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  • sydneyesmith89

Soft Girl Summer

Updated: Aug 7

This picture from 2008 recently resurfaced and has been making the rounds on social media platforms. About a week ago, I saw it for the first time in over a decade and I have not stopped thinking about it.

For those of you unfamiliar, this was the picture that damned Jessica Simpson to the tabloid annals of fatness and moral failure. The headlines blasted her for weight gain, and based on the recent rehashing of this photo, I was not alone in agreeing with the headlines at the time. This picture was shocking not just for how much she had ~let herself go~, but also for her undiluted audacity to look so happy and confident while subjecting us to . . . her body. Have some dignity and shame for gods sake.

I cannot overemphasize– I remember this photo. It’s visceral. And I remember others like it. Of Tyra Banks. Jennifer Love Hewitt. Kelly Clarkson. Britney Spears. Like I remember the outfit they were wearing when the paparazzi snapped the pic and the headlines screamed FAT FAT FAT OMG FAT!

I remember how PROUD I was of Nicole Ricci. Remember guys?! Her massive moral win? She finally made it. 😭

As a kid, it's not like I was entrenched in celebrity culture. No, these memories were formed solely by headlines in the grocery story checkout line, imprinting in my preadolescent brain and solidifying, as shameful images of FAT WOMEN continued to flash in my consciousness as I grew older.

I was obsessed with these celebrities’ bodies. Obsessed with my body. Obsessed with thinness.

One of my earliest memories (as well as earliest sources of wake-you-in-the-night-regret), was sitting in the car with my grandma. My mom, running a quick errand, had parked the car and jogged into the building we were parked in front of. My grandma turned to me in the back seat and pointed at my mom, telling me “Look! The way her arms wobble back and forth!”

I was meant to laugh, and I’m sure I did. And I absolutely did not miss the undertones of what our grandma was inadvertently teaching me about fatness. This was a failure of my mom’s and I was momentarily embarrassed for her. I don’t remember whether my grandma explicitly called my mom fat that day, but I do remember, my palms sweaty from the shame of the memory, later telling my mom what my grandma has said. I remember seeing it crush her.

Since that early memory, hearing my mom call herself fat was as ordinary as day. For a long time, I doubt I even expressed disagreement. I probably thought there was a kernel of truth in her self-judgement. My unformed brain supposed she could either repeat her self-condemnation over and over or she could do something about it. My grandma had settled the matter, and besides, I was already awash in the culture that is FAT IS BAD.

It’s worthwhile to note that my mom has ever been overweight by any measure.

By high school, these lessons on thinness and fatness were seated. At 14 years old, I’d run double-digit miles daily, singularly determined to stay small. I was terrified of fatness. I’d make a show of eating as much as I wanted, ever the cool girl. Later, I would tally how many total calories I’d need to burn to drop back under 100 pounds. My self image was rooted in my smallness.

I remember, for a part in a high school play, I wore a skin-tight full body leotard; this was back in the days where leggings were considered soft porn, so this was brave. But I had nothing to worry about–I was thin, and I knew I looked good. I remember how when I pulled my stomach flat, my hip bones poked daintily through my leotard. I remember a fellow actor friend wrapping me in an embrace backstage one night. The way he pulled back and said, pleasantly surprised, that he had never hugged somebody with such a petite torso. I rode on the fumes of this compliment for years. In that moment, I felt like I could be somebody.

After leaving high school, my lifestyle (and metabolism) changed significantly, and I entered the perpetual era of yo-yoing weight--up and down, up and back down again. Years are marked by numbers on a scale, memories of vacations filtered by what I looked like in a bikini that year. Over the past 15 years, my features have been angular and gaunt, they’ve been soft and rounded. They’ve been firm and sinewy and wobbly and FAT.

I’ve known which people in my life will comment on my body when I lose weight. They are my Welcoming Crew to the Land of Thinness and Goodness™️. I know I’ve finally arrived when I see the gleam of approval in their eyes. I log each compliment as if I’m gathering evidence to prove the case that I'm back. The Pants Fit Again! These people are also my Departure Crew, watching me waddle away as I re-gain the weight. They don’t have to say anything for me to know they've noticed--of course they have, because don’t I remember how proud they were when I lost it? I’ve disappointed them. They’re worried for me. Don’t I care about my health? Their concerned silence is damning.

