An interview with body positive artist Reina Gomez

I met Reina in an eating disorder recovery center and we have maintained our friendship outside the facility and through the ups and downs that come with walking the path of recovery. The chance to experience someone else’s story through any medium you can be worthwhile. It’s a glimpse into what life was like, what was learned and what’s next. Reina’s story is no exception. Take a chance to get to know who she was in her in disorder but more importantly who she is now in recovery and how she sees the world through body positive colored glasses.

How did your eating disorder start? I have been conscious of my weight since I was in grade school, though I was not huge I was bigger than the other kids. I went the rest of my pre-adult life knowing I was bigger but never letting it consume my life. Fast forward to my early twenties I passed a kidney stone! Worst pain I had ever been in, I asked the doctor what I could do to prevent this and he told me to drink lots of water. I knew drinking water was important, but it wasn’t my favorite. He explained water would make sure my kidneys were flushing properly and would help prevent large kidney stones from breaking off. I got home from the hospital and threw out all my soda and juice and religiously drank water and only water for a few weeks and I lost a little weight. At that point a lightbulb went off, what if I stop eating fast food? I did that for a couple of weeks and boom a little more weight slid off with what seemed like little effort. Next light bulb, what if I run a couple of days a week? POW, more weight slid off. If I had stopped there and continued to listen to how well my body responded to just these reasonable tweaks I think I could have saved myself from the struggle that became the next few years of my life. Once this stopped working and I leveled out and stopped losing I started to engage in really restrictive behavior. I started working out for at least 2 hours a day and cut my caloric intake to well under the minimum needed to just breathe and exist. Who knew you needed a certain amount of nutrition to simply be let alone be as active as I was. I got a personal trainer and he started to cut out more in my diet not knowing I was also restricting. I would lie on my food journals that I would show him, and I would make sure that he thought I was eating enough. I started to lose my hair and I started to have zero energy for anything, but everyone was praising me for the progress I was making. My body was shrinking, and men were looking at me and asking me for my number. Girls wanted to take pictures with me and be my friend. My family was asking me how I did it and if I could help them. Hello eating disorder!

When and how did you find recovery? I hit rock bottom, I started to notice people only wanted to be around me because I was more in line with their standard of beauty. I felt like everyone around me only cared about what I looked like and not how I felt. I was dying but no one knew or cared because I was shrinking. One night I was triggered by my family drinking and getting belligerently drunk. I had a gnarly binge and purge session and the next morning I called my mom crying telling her everything I had been doing. She got on the phone and found me an outpatient eating disorder center, Eating Disorder Center Fresno. I went through months of intense outpatient therapy and I worked with a registered dietitian. That was the start of my recovery 3 years ago.

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Now that you are in recovery you have found the body positive movement. What does it bring to you?
Body positivity has brought me to the next stage in my recovery, self-love. Even after being in treatment I still struggled with “wellness” diets and intuitive eating. More recently I have started to look at bodies like mine in pretty dresses and bikinis and it has helped me love my body more and open my closet up to more than lack oversized frumpy clothes the world has tried to keep me in. The body positive message has given me a new lens to see myself through. I am worthy of love and life no matter my dress size!

Something that is brought up in the body positive community is the idea of thin privilege, meaning you receive more benefits because you are thin, you are usually white and able bodied as well. What are your thoughts and experiences with it?It makes me sad that our society has so much tied up in sizes and outward appearance. It also makes me angry that people that adhere to society’s beauty standard are rewarded and given more opportunities. When I lost a bunch of weight people treated me different. I got free drinks at bars and men hit on me at grocery stores. I worked retail at the time and people were friendlier and open with me. When I gained the weight back I went back to being invisible. Since I have seen the effects of thin privilege I never want to go back, I never want that fake love again. I started to question why everyone was in my life and the truth was damaging. Now everyone in my life loves me for exactly who I am right now. They want me to be happy no matter what I eat and no matter what size I am.

People have said they are accepting more fat people and more plus models are being seen in the fashion world, but it’s believed they are the “smaller” and therefore more acceptable fat people? Do you see that too? I feel like this makes me even madder than thin privilege. Our bodies went from not being acceptable at all to, well we’ll accept you if your ass is bigger than your waist and if your boobs stick out further than your stomach. And we’re going to package this as a super sexualized acceptable image. Marketing is the worst!!! Someone finally caught onto how lucrative the plus size industry can be and now more stores offer “plus size” yay right? NO, they pick models that fit the acceptable plus size and they often only mildly fit into our clothes. I buy clothes online and only have a thin plus size model as reference, but my body does not look like hers so it’s always a gamble if it’s going to fit. It’s maddening, you want my money but won’t be realistic about who I am? No thanks, I will shop at stores that value my body and include all shapes and sizes. Mod Cloth, Torrid, Forever 21 plus have all been amazing brands I stand behind.

