Emily Cutler is a mental health counselor who uses art as part of her healing. Her story carries an important message to parents who may not understand the danger of obsession with weight.

My Story by Emily Cutler

From a very young age, I received the message that being fat is one of the worst things you can be. My dad, a medical doctor, would talk at length about the “obesity epidemic,” and my mom, a homemaker, spent most of her time researching weight loss tips, trying out various diets, and trying to stay thin. “No one likes fat people,” she would tell me.

I always carried the knowledge that if I ever did gain weight, my parents would look down on me. They would see me as inferior, as unhealthy, as unlikeable. I saw how they talked about fat relatives, colleagues, and friends – sometimes in sad, hushed tones, and other times in disgusted, mocking voices – and I knew that this was how they would talk about me if I ever gained weight.

The pain of their conditional love was torturous, but I didn’t know how to express it. I just knew I had to stay thin. I struggled with disordered eating throughout college, desperately hoping to control my body size and make sure I never became the person my parents so intensely disapproved of.

In college I did a project on bullying prevention for a communications class, and I learned that the most common reason for bullying in schools is weight or size. After years of hearing how my parents talked about people in larger bodies, and being harmed by this rhetoric, learning about the prevalence of weight-based bullying struck a nerve.

One of the most horrifying things I learned was that despite how common weight-based bullying is, almost no programs have been developed to combat it. This type of bullying is often seen as something that happens for children’s own good – i.e., it’s okay for children to be bullied for their size because they need to lose weight.

I immediately wanted to combat this harmful notion and decided to make weight-based bullying a focus of my studies. I know that I want to use my clinical skills and expertise to help bring about a world in which children, and all people, know that they will be loved no matter what their size. As a result, I am working to learn as much as I can about the Health At Every Size (HAES) approach to counseling, as well as how to practice therapy in a way that is affirming of size diversity.

My healing journey is not yet complete. I still sometimes struggle with my relationship with food. Learning about the pervasiveness of size-ism and how cruelly fat people are treated sometimes makes me want to do absolutely everything in my power to stay as thin as possible. There is still a big part of me that desperately wants my parents’ love and approval, and feels terrified of facing the disappointment and scorn that would result from any kind of weight gain.

But I do know that I can make the choice to continue learning (and unlearning) as much as possible about HAES and size acceptance. I can make the choice to let my friends, family, and loved ones know that I will love and respect them no matter what their size. I can make the choice to practice counseling in a way that is affirming of all bodies at all sizes and to never recommend weight loss as a solution to any mental health issue. And I can make the choice to speak out about the impact of size-ism and the importance of fat acceptance.

You can follow Emily at emilyscutler.com