I’ve implement rules in my life to punish myself for this failure. My favorite punishment has been to only purchase clothes up to a certain size. I’d tell myself it was a benchmark of sorts; I would know that when my clothes started to feel snug, it was time to drop weight again. And when I wouldn’t drop weight, the uncomfortable tugging and squeezing were reminders of my previous goodness and my present badness. I deserved the front wedgie, I deserved the feeling of nausea from the constant constriction around my waist. I deserved only having one pair of pants that "fit", and deserved the self hatred I felt seeing all my unworn size 0s hanging in my closet.

I've felt the need to apologize to anybody who saw me for making them look at a lil human sausage. At that weight in those clothes, I tried to make myself feel invisible, hoping nobody would see me and be disappointed, longing for the old Syd, the better Syd.


In the past five years, I've entered a life season of incredible growth. I didn’t arrive all at once, and it’s atop a mountain of self work I’ve been doing for years and years now (dare I say a decade?); the product of a continual effort to examine myself and be a better me. My twenties felt like absolute grunt work–I was trying so hard not to be a miserable piece of shit, and I was mostly failing, in ways that expanded far beyond just my body image (calling myself a “piece of shit” has, funny enough, been one of the self-descriptors I’ve since banned in the ol’ noggin).

What felt like an almost cosmic shift began the day I turned 30 (yes, the exact day), where it suddenly started to feel like all the face planting of my 20s was starting to pay off. Slowly. I was making small steps in improving myself. Figuring out who I was and what was important to me.

Each year, the confidence grows more robust. I have been finding my voice. Trusting my gut. Failing and learning. Going to therapy. Doing cognitive behavioral therapy. Making small incremental changes. The very kernels of beginning to love myself were welcome, and I’ve nourished them.

It hasn’t been until this summer that the confidence slowly seeping into all other parts of my life has caught up with my body image. And it has been glorious. Delightfully, this wave of newly arrived body confidence is also coinciding with my body being larger and softer than it was a year ago.

Body-wise, I’ve been here many times before. The shape is familiar, but the experience is brand new. Even at my thinnest, I have never looked at myself in the mirror the way I’m looking at myself now. With actual love. Without shame.


A week or so ago, I posted some pictures, nay, thirst traps, saucy self portraits that I took for no reason other than I felt hot and wanted to document it. I posted them with the caption: "Soft Girl Summer." I later found out that I did not coin “soft girl summer”and it means something different on TikTok--it's more connected with aesthetics and embracing femininity. For me, it’s not that. The expression fits the vibe of what I’ve been feeling this summer, so I’m reclaiming it. Here’s what Soft Girl Summer is to me.

Soft Girl Summer is:

Feeling good in my body for the first summer since I was a teenager.

Soft Girl Summer is:

BUYING CLOTHES THAT FIT. It’s a simple act of kindness that I have never allowed myself. The way it felt radical to purchase clothes that fit my body. The way it felt RADICAL to like the way I looked in clothes of a certain size.

Soft Girl Summer is:

Feeling VISIBLE. Fuck making myself invisible. I feel radiant, like the joy in my chest can’t help but meld with everything around me, whether I’m alone or not.

Soft Girl Summer is:

Recognizing my ol’ welcoming crew, and feeling compassion toward them. Recognizing that the perceived, silent judgement from them …might not even be real (?!?!); after all, I am no mind reader. It’s recognizing that even if a judgement were to be vocalized, that it has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with the life experience and world view of the person judging.

Soft Girl Summer is:

Recognizing the prevalence of fatphobia in everyday culture. Recognizing how deeply I've internalized it. Recognizing how much work I have left in letting that go.

Soft Girl Summer is:

Feeling less connected with this ➡,

and more connected with compassionate, encouraging, and uplifting self talk. Simply speaking to myself kindly has been a powerful force in my life, and I find myself so much kinder and more patient with others too.

Soft Girl Summer is:

Not apologizing or making excuses for the shape of my body, to myself or anybody else.

Soft Girl Summer is:

Accepting compliments. And not just robotically accepting them, but feeling the compliment. Savoring sweetness of somebody else's kindness.

Soft Girl Summer is:

Having so much extra space in my mind. It’s releasing myself from the completely pointless internal dialogues, admonishments, calculations.

Soft Girl Summer is:

Feeling so damn good in my mind and in my skin.

Soft Girl Summer is:

Soft. Deliciously soft.

Soft Girl Summer is:

🔥🔥🔥 HOT

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