Inspiring Success Stories of Plus-Sized Women
Women Who Made It—Big!
This Hub is about how full-figured and plus-sized women can inspire, when they accept nothing less than success in life, in a big way. Most of the pictures and captions I've included in this article are about movie, television, and talk show stars, women we all know and admire. The article, however, is about how inspirational it can be when plus-sized women choose not to allow size to deter them from going after what they want to achieve in life. It is my hope that something written herein will inspire everyday women—plus-sized or not, who might sometimes need to be encouraged by those who haven't allowed size, weight, or anything else, to stop them from reaching for the stars. In addition to including a pictorial essay, this Hub also includes:
- A Special Thanks to Oprah, for "O," so much!
- A discussion about how unconditional love must have no size requirements.
- A brief look at a few of the "everyday" plus-sized women who inspired and motivated me.
A Special Thanks to Oprah, For "O" So Much
I’m starting this Hub with memories of Oprah Winfrey. Remember her? What about back in the day, the first several years of the "Oprah Winfrey Show"? After getting over the initial shock of seeing a larger-sized, black woman with a national TV talk show, I remember thinking how strong she seemed to be. In those days I was a "plus-sized" young woman too, in graduate school working on my master's degree, about to begin my career. To me, Oprah was the epitome of someone who was not about to allow size or body image to hold her back. Her strength inspired me; it encouraged me.
I saw Oprah forging ahead, fully armed with beauty, brains, and all the gusto of a heroine unbound—she was courageous, spirited, energetic, intelligent, articulate, and feisty. And today, even though she has relinquished her show to the annals of history, she is still one of the best examples I can think of, of a woman who made it big, professionally, becoming a role model for millions while living inside a body that was, most often, “plus size.” Thanks to shows she produces or appears on for her new cable network, OWN, and to O Magazine and Oprah.com, I can still find Oprah-inspiration waiting for me, whenever I need it.
Like Oprah, I was born in rural Mississippi. I grew up there, and in case you haven't heard, Mississippi is one of those Southern states where women are applauded for being "good cooks," and where cooking and eating delicious, soul-satisfying Southern-fried things is often done to excess. No doubt, part of my battle with weight my whole life is owed to my love of good old Mississippi home cooking, something I'm using self-control to cut down on, drastically, these days.
In the days when I was a little girl growing up in Mississippi, a lot of the women I looked up to as role models were not what most people consider to be your standard, “fashion model” types. In fact, many were people who, today, would be categorized as overweight, and even obese. But as a child, I looked up to these women because they were "workin' it" as career professionals. Mostly schoolteachers, they were bright, well-spoken, wise, loving, caring and beautiful—inside and out. In other words, they were women who were making their mark in the world, pursuing and achieving goals and dreams.
The plus-sized women who inspire me these days are those that don't sit around around feeling sorry for themselves when they don't fit into a size 0, 2, 10, or even a 14. They are women who are out there taking the world on beautifully, with class, confidence, and vitality. Determined and driven, they are focused on achievement while doing what it takes to live their lives, joyfully and successfully. And whether or not they know it, they are inspiring and motivating to women like me, showing us that if you love and accept yourself, unconditionally, with hard work and the right attitude you can find success in life at any size.
From Extra Large to Extra Small—Unconditional Love Has No Size Requirements
At no time should anyone's size be a deterrent to achievement. Everyone should be able to achieve and accomplish based on willingness to work for success, and no one should be made to feel that they have no right to success based on body size or weight.
As a "plus-sized" woman, I embrace that it's okay to be a plus-sized woman. Because the truth of the matter is, a human is not simply the size of his or her body. Each and every person is everything that is true about him or her, and we all deserve to love ourselves—fully, completely, and unconditionally, the same way that God loves us.
As inspiring as it is to see plus-sized women conquering and being victorious in life, personally and professionally, it is also inspiring to see their transformations when they decide to slim down. It's part of the journey of life to go through seasons where you have different goals as your primary focus. The decision to lose weight, while being an admirable goal for anyone who decides to "go for it" when it's needed, should be a personal decision. When one of the plus-sized women I admire decides to lose weight, I embrace that it's okay for her to lose weight. It is every person's choice to live life in the size of body she or he desires. Losing weight is not losing self; slimming down will not stop anyone from being her or his true, authentic self.
