It's hard for me to remember the first time I realized I was different. I was bigger than the other girls. I was fat.
I have no idea if this was something I was told or I realized on my own. I do remember a routine physical where, after my pediatrician measured my height and weight, he said I was in the 99th percentile. When I looked confused, he said if there were one hundred girls the same age and height as me all in one room, I would be the fattest.
This image haunted me and forced me to act a certain way. I couldn't act like the other girls, because I was the fat one. I couldn't speak up in class because fat people are dumb. I couldn't wear shorts in 100 degree weather because I didn't want to offend anyone with my fat thighs. I couldn't kiss the boy I liked because even if he tried to kiss me first, it either meant he was mocking me or crazy. Who in their right minds would want to kiss a fat girl?
Somehow, this warped kind of thinking has crept into my adult life as well. I have been thinking about cutting my hair for months, but I don't, because there's a voice in my mind telling me that for some reason, fat girls can't have short hair, because it will only make them look fatter.
I've spent a ton of time and money trying to change this thinking and nothing has worked. The only solution I have found is to avoid places that make me feel like an unworthy fat person. I don't wear bikinis or shop at Abercrombie and Fitch, and I obviously have nothing to do with beauty pageants.
So, when I received an email about a documentary about two women, Allison Kophach and Jenny Flores, who compete in plus-size beauty pageants, I was skeptical. Why would I willingly watch a movie about women who choose to enter a contest that traditionally ignores them?
I decided to watch it anyway. If anything, it would be interesting and prove my belief that beauty pageants are stupid and not for fat people.
There She is, directed by Veena Rao and Emily Sheskin, is a beautiful film, but it didn't change my opinion of beauty pageants. I still don't like them and would never compete in one. But after watching these two women passionately participate in something they love, which just happens to be a beauty pageant, I feel that in order to even the body type playing field, we need strong women like Allison Kophach and Jenny Flores out there participating in activities that society believes they shouldn't be in.
The fact is beauty pageants aren't going away. People love the glamour of them, and who wouldn't want to win a crown? The only way beauty pageants can stop being PR vehicles for the size zero ideal is for women of all shapes to enter them and make their presence the norm. So, I applaud all women who compete in beauty pageants, despite the fact that our culture routinely cuts them out of the definition of beauty. Maybe it will inspire me to do something crazy like cut my hair. Because who knows, maybe this fat girl will look amazing in a curly bob?
WATCH: There She Is