For the next few months, we’ll be featuring a series of personal essays from contributing writers. Each person will share a true story about dating — from texting to sex to breakups. Kicking off this theme is Ashley Ford, whose feelings about her body changed when she started dating a guy 20 pounds lighter than she was…
For our first date, Kelly took me four-wheeling in a huge mud-filled obstacle course. Hours later, we were covered in mud and giggling. Then he kissed me. I hadn’t known how I felt about him, until his lips were on mine — but then, I knew. He felt familiar and safe. But he also weighed less than I did, and that was nerve-wracking.
When we got back to my house, we walked into my bedroom, laughing about something or other. He asked, “What’s that number on the wall?” I hesitated, then decided to tell the truth. “That’s how much I weigh.” I’d been keeping a record ever since the last guy I dated told me I’d gotten too fat for him to reasonably be attracted to. Kelly just nodded, and continued telling me a story about four-wheeling with his best friend. Then he kissed me again, and said, “How soon until I can take you on a second date?”
Kel never brought up the number written on the wall, even when the numbers changed. I thought he was being polite, but when I asked he shrugged.
“I don’t notice it. Even if the numbers have changed, you feel the same. I like the way you feel.”
That night, I stood in front of my mirror and attempted to just feel my body, without judgement. I liked how I felt, too. Still, I was convinced the sensation of liking my body would leave when he did. We’d both insisted our relationship shouldn’t be too serious. I was fresh off an obviously bad break up, and he would soon be leaving for an out-of-state internship. College was coming to an end for both of us. We had time to have fun, but not to build something long-term. Or so we thought.
We remained friends, even when he returned from his internship and immediately moved to Seattle. We spoke on the phone often. I’d moved to Indianapolis, gained more weight, and decided to take a break from romantic love. I was happy. But one year after he moved away, Kelly showed up on my doorstop, a thousand miles from his own, and kissed me.
“Are you seeing anybody?”
I shook my head no. I’d like to say in that moment I was thinking how sweet or wild or romantic this all was. I wasn’t. I was wondering if he’d noticed how much weight I’d gained. I was back up to my highest weight, 190 lbs. I wondered if he’d gotten a good look at me before he kissed me. But there he was, still standing in the middle of my living room, eyes fixed on mine, waiting for me to say something. I asked him to come to my bedroom and talk.
He convinced me to give a relationship a shot. He’d still be living in Seattle, and I’d still be living in Indianapolis. We decided we’d visit each other, and if at the end of the year we were still happy, we would find a way to be in the same place.
We fell in love a thousand miles, and one time zone, apart. We read each other’s favorite books, sent each other care packages, and he texted me every morning to say he hoped I was having a great day. We talked about our fears and insecurities. For the first time ever, I told someone — whom I wanted to be attracted to my body — just how unattractive I actually felt. He said, “It’s not a body’s job to be perfect. It’s to keep you alive. I love your body for keeping my favorite person alive. Please, don’t hide it from me.”
Almost as soon as we’d agreed that I’d move to Seattle and freelance, I got offered a full-time writing position in New York. I took the job, moved to Brooklyn, and six months later, Kelly followed. Again, I worried what he’d think about my weight once he had to look at me every day. What if the long-distance part of our relationship was what allowed me to remain attractive to him? My worst insecurities about my body scurried to the front of my mind.
Then, he moved in.
Almost immediately, I realized how wrong I’d been. When I’d complain about having to shave, he’d ask, “Who are you shaving for? If it’s for you, just do it. If it’s for me, don’t. I want you to be comfortable in your body.” When I’d wear makeup he’d tell me how beautiful those colors looked on me. When I didn’t, he’d hold my cheeks in his hands and kiss my “fresh face.” He loved me in clothes I’d been told weren’t flattering for someone with a belly like mine. When I wore something tailored, he praised me for my style. When I got out of the shower, he’d stop to watch me cover myself in moisturizers from head to toe. He looked at me with adoration, encouraged me to present my body the way that felt right to me, and in doing so, helped me manage my twisted view of my body.
Of course, it’s not all roses. He can be aloof, and I can be messy. I’m an efficiency freak, and he could actually care less if something takes five minutes longer. We even got into a huge fight at the Happiest Place on Earth. But we find our way back to each other, and I never worry he’ll tell me how hard it is be with me because I’m fat and difficult.
Maya Angelou says, “Love liberates. It does not bind.” Before Kelly, “love” always looked like fixing myself the right way, so someone could bring themselves to love me. Being perfectly shaved, perfectly thin, and perfectly presentable. Now, I know real love makes room for you to love yourself the way you are, and the way you want to be. I feel more beautiful than I ever have, and I allow myself things I assumed were only allowed for women doing a better job at being pretty than I was. I allow myself to live fully. I present myself to the world in a way that feels right to me. Love got me here. Whether Kelly and I stay together forever (fingers crossed ’cause I really like him), is irrelevant. This is who I am now. Love liberated me. I’m never going back.
I like the way I feel.
Ashley Ford is a writer, editor and public speaker. She is currently writing a memoir, and works as a senior features writer at Refinery29. She lives in Brooklyn by way of Indiana.