No, Slim Doesn't Mean Fat

04/02/2012 01:00 pm ET | Updated Jun 02, 2012

I was a vulnerable, insecure fifteen-year-old when a guy I'll call Marty said, "With your pretty face and hourglass shape, you'd be a knockout if only you lost a little weight." All I heard was that I wasn't good enough because I was too fat. That "if only" message haunted me through my teens and well into adulthood. It confirmed what I already believed--that I was too fat to be worthy.

In reality, I wasn't fat. I just wasn't perfectly slim. But fat became my self-image as my distorted mirror magnified a few extra pounds. I settled for men, assuming really attractive guys wouldn't want a fat girl and went out of my way to please people to compensate for my body. I encountered many women obsessed with being slim. They monitored their eating. Guilt accompanied anything with calories. Some had eating disorders. I'd often hear women who I thought looked good say, "I'm so fat!!" When I'd insist they were wrong, I'd be shown a bit of cellulite or where a pound needed to come off.

Believing that not being perfectly slim means you're fat is a common misperception. A combination of building self-love and a striking incident changed my view. I was at a street fair with a trim size 4 woman when, out of the blue, she practically shrieked, "I'm the only one in NY who's fat!" I was stunned at how irrational it was. When I said she was half my size and must think I'm obese, she swore I looked great, not fat, and meant it. Like me, she saw her every imperfection as being fat, but viewed me fairly. In that moment, I realized how unfair and unloving we are when we judge our bodies harshly.

I went home, stripped, and stood in front of a full-length mirror, viewing my body with love and objectivity for the first time. What Marty said years ago was true, except for the "if only" part. I'm a knockout without losing weight! That day I saw lovely, in-proportion curves. The cellulite on my belly and thighs no longer skewed my new belief that I'm a sexy woman. Curvy with a little softness reflects a healthy body, not fat. I embraced my womanhood that day with love.

I realized that saying "I'm fat" is a way to beat yourself up for imperfections. Not being perfectly trim does NOT make you fat! Pigging out at a party does not make you fat. Nor does having a bit of a round tummy or gaining a few pounds. Yet we label ourselves fat so easily. Feeling fat keeps you from fully enjoying life if you're always fixated on your weight. Self-love takes a hit with every "I'm fat" thought and others feel your fat vibe.

Going to war against fat puts a big cloud over inner contentment -- the foundation of true happiness. It's normal to have some cellulite. Believing you're too fat to indulge in ice cream on a spring day or feeling inferior because you wear size fourteen or more, instead of a size four, or doing unhealthy things to shrink your body hurts you more than your weight does. And I know how men can add to the problem. I've had boyfriends suggest I lose weight, which made me feel fatter.

A funny thing happened when I embraced my not perfectly slim body. My new self-image reflected confidence and it radiated from me. People saw me the way I saw myself. I began to meet more men who liked my body. When a recent boyfriend asked how someone who writes about self-esteem doesn't push herself to lose weight, I said if he had a problem with my body I could lose 160 pounds -- him -- and pointed to the door.

Learning to love and accept myself wiped out Marty's "if only you lost a little weight" comment, though I weigh more than I did at fifteen. In retrospect, he was a short, fat, slovenly guy who thought he was it because he was in a popular fraternity -- and I bought it. His comment ruled my perception for half my life. When you stop trying to achieve other people's standards, you can get comfortable with who you are and let the confidence it brings guide your perceptions. That reflects on how others see you.

While I know many men in New York City would consider me fat, I no longer care. There are enough guys who appreciate a woman with luscious curves. I try to eat healthy and exercise because it makes me feel good -- not to attract a man. Sometimes I lose a few pounds, sometimes I gain. But I always see myself as a sexy babe that any man would be lucky to be with. And I didn't have to lose weight to stop being fat.