Why Big is Not Beautiful, and Size Does Matter

Self-confidence is trendy, and size doesn’t matter– they say. I’m not talking about a little junk in the trunk. As  Meghan Trainor taught us, a bit of that bass ain’t a bad thing. But big is not beautiful. Fat is not fabulous. How could I be so insensitive? After all, beauty is subjective, so who am I to judge? Before you rush to expletives, hear me out…

It’s true our society is obsessed with size. As a reformed anorexic, I’m well acquainted with the size-equals-status quo. I spent years in starvation mode, depriving myself of sustenance for the sake of appearances. I was afraid of food, and rather enjoyed the feeling of my stomach walls clamping shut. Starvation felt safe. I was in control, and no all-you-can-eat buffet was going to take me from my size zeros. But genetically, I’m not so tiny. In fact, many of the gals in my genepool are short and “thick.” Although I have a small-ish frame, I’m no size zero.

The healthiest me, the one who works out and eats well, is slim not skinny — never skinny. So why was I forcing my body to be something it was not? Why do any of us trade who we truly are for what we view are the socially acceptable versions of ourselves?

We live in a world where authenticity is sometimes awkward, grueling, and so incredibly difficult for those who are different. We’re suffocating ourselves with limited beliefs about what we should be. We like to categorize things, put people in tidy boxes because if we can’t put a label on it, we don’t know how to rate it. But there’s more to humanity than skin color, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, economic class and size.

While all of that bothers me, it’s not the sole reason I dislike the big-is-beautiful trend. The truth is, obesity is a problem and big is not beautiful…nor is it ugly. Also, it does not represent lazy. Like skinny, big is yet another label, a distinction, a term that we can allow to be significant or utterly meaningless. When it comes to self-respect, “big” should never be part of the equation. Nor should small, because it works both ways. We can say big is beautiful, or skinny is sexy. In either case, we are judging by appearances. It all comes down to this:  

Weight does not equal worth…but it can make a great difference in health and quality of life.

So let’s never mind the way big looks. Let’s talk about what it does, how it feels, and what it takes from us physically when our bodies are “big.”

My grandmother was my hero. I loved her mind, her voice, her laughter, her ability to make me feel like the most beloved being on earth. I didn’t concern myself with her size. So what if she was a little “fluffy,” or as she liked to put it, “pleasingly plump.” That just meant my arms had to stretch a little wider when I hugged her, and she took more space on the sofa when we sat and read our poetry. She told me I was a brilliant writer, and one of her favorite people in the world. And she was mine. Fat? Oh, I suppose she was. She was fond of fudge, cookies, and cheese puffs in the afternoon.

But she was happy.

Diabetic? Yes, she was insulin dependent. Her excess weight and lack of exercise in her later years also left her homebound, then landed her at a nursing home, in a wheelchair, and battling Alzheimer’s Disease.

Fat is fine, they say? I disagree. Perhaps a slimmer grandma would have had similar problems… but probably not. We know what studies say about obesity, and I won’t delve into that, though the research exists.

So here’s when size matters: 

Size matters when it steals your mobility, or damages your health. It matters if it makes you feel insecure, less than your best, or afraid to pursue opportunities and adventures.

I can’t help but think that if my sweet plump grandmother would have been more health-conscious, I could have had more time with her. She might not have spent her last years in a wheelchair, in a nursing home, poking insulin into her gut.

And that’s why size matters — sometimes. Love your body, friends, but remember to be good to it, too.

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22 Comments
  • QA
    August 28, 2015

    So true, and sad. It was a battle she never could win.

  • Bethany
    February 24, 2016

    Yes!! Amazingly well said, all of this is right on.

  • Shann
    February 24, 2016

    I totally agree. Such a great post. I love when you say size matters when it steals your health. My blood pressure was so high because I was overweight for my frame. That’s when I needed to get healthy, not skinny.