Why do you think size acceptance is so hard for most people?I think the majority of people are sheep, I think they consume popular opinion and allow marketing and social norms to be their thought. I heard a quote somewhere, “stand for something or you will fall for anything” and I truly believe this. Most people don’t have the voice to speak against popular opinion and I get it, it’s hard. I dedicated many years of my life not accepting my own body and put it through so much to try and fit in and take up as little space as possible. I think fatphobia is so ingrained in our society. Fat people are underrepresented and demonized by doctors and the so called health professionals. Of course, it’s hard to accept something you never see in a positive light.

What’s it like to be in the middle of beach season and constantly hear that you need to get your beach body? Hahahaha I saw a meme that had the cutest little chunky baby in a bikini and it said “the beach will get whatever body I give it” yesssss queen!! I am gearing up for a 4thof July lake get away with my family and I just bought the cutest floral peplum swim top with black bottoms and I can’t wait to live in it for the weekend! The body positive movement has helped me find things I am comfortable in, so my mind and body are ready for beach season!

Social media is a major part of our world today and for me that’s how I found the body positive community. Tell me about your journey with social media. Oh man, my journey with social media has been a rollercoaster. I used to obsess over fitspo pages and I lived for “Transformation Tuesday” where previously heavy people show their before and after. I thought that would be motivation to get myself in gear. It only furthered my eating disorder and continued to stigmatize fat bodies. Fitspo turned out to be counterproductive to my mental health and manifested in more disordered behavior physically. I am happy to say that I have since deleted any and all fitspo pages and have even unfollowed people that are actively participating in diet culture. I had to say goodbye to some of my favorite makeup artists but hey, my mental health is more important than their Kylie Jenner eye shadow pallet review. I have started to fill my feed with bodies that look like mine doing amazing things and living life fearlessly. Representation matters!!

You are the one that turned me onto FoodPsych the podcast and you speak highly of her discussion of intuitive eating. What has that done for you? My intuitive eating journey has been a true life saver. On an episode of FoodPsych a guest speaker and registered dietitian told a client that had tried everything, “No you haven’t, have you tried not dieting and listening to your body’s natural hunger ques?” I thought my head was going to explode. Up until that point I thought I had tried everything too, except not dieting. From that point forward, I started to listen to my body. I started to eat when I was hungry and eat what sounded good and what my body was craving. I started to listen and stop when I was full. I think it has been about a month maybe a little longer that I have been intuitively eating and OMG how amazing it feels to not stress on food! Food and meal prepping used to be a total mind fuck. I would get down on myself for wanting chicken strips and fries but then still eat it then which would send me into a restrict/binge cycle. It was hell on earth and the devil was chicken strips! How ridiculous does that sound? I don’t even want to think about how much of time I have wasted being hyper focused on what I food I do or don’t put in my mouth. I could probably have a PHD by now if I used that time better! Now I have a bowl of ice cream after dinner if I want and its ok. I allow myself french fries when they sound good and the craziest thing that happened when I gave into my bodies wishes, was that it started working properly and I stopped binging. I don’t know if I have lost weight and I don’t care. I don’t know if what I’m doing will result in weight loss, but I do know I have started to enjoy the world around me with the people I love and for that I am super thankful for all of the amazing woman and men that started to pave the way for body positivity and a more inclusive world. Lord knows we have a long way to go as a society, but I am happy to say I am doing my part by being the change I want to see.             

Last question. You are a strong, independent woman who seems to get things done but now you are in a relationship. So, what if any part does your partner play in yourself love and care?I used to think I didn’t need a man to feel pretty and love myself and I guess a portion of that is still true. However, I managed to find a unicorn of a man that has planted himself in the center of my world. He has become my biggest fan and encourages me to love myself the way he loves me. He has never made my weight an issue or pushed me to be anything other than what I am. Well he has asked me to pick up my dirty clothes off of the floor since we live together now. He met me fat and has loved me unconditionally since then. His unconditional love has given me more confidence to go into the world and love myself. He is my safety net and at the end of the day he will be there to hug me and tell me I’m worthy of love. He’s a confidence boost and another member in my support team.

Thank you so much to Reina for sharing herself and reminding us that a good diet is no diet at all! Yassss queen.

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If you would like to contact Reina for her artwork or just to say hi her find her on instagram or twitter at @missrei89