Body Story ~ Jean P.

Written by: Center for Body Trust

Categories : Body Stories

Body stories are largely missing from the zeitgeist of our time. We are often reluctant to dive into our body stories because we believe they are too taboo to share or too boring to be of interest or value. 

In Reclaiming Body Trust, we shared body stories of those who have defied the standard narrative of body apology, instead demanding care and deep respect. These stories, once unearthed, encouraged others to share theirs, too. 

Here is Jean’s Story.

My body story starts like many others. I was 10 years old when I learned my body was not the “right” body. I was 10 when I went on my first diet through Weight Watchers. I was the first person to get a bra in 5th grade. I was the first person to get my period in 6th grade at age 11. I was one of the tallest girls, always in the back row of the class picture. Early on my body was different than everyone else’s. Messages about food and bodies from my family and peers reinforced that.

My parents didn’t directly say anything derogatory about my body or food. Diet culture was modeled by going to Weight Watchers and limited “treats” i.e. chips, candy, sugar cereal, and ice cream in the house. We had to clean our plates. With three siblings you had to eat fast to get a chance for seconds. These things created a scarcity mentality around food.

Throughout junior high and high school my peers enforced the message that being in a bigger body was unacceptable. I was often teased, my last name was the perfect setup for a fat joke. I was often picked last or not at all for dances. I was always the friend and not the girlfriend. Through teasing and name-calling from peers and non-representation in media, the message was clear, my body was wrong. Now I look at pictures from that time and see I wasn’t fat. What I learned at that time was that to fit in, be loved, and valued I had to be in a different body, a smaller body. 

I did diet through my adolescent years, but after high school is when I became entrenched in weight cycling/”yo-yo” dieting. Weight Watchers was my go-to and I lost a large amount of weight when I was 19 years old. I kept that off plus or minus 20 pounds for about seven years. I knew about the statistic that 95-98% of people don’t keep the weight off, but I was going to be one of the ones that did! Over the next 23 years, I lost and gained large amounts of weight. As is common, I would gain back more weight than I lost and then some. Through the years, I was on the diets so many of us try:  WW, Atkins, Slim Fast, Nutrisystem, cabbage soup diet, Sparkpeople (a weighing and tracking program), and Overeaters Anonymous. 

When I was in Overeaters Anonymous (OA) I met a fellow member who became my best friend. Even when I left OA, our conversations centered around how much weight we had gained or lost, what clothes fit or didn’t, we lamented about everything we ate and if we had been eating “clean”. This same language about food and bodies was reflected in many of my friendships. 

Because I couldn’t keep the weight off I always felt like something was wrong with me. I didn’t have enough willpower and was an emotional eater. I thought if I went to enough therapy I could figure out how to replace eating with healthier behavior. It was my problem. It was all my fault. I had to figure out a solution to this. 

The journey to the present day was a slow, circuitous one, forty years in the making. Once I understood internalized fatphobia, I felt free of the emotional shackles of diet culture. The shift started around ten years ago when I decided to get rid of my scale at home. I didn’t like that it dictated how I felt about myself. During the early stages of training as a mental health therapist, I was paying a lot of attention to the power of language. I stopped referring to myself and food as “bad” or “good”.  Although my thoughts and language around food were changing, I wasn’t talking about it with anyone. I didn’t have a community to support my changing view. 

During this period of awakening, I was working at a plus-size lingerie store. I was surrounded by large-bodied models and beautiful lingerie. I started to embrace the idea that large women are sexy, including me, a novel idea! Despite these milestone shifts, I was still dieting towards the ultimate goal of being in a smaller body. I still didn’t have a community that shared the same views about diet culture (I didn’t even have a name for that at the time). I was still weight cycling. I continued weighing, measuring, and tracking my food. I focused on going to therapy and journaling, determined to control my “emotional eating”. Dieting took up all my time and energy. Self-loathing is a full-time job! 

At that time, I thought I owed it to my therapy clients to lose weight. I thought I had to be in a smaller body for them “see” I was an emotionally healthy person. I didn’t recognize this thought as internalized fatphobia, I meant it with dedicated sincerity. 

It’s hard to believe it was just over three years ago that I went to a bariatric doctor. I was prescribed an appetite suppressant and an anticonvulsant used off-label for weight loss (in 6% of users!). I took the medication for a short period of time. I stopped using them when I read the side effects included confusion, slowed thinking, memory and language problems, heart palpitations, psychosis, insomnia, etc. As if anything is better than being fat! 

I have always been physically active, had normal blood pressure, and have no health conditions. Despite this, my medical record reports a diagnosis of binge eating disorder and “severely obese”. Fast forward to the present, I decline to be weighed at medical appointments. 

I discovered the Food Psych podcast in 2019, which led me to the Health A Every Size (HAES) website. I found Be Nourished (now Center for Body Trust) on the HAES resource list. I was attracted to the aesthetic and language on the site. After a few months of flirting with the website, I signed up for the No More Weighting class. I told no one. This was new and special and mine. After I completed the class, I signed up for the School of Unlearning.  I still didn’t tell anyone. How could I? It was so much to absorb. I was learning a new language and didn’t know how to talk about it. I continued my unlearning with the Exploring Your Body Story retreat. Slowly, but surely this new information started clicking: diet culture, fatphobia, unlearning, it’s not my fault, I live here, body trust, embodiment, white colonizers’ beauty ideals, racist roots of fatphobia, grief, time lost, it’s not my fault (yes, I’m going to keep saying that), lower weight doesn’t equal health. 

I have integrated this unlearning of forty years into every aspect of my personal and professional life. It’s not an overstatement to say I feel free. Free of all the constructs and lies I’ve been told about my body. These lies belong to white supremacy, patriarchy, racism, and capitalism. They’re not mine. The onus is on them, a shaming culture created and cultivated by them. I’m giving it back.”

~Jean P.

BIO: Jean Pappalardo, LMFT is a Los Angeles sex therapist who is passionate about being part of the body trust community. She’s currently in a certification program to be a Body Trust provider. She is adamant about sharing her knowledge and supporting others to break free from diet culture and fatphobia.  She wears tank tops, eats whatever she likes, and loves swimming.


What is the story of your body?

Collectively, we need to hear more body stories of others in order to feel less alone in our own. If you’re open to sharing your body story, we invite you explore our body story prompts and submit your own story here.

Your story has the power to change how we regard all bodies. Thank you for telling it.


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