    • Rica Lewis
      February 24, 2016

      I’m glad you did the right thing for your body, Shann. I’m sure it wasn’t easy, but I bet you feel better!

  • Heather Johnson
    February 27, 2016

    I totally agree. Fat shaming is bad, but so is obesity. My loved one who died recently probably wouldn’t have developed cancer had it not been for obesity. I am all for loving yourself by maintaining a healthy weight.

    • Rica Lewis
      February 27, 2016

      Thanks, Heather! I’m so sorry for your loss.

  • Michele thomson
    February 27, 2016

    I agree with the basic premise of this article, but what it is ignoring is that most fat people don’t want to be fat. Even the ones who are the staunchest supporters of the FA movement, I believe secretly would give up being fat in a heart beat. We all know that being fat is unhealthy, it’s beat into our heads by people claiming that we don’t hate fat people, we hate that they are unhealthy. It is so incredibly, incredibly hard to lose weight and keep it off. According to research it’s basically impossible. Yet again and again people are told you are fat because you are lazy, undisciplined and worthless. So take the example of your beloved grandma, do you think she was lazy and undisciplined? She knew she was diabetic, yet she continued to eat fudge? Does that make her lazy and undisciplined or someone with human faults and maybe just maybe an addiction? Or maybe her mother or grandmother used food as a means to show affection, showing her that food equals love. And I am a person who has lost over 100 pounds and basically managed to keep most of it off, however, it is an every single day struggle, and I am lucky to have enough money to afford to eat healthy.

    • Rica Lewis
      February 27, 2016

      I wholeheartedly agree, Michele. I would never call anyone who was fat “lazy” just because of their size. I know what it means to be overweight, as I have been both anorexic (wasting away) and overweight and unhappy. I know the struggle intimately and I don’t agree that it is “basically impossible” to lose or maintain weight loss. After the birth of my kids, my body changed and I had more than 70 lbs. to lose. It was no picnic getting back to a healthy weight. The process was sloooowwww and at times, painful. Of course, I can only speak for myself. Perhaps weight loss is even harder for others. But I wrote this article from my own perspective and experience because I’m tired of our size-obsessed culture focusing on all the wrong things. Congrats to you on such a signifiant weight loss! I’m sure your life has changed drastically! I wish you continued health and success.

    • Phoebs
      June 19, 2016

      Certainly, not all obese people are lazy. Perhaps “in denial” or “apathetic” would be better descriptors for some. It’s also important to keep in mind that unless you know someone well, you probably don’t know where they are in their fat-loss journey. No one has to condone obesity, but a bit of compassion and support for those mking the effort to be healthy is certainly in order.

      • Rica Lewis
        June 20, 2016

        I think you nailed it when you said “support,” Phoebe. This post was meant to be helpful, a reminder that big is not ugly, but if it’s unhealthy than it certianly isn’t beautiful. Thanks for reading.

    • Eve
      December 21, 2016

      Please post sources if you’re going to claim research says it’s “basically impossible.” Total bullshit. It’s hard to keep the weight OFF because people can’t stay OFF the computer chair and OFF the couch or leave the TV OFF while you’re home. Excuses are like assholes; big fat assholes who sit at home watching Ellen and Real Housewives of Atlanta for hours on end. Do a little research on heavy (no pun intended) TV viewers in Cultivation theory to see if you fit in that category (again, no pun intended).

  • Dylan
    February 27, 2016

    I think you made some great points about the issue of health. I think it is important for the difference to be made in society between “fat” and “unhealthy”. What is not clear to everyone is that these are two separate states and just because someone is fat doesn’t make them unhealthy. Nor is it ever our place to judge or lend assistance unless someone comes to us for help.

    • Rica Lewis
      February 27, 2016

      I agree about non judgement, Dylan. And you are right in saying that obesity does not always mean “unhealthy.” But at the same time, I know that it raises health risks and may lead to long-term health problems. Working in healthcare for more than a decade, I’ve seen it far too often. I wish we could drive home the point that size is not the issue. It’s about the health of our bodies. Everyone has to take their own journey, however. Simply stating my opinion may not change anyone’s approach. But I thought it was worth discussing the deeper issues.

