

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I want the Flor de Maga (Thespesia grandiflora) because it’s Puerto Rico’s official flower. I want them on the right side of my torso.
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At right, the flor de maga in the garden of my grandma’s house.
I want sunflowers because they’re my favorite (obviously). They’re big and bright and provide edible seeds. I’m big and bright and hope my writing helps “plant” a more just world. Sappy? I’m aware. Meaningful to me? Yup. Those are going on the left side of my torso.

I want the words Paz and Justicia on each arm. I want them in Spanish. While Spanish is the conquistadors language, it is also the language I grew up speaking. It’s the one I’m handing down to my daughter. The Spanish I speak is peppered with indigenous and African influences. It’s the language el Yankí has had to learn how to speak. It’s the language that makes people upset they have to press 1 for English. Es complicado y es mio.

I want the feminist symbol either on my back or on my legs. Feminism has saved me time and again. I would not be who I am without it.

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I want my and my daughter’s birth flowers to form a heart-shaped wreath.

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Lastly, I want the lyrics “my heart is broke but I have some glue“. Nirvana is one of my favorite bands and that particular line has always spoken to me. I have different problems but I have a way to solve them or cope.

It’s taken me a while to like the body and features I was born with. My hairy body defies gender norms and conventional beauty standards.
My current and future body mods defy abusive exes, close minded family, and transmisogynistic beauty ideals.
The tattoos honoring Puerto Rico and my embracing my natural hair defy racist and Eurocentric beauty standards. My fat body is taking up space and I unashamedly call attention to it with body mods. I’m taking femininity and making it my own.
I’m slowly looking how I want to look, and that is a revelation and a revolution.

Body Mod Revolution 
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I’m not beautiful and that is OK.

I’ve started therapy at a new clinic. My therapist is a WOC who identifies as a feminist so she gets points for that. We’ve talked about growing as girl children in machista families. She understands where I’m coming from with certain things.

However, every time I mention the word ugly she stops to ask if I really think I’m ugly.

No, I don’t. By conventional standards, I am ugly and not very feminine looking. I’m fat, I have stretch marks and cellulite. I have jiggly and flabby skin. I have scars from self injury. I’m tall. I have short hair dyed an unnatural color. I have piercings and I’m hairy.

But I really don’t give a fuck if I’m ugly or not. Not anymore.
When I was little all I heard from my family was how fat and ugly I was. So, as I got older and the other girls were trying on make up and exploring their femininity I decided that those things were vain and frivolous. They were weak and I wouldn’t be.

I had internalized the misogyny hurled at me all my life. I would be one of the guys, not like those other silly girls. I shunned anything that could be called feminine while simultaneously adhered to other rigid gender norms like shaving. And why did I shave? Because hairy women are “ugly”. Men don’t like hairy women. So while I shunned certain aspects of femininity to protect myself I also chose to follow some to also protect myself. I was a mess. A chill girl mess.

As I’ve matured into my feminism, I’ve learned that femininity isn’t weakness. Once I learned to let go of that internalized misogyny, I realized femininity is powerful. I wear make up and dresses now because it makes me feel good about myself. It makes me feel pretty. Not pretty for other people. Pretty for me. I don’t shave because it’s too much hassle and I was only doing it for other people.

I’m going to have to explain that being ugly isn’t the worst thing. I’ll have to explain what I mean when I use the word ugly. I’ll have to spend part of my therapy session explaining 101 feminism/social justice stuff. And that’s exhausting. My thinking I’m “ugly” isn’t more important than treating my PTSD.

On a typical summer day, you’ll find me wearing a pretty dress, make up on my face all while my pits and legs are hairy. I’m not beautiful by conventional standards and that’s OK. I never will fit into the white ideal and I don’t want to. I’m beautiful for me.

I’m not beautiful and that is OK.

“You’re so fat”

Trigger warming: weight discussion, actual numbers mentioned, fat phobia, fat shaming by doctors, mentions of death and suicide, mention of eating disorders

Author’s Note: When I mention “family” I mean uncles, aunts or cousins. I don’t mean brothers, mami or grandma.

I am fat. At 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighing (last I checked) close to 260 pounds, I am medically considered obese. Whenever I have physicals all my vitals are “perfect” but I’m told that will change if I keep being so damn fat.

The doctor’s scale doesn’t scare me anymore but it used to. I still remember being in the nurse’s office waiting to see the doctor. I’m weighed in front of some other kid who was waiting his turn. The doctor looked at the number and said “oh que gorda” (how fat!), looked at the boy waiting and told him not to worry, he wouldn’t weigh as much as I did. Every time I saw that doctor he had a comment to make about my weight. All he ever said was to go on a diet. He would ask if I ate a lot of junk food. No. He asked if I was active. Yes. It wasn’t until years later that another doctor figured out I had a “lazy” thyroid. And people’s reaction to that news? “Oh well that’s why you’re so fat!”

Anyway, I told my mom I didn’t want to see that doctor anymore. So, we go see another doctor (old doctor’s son-in-law because our town in Puerto Rico was small, apparently all the doctors were related. My dentist was jackass doctor’s daughter, but I digress). Son-in-law would tell me the same thing. I was fat and I needed to lose weight. But they wouldn’t tell me how. Mami and I ran into him once, I was already taller than my mother, who’s 5 feet tall, by that time. The “good” doctor looks at me and says that I was so “big and fat”, it looks like I was the mother and my mother the child. I was barely 11. My mother is short and thin. I’m tall and fat. People never believe she’s my mom. It’s a little frustrating having to justify my existence. “Your mom is so tiny! How did you get so BIG? Oh my, how was she able to birth you?” Well, I wasn’t born this big, for one. But whatever.

My weight has always been a hot topic in my family. Everyone would tell me I was so pretty and I’d be so much prettier if I wasn’t fat. I was told no man would want me. I was told not to eat so much. My brothers ate as if food was going out of style but they were never told to stop. They were growing boys after all. I barely ate and when I would indulge in the rare cookie I was told to stop being such a “puerca” (pig). If I didn’t do my chores properly I was chastised. “You’re so big and fat, why can’t you clean these dishes?”

Family I hadn’t seen in years would comment on how fat I’d gotten. Then I get my first period and since Puerto Rican grannies have no sense of privacy, soon all my aunts knew I had become a “señorita” (a young lady). So they hoped that now I would lose weight. I hoped so too. Whenever I would complain to mami about the fat shaming I endured she would tell not to worry because I just had “baby fat”. I believed that until I hit twelve and I needed a bra bigger than my mother’s.

Above I mentioned a doctor found out why I had such a hard time losing weight. At 14, I was finally diagnosed with hypothyroidism. Finally, my family thought, with the pills they give her she’ll lose weight and become beautiful.

I left Puerto Rico a few months after that. In NYC I had doctors tell me I was too fat but at least they gave me diets to go on. At my heaviest in my teens I was weighing 231 and wearing a size 20/22. I hated myself. I starved myself but nothing I did made the weight go away. So then I’d become depressed and binge. I’ve never been formally diagnosed with an eating disorder but I’m pretty sure I was displaying symptoms.Then at 15, I attempted suicide and the nurse at the hospital asks if I was depressed because I was “fat with no boyfriend”.

My teens were rough, I was battling depression, we were homeless, I was bullied in school. I wasn’t eating properly because 1) the shelter we were in didn’t provide adequate food and 2) I didn’t exactly go out of my way to eat properly when I had the chance. I went down to a size 9/10 in pants. I was weighing 175lbs. That was the lightest I had ever been. Everybody was so proud of me. That’s when I realized that people would rather see me thin and sick than fat and healthy.

I’ve gone back to Puerto Rico three times in these past 12 years and every time my weight is brought up. The first time I returned to Puerto Rico was for my grandfather’s funeral. I was 16 and worried that I was too fat. I was worried my clothes wouldn’t fit. My grandpa was dead and I hadn’t seen him in two years but I was worried about disrespecting his memory with my fat. Grandma told me not to worry. Grandpa was watching down from heaven and he was happy I was there. Grandma wasn’t very kind to me growing up, but she’s changed a lot since then and I’m thankful to her for easing my mind. That’s another post for another day though.

The last two times I visited Puerto Rico were so my daughter could meet my grandma. My family talked about how fat I used to be. My weight was a big topic. They kept telling me how tall and big I was. How solidly built I am. One elderly cousin kept saying I was so “skinny” compared to how I was when little. Oh, how thankful she was that I had lost all that weight. I’m far too pretty to be so fat. What they don’t know is that I weigh more now than I did then, it’s just that I’ve grown up and the weight has redistributed and I also have some muscle.

I’m bottom heavy and my legs have always been criticized as being too big, “like tree trunks”. My hips are wide and my thighs cause thunder; baby also got back.  It took me a long time to be able to appreciate my body. It was only last year that I finally conquered my fear of bathing suits and went to the beach in a one piece showing my legs in all of their fat, hairy glory. I walked on that beach and felt proud of myself. Then I see a cousin I hadn’t seen since I was 11 and he says my arms are flabby. I don’t feel anything. It doesn’t bother me like it would have back then. I acknowledge it as a fucked up thing to say and then I realize, well my arms do jiggle but so the fuck what?

I tuck his comment in the box in my mind labeled “fuck boy opinions” and told him if my arms are such a problem he was free not to look at them.

The scale doesn’t scare me anymore. I only weigh myself at the doctor’s. I see the scale and think in my best cheesy western movie voice “it’s you again.” I’m weighed and they tell me the number and I acknowledge it and just tuck it away in the box in my mind of “stuff about me that isn’t that big of a deal”. My weight is right next to “hates Twizzlers”. I think about it once a while, I may even obsess over it (why would anyone like that devil candy?) but when it’s time to get serious I put it away and focus on important things.

I spent far too long hating myself for something I can’t change. My genes are the way they are. I can’t change my bone structure. Even at 175 I was still “curvy”. That won’t change. I will always be fat and I have no desire to lose weight and that is OK.

“You’re so fat”