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As someone who has experienced symptoms of depression since I was 11, and then acknowledged I probably did have it when I was 15, my relationship with mental illness has so far been complicated and misunderstood by myself and others. I have also been overweight since my early teens. What society doesn’t realise or wish to comprehend is that the two are not connected.
As someone who has suffered from an eating disorder, hearing comments that my appearance affects my health in any way is quite damaging and can create the risk of undoing of all the hard work I have managed to maintain since recovering from it. I am also very aware that many people are overweight as a symptom of depression and some who are depressed because they are overweight and I’m not saying these people do not exist. I just know so many sufferers of depression that are overweight are not so because the two things are connected.
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I’m fat because I am. It’s who I am and it is how I’m staying. The societal assumption that anyone fat who is depressed must be so because of their appearance is dangerous. I cannot be “fixed” by making changes to my physical appearance. I am not just an aesthetic and treating me as an obesity statistic implies that my physical health is more important than my mental health. Depression does not care whether I am a size 8 or size 28. I have had many battles with depression and I may have more in the future and I will let society know; I am not depressed because I am fat.
When I am suffering from my depression, I am not thinking logically or feel based in reality. I don’t think about my looks. I do not have any kind of concern about washing my hair or putting on perfume or wearing a dress that cinches my waist. It is so much bigger than that. It is so far beyond any kind of concerns society has about how I present myself that thinking about it is almost laughable. I don’t even think about basic needs such as eating, let alone how much I should be consuming or which menu item creates the most balanced meal or has the least amount of calories.
As a culture our focus on appearance is so mighty that we mourn when our eyebrows are plucked too thinly. We are taught aesthetic mistakes are something to be ashamed of or embarrassed by so it’s easy to see why when my peers look at me they think that the beginning of my self-healing journey is to change my dress size. My appearance is important to me because I feel not only am I representing a part of society which is still considered taboo and has negative associations that are powerful enough for people to assume that a result of my mental illness is my obesity but also because the way I look is a reminder that I am happy. It shows that I am at peace after years of battling with self esteem and bullying.
I am embracing and loving myself in a way which my mental illness never allowed me to.