  • Fabiola Rodriguez
    February 27, 2016

    I know exactly what you mean. My mother-in-law died after a tough battle with diabetes and heart disease, and she was seriously overweight. She had to pump insulin every single day, and took pills for her heart. She underwent numerous hospital stays and surgery, and it was all because she gained too much weight, too fast. I wish she could still be here, my kids miss her so much, but the only thing we can do now is take good care of ourselves. That’s what she said to me before she died. Take care of yourself now, don’t wait.

    • Rica Lewis
      February 28, 2016

      So sorry, Fabiola. I wish you and your family well. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  • Laura McGowan
    February 28, 2016

    I truly don’t care what size anyone is, if they are nice to me then I am nice to them.

    However, you can’t say obesity is healthy. It’s not. It’s not healthy to eat a whole bucket of chicken. It’s not healthy to add sour cream to a huge bowl of fries and gravy. It’s not healthy to order ten tons of food and add a “diet coke.” Does it cancel out the other stuff? No, it really doesn’t.

    I’m sorry, but no, it’s not healthy, I don’t care what you say.

    PS I lost fifty pounds and have kept it off almost ten years. I still don’t like dressing on my salad, and I still stay away from dairy. I don’t eat cakes, cookies, ice cream or any desserts, I try and stay away from all sugars. It’s nice being able to walk up two flights of stairs without sweating. It really is.

    • Rica Lewis
      February 28, 2016

      That’s awesome, Laura. I feel the same way.

  • Elaine Mansfield
    March 1, 2016

    I was very fit when I turned 60. After my husband died when I was 62, I struggled to keep exercise going and weight under control. I know that I am healthier when I weigh 15 pounds less than I do right now. All I have to do is look at those cholesterol numbers on the blood tests, but it’s more about how I feel than any objective measure. When I’m exercising and eating well, I move better, When I’m doing yoga, my body feels alive and happy. Self care is an antidote to depression. I am more self-confident when I’m on track with body care. Then why is it a struggle? Because, late at night, I get lonely and feel empty. Extra food is sedative. Extra food fills up the inner hole-temporarily. Then I wake up feeling at war with myself.

    Today is another day to love myself enough to turn off the kitchen lights after a healthy dinner and do something else to fill to fill the longing. Reading, painting, calling a friend. There are many options. This is a touchy subject and I just criticized someone for using a image of an emaciated girl on a post about strong women. I’m not after emaciated. I’m after healthy and vital. Thank you for this piece and your honesty.

    • Rica Lewis
      March 1, 2016

      Thanks for sharing your struggle, Elaine. I have had so many issues with food and body image. I never want to sound condescending when I speak about diet and exercise. I know what’s behind both starvation and excess, as I have been anorexic and overweight in my life. It’s all about balance. I do hope you find some healthier ways to fill your inner “hole.” I think your writing works nicely, as you are an extraordinary artist!

  • Raymond
    March 1, 2016

    Ohh. I liked this. It definitely isn’t healthy being big. I’ve grown to a tremendous size ever since I stopped smoking, and sadly, it’s not me. I was always the slim one. And it’s damn hard to lose it. Which I’m now effectively trying to do.

    That being said I really don’t like people “telling me” that I need to lose weight. It’s like duh? And when was your life so perfect you can judge others on such a scale?

    Had one chappy tell me through YouTube that he worries that I need to shed the weight. Listen, I’m me, you are you. You worry about YOU. I’m doing enough worrying about me already for you to bother getting in on that lol.

    • Rica Lewis
      March 1, 2016

      I’m with you, Raymond! It’s not my job to tell anyone anything. I had a relative tell me how much weight I had gained at a Thanksgiving meal six months after I’d given birth. That was not cool! It’s definitely wrong to confront people that way.

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