As a plus-sized woman, I've had to come to grips with the idea that at any given time, I am the size that I am, and that in the size I'm in, it is my responsibility to me to demonstrate love for me in the way I care for myself. That means using self-control in making sure that I make good, nutrition-focused food choices, and that I get enough exercise every day. And when I decide that losing weight is a primary goal of mine, it is then my responsibility to give that goal my all. Even if some of the people in my life begin to act differently toward me (which has happened in the past), having unconditional love for myself means I'll find peace in knowing that God knows and loves me, no matter what size I fit in.
When losing weight is my goal, I know that it is not in the best interest of my mental or my physical health to allow other people to derail my goals based on their ideas about what size I should be. And, if someone feels "intimidated" by my decision to slim down, I understand that that is a problem beyond my control. My decision to slim down is a personal one between God and me, with no input allowed or invited from the outside world. Then, with the love of God as my guide, it is up to me to exercise self-control over my actions and my thoughts, so that I can live a life that is truly mine in a body size that feels healthy and right for me.
Inspiration Comes in All Sizes
When I was a little girl, I was blessed to have role models of all sizes. Some of my most memorable and positive inspiration came from school teachers, and I remember being influenced positively by some who were slender or average-sized and beautiful as human beings, and by others who were plus-sized and beautiful, inside and out.
Before I was even school age, my Aunt Sallie, a plus-sized beauty, made some vivid impressions on me. Always stylish and well accessorized, Aunt Sallie was a full-figured woman who loved to dress and look her best. She had a wonderful attitude about herself, and her love of clothing and style exerted great influence on me. It helped me understand, early in life, the importance of caring about your appearance.
I remember one outfit my aunt wore that made a lasting impression on me. It was the 1960’s when knee-high, shiny black patent-leather boots were really fashionable. On one of her rare visits to our house, Aunt Sallie was decked out in a pair. And with those awesome boots, she wore a black, white and red plaid skirt and a dark red sweater, and she "accessorized" her look only with bright red nail polish, and red lipstick. After her visit ended, I remember pulling out my pencils, drawing paper, and crayons, and working all day trying to draw Aunt Sallie wearing that beautiful outfit.
I also remember fondly my third grade teacher. Her name was Mrs. Martin, and she was a lovely and heavyset woman who had a reputation around our school and community as being an excellent dancer. In those days I was a pint-sized bundle of energy, and Mrs. Martin selected me to be a member of a dance troupe that would be the highlight of the end-of-year commencement activities for my grade.
The dance team was Mrs. Martin's idea, and she choreographed our production. We practiced every day, and our plus-sized teacher moved and danced rhythmically, effortlessly, and perfectly. In fact, she was a dancing machine, radiating loads of confidence and competence as she taught us how to do every dance we performed that night, from the jerk to the boogalou. The night of our performance, thanks to the untiring efforts of our great teacher, our repertoire got a standing ovation from the crowd after we dazzled them with a funky mix of popular "street" dances performed to the latest rock-n-roll tunes.
I am blessed to have known in my life plenty of wonderful role models who were full-figured and plus-sized women. I was taught and encouraged by women who had bigger-than-life enthusiasm for life, women who were living and loving their lives on a daily basis, undaunted by their dress size. My beliefs about what I could do in life were influenced, gently and lovingly, by ladies who really cared deeply, for themselves and others. First, they cared about who they were as honorable, giving, hardworking and strong women of positive character, and next, about how they presented themselves to the world. They were women I saw as always doing their best to look their best, but they didn’t waste time lamenting their size by singing "woe is me, woe is me." No. They were too busy loving who they were, unconditionally. They looked great, were smart and driven, and their excitement for life and its millions of possibilities inspired and encouraged those around them. They made us all want to shine, as they did.
Because of them, I know that no matter what size you are, if you love yourself unconditionally, a better, more blessed and hopeful life is within your reach. As I'm finishing this Hub, even though I will never abandon my goal of losing excess pounds by controlling my eating and exercise habits, I still understand that losing weight is not as important to my well being as is being happy with who I am, as a person.
On my Christian journey to greater self-love, what I've discovered is an uplifting and motivating way to live a self-loving life no matter what I weigh. It has taught me that it's important to love who you are in your present body, because that's vital to loving yourself unconditionally. So, if accepting and loving yourself in the size you are now is something you need to do, then do that. Once you do, you'll be surprised at how true self-love will make you want to take better care of your health. Then, if losing weight is part of what you need to do to take better care of your physical and mental health, then find a good way to do that too.
© 2013 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD