The Swagger Coach – Loving your body, Living with grace, Learning with humour

We recently gained a wonderful addition to our FC Family. Jamie is an inspiring and beautiful gal with a passion for empowering plus-sized women. The minute I saw this in her I asked her to write a weekly guest-post so she could share her thoughts, feelings and life lessons with us. She was thrilled to use FC as a platform to spread joy, so without further ado, the first edition of…

Episode 1 – The Turning Point

I’m the fat kid.

I’m the kid who got bullied at lunch, who got laughed at in gym, and who avoided pool parties like a moody cat being stuffed into a carrier. I’m the loner who was self-conscious about eating in front of her peers. I’m the kid who cried in frustration and hopelessness while buying an 8th grade graduation dress, and I’m also the kid who turned pseudo-goth in grade 6 to avoid having to find trendy clothes to fit me. Yeah, I’m that kid, and that kid will always be with me. But things got a lot better.

Lets fast forward 12 years. I’m a mid-twenties chick living in Toronto with her amazing fiancee (formerly best friend), two puggles and working my dream job with my dream company. I proudly wear a size 18 (20 if its made without a spot for the boo-tay) and I’m 100% okay with that. I’m a social media enthusiast, and have been known to spam my friend’s feeds with self-taken shots of me at various points of the day, making stupid faces or modelling a new hairstyle. I dance like a moron when I go out with friends, and I have recently developed a love affair with skirts and skinny jeans. I think I’m pretty cute. Its been a long and challenging process, but now I’m seeing value, elegance, beauty and, dare I say it, sex appeal in my very own body. So what’s changed?

I have.

By the end of middle school, I had developed a bit of a reputation as being “fashionably outrageous” as one teacher put it. I wore 8″ platform boots to school every single day, and jeans so wide and with so many pockets, you could hide a three-ring circus down one leg alone. I layered on black cat-eye makeup and got my nose pierced even though I still hadn’t done my ears. I filled my vocabulary with a list of mean-spirited words which were often thrown at me, and learned how to string them together to create the same impact, a weapon used when needed… and sometimes when not. On Crazy Hair day, I used a Styrofoam cone, the underwire from a bra and two full cans of hairspray to create the most elaborate, ridiculous contraption with my poor hair. Why? Solely to appear even more outrageous, and win that much more respect or fear or whatever it was that was keeping fellow classmates at a distance. I slowly turned myself into an unapproachable, intimidating badass with a silver tongue and a rather unforgiving sense of humour. I prepared myself for battle every single day, and learned to keep my bullies away offensively rather than defensively. I felt like a victim so I did what I could to ’empower’ myself. This resulted in me hardening to the point that I truly believed that I had become this spooky creature with the red streaks in her hair and the studded leather cuffs.

Of course, the odd quip came. I was told that they used all the denim in the world to make my pants, and the year I performed in the school’s theatrical show, I was asked if I had auditioned for the role of the stage. Har har. But, they say that people only do things if there’s a payoff involved, and sure enough I had my payoff too. My dark ensembles gave me permission to retort with an equally malicious comment, and win the battle for the day. I was shocked at how much freedom my clothes and appearance gave me. They transformed me from my bubbly and perky self to an unpredictable and often antisocial ghost who had the ability to float around, largely free of the harassment I was taking when I was being me. I was liberated from the fear and insecurity I’d battled as a kid, but was now trapped by my inauthentic and “fashionably outrageous” attire, and the persona I’d created.

When grade 8 graduation came around, I went to a formalwear store with my mum and asked to try on a selection of graduation dresses. Since all of these were in ‘missies’ sizes, they were tailored for girls with no hips, no boobs, no curves. At 5’0, a full C cup and wearing what was probably a size 14-16 at the time, I was mortified to see another girl from my school there, trying on dresses just a few rooms down. I watched and listened as she tried on four dresses and selected her favourite within 20 minutes. By that time, I had been trying dresses on for well over an hour, and had exhausted almost every single style in the department. My mom was eased into the idea that her daughter was a “big girl” and they didn’t carry dresses for “big girls”. I was absolutely, hands-down convinced that these slim-fitting dresses were sent from the Devil himself, and their only use was to mock me. Why did this employee want to taunt me with clearly too-small dresses? Yes, they can be let out a bit but will they be let out enough to avoid that baby-blue-satin-sausage look I was achieving so well while trying them on?

It was then that one saleswoman, much older than the one working with us, carried over a gown which made my jaw drop. She stated with a wink that there was no need for me to try on dresses for little girls, since I was obviously a young woman. I liked this woman. I liked her a lot.

It was an adults gown, deep burgundy with a lace and satin corset-style top and a huge A-line ballgown skirt. The neck and straps were made from burgundy satin roses and it had an almost-too-mature sweetheart neckline. It was dramatic, Victorian looking, slightly vampiric and everything that I wanted in a dress. Best of all, it was a size 16. I tried on the dress and looked at the shape it created on my body. Narrow waist, full bust, and with slight alterations the straps and hem would be absolutely perfect. It wasn’t the periwinkle spaghetti criss-cross slip style that the other girls in my class would be wearing, but this dress was better. I had never owned an article of clothing I had felt more beautiful in. This dress was my little secret.

I showed up to graduation in the gown, my long hair dyed to a natural-looking dark brown and my nose hoop changed to a tiny ruby. My makeup was professionally done, and I wore the heels I’d strutted around my home in for days breaking in. I looked magnificent. As good as I felt, the response I got from others was truly what made that night memorable for me. Outstanding amounts of fellow students approached me to tell me that looked great in my gown. The others seemed shocked that I was showcasing my body for the first time. Needless to say, pushed up and cinched in, I made a hell of an entrance. It was then that I realized, I can achieve this look every day, and can love my body and the way it looks in clothes on a regular basis. Immediately, my persona softened. When I was faced with smiles and compliments, I chatted freely with classmates, and laughed with students who’d never uttered a word to me before that day. I’d struck a happy medium of normalcy and badassery, and this was the best I’d felt about myself and my relationship with my classmates since… ever.  I realized that it wasn’t my body shape that allowed people to mock me, it was the confidence and perception I had of myself. Previously, I saw no value in myself, so why should they?

I’ve kept this experience with me for years, and I’m thankful that I’ve been through it. This was definitely not the last time I’ve overcome social challenges with my body (stay tuned!), but it was the single most defining occurrence that I can tie back to developing confidence and learning to see yourself through the eyes of potential. I’ve battled with clothes – fit, drape, fabrics, prints, belts, darts and the like – for years. But, as of that summer, I’ve made a conscious effort to adorn my body, and remember that every body (yes, everybody too but I mean every BODY) has a “perfect dress”. Every body has a perfect pair of jeans, and a perfect tee, and a perfect jacket and so on. The secret to looking and feeling great is learning how to love your body. Similar to falling head over heels for our crushes, we have to begin to forgive ourselves of our small flaws and romanticize our best features. We need to find ways to turn a blind eye to our imperfections and dote on our strengths and attributes. We have to learn to create that love affair with our bodies and offer it the unconditional support, flattery and kindness that we offer our partners, friends and family.

My goal with this weekly feature is to reach out to others who are at a similar crossroads in their lives. Folks like me who have struggled with expression and body image and confidence. I want this blog to be read by everyone who has been bullied, those who have been bullies, and those, like me, that walked the thin line between the two. I want this to spark that internal dialogue and inspire people of all genders, nationalities, orientations to change their relationship to whatever it is they are trying to overcome. Most of all, I hope that The Swagger Coach gives someone the reassurance that yes, others are feeling exactly as you are feeling right now, and yes, we can all come out the other end unscathed. I place high value on being able to handle life’s little kicks in the pants with humour and grace, and I’d like to share some of these experiences with you guys in an act of community, love and support.

My name is Jamie, and I’m still the fat kid.