Body Language

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Body Language by Rachel Dinces - Photo by Sonja Lippman

Fat /fat/:
noun (adjective)
having a large amount of excess flesh.

This word meant so much more to me than just the definition. I accepted it as my identity, the only thing I had to my name. I now know what I believed in was Western society’s definition: worthless, stupid, not healthy, not good enough, not loved.

When I began treatment for my eating disorder, fat followed me there. As my medical team tried to make my body healthy so that my brain could heal, I was convinced they were all conspiring against me. Convinced they were trying to ruin my life by making me fat and all the things I associated with it. Nothing terrified me more.

The longer I was in treatment, the longer I studied my disorder. I left the word fat at the door and instead looked at new words: control, confusion, and frustration. For 13 months, I broke apart the tangle of words like gross, worthless, and stupid and put them back together as scared, overwhelmed, and insecure. For 13 months, I was forced to pay attention to my words.

We often don’t think about our language because we take our ability to express ourselves verbally for granted. Truthfully, we’re not very good at it—most of our problems come from poor communication. I’ve always noticed my struggle to communicate more when it comes to the anxiety and intrusive thoughts I experience. To me, it was easier to show my struggle through my body than to express my struggle through my words. As I learned to be healthy, I learned how to use my language to better articulate my thoughts.

From a young age, my way of bettering communication was by studying other languages; the more words at my disposal, the better I could communicate. When I spoke in French or in Spanish, I was transported to a world outside of myself. Whenever I said ojalá I was reminded of the Arabic influences in Spanish. When I spoke about le weekend in French, I thought about the linguistic exchange we see in modern language. But after I was discharged from treatment, I went back to my roots, and started paying attention to what I was saying in English.

There was no new verb tense or vocabulary I could hide behind; I couldn’t use “still learning the basics” as an excuse for poor communication. Instead, I started focusing on the intricacies in my everyday language. By choosing my words carefully, I was able to change the framework of my thoughts. Fat didn’t have to mean worthless. It was just a word, not a damning life sentence. I turned what I considered a fact into a sound, three letters that didn’t mean anything more than what it says in the dictionary. I was no longer stuck—I had a path forward. I realized that words are not only beautiful, but they hold an incredible power.

As I studied it more, language transformed into an ability I could use to quiet the noise in my head, and to describe thoughts that were once indescribable. Creative writing, specifically poetry, became my outlet. When I wrote my thoughts as poems, they weren’t confusing or complicated, they were fascinating and profound. I now pursue both avenues; with new languages I can communicate with others, and with poetry, I can better express myself in English.

Language has transformed into my own personal superpower that I use daily to strengthen my relationships, share my emotions, and advocate for myself. I strengthen that power every day, creating art out of what used to hold me back by writing for myself and others. Learning about words and their power has taught me that the word fat doesn’t define me; instead, I’m defined by hope, passion, and pride.

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