September 08, 2014 12:00 PM

Plus-Sized in Politics

The women’s congressional gym happened to be closed for renovations, so I had to work out in the men’s. [While I was] on the elliptical, many of my older male colleagues felt compelled to offer advice, such as this gem: “Good thing you’re working out, because you wouldn’t want to get porky!” Thanks, a–hole.

The prize comment came from a southern congressman who said, as he held my arm, walking me down the center aisle of the House chamber, “You know, Kirsten, you’re even pretty when you’re fat.” I believed his intentions were sweet, even if he was being an idiot.

After Henry was born, my gym time vaporized in a cloud of obligations and then my whole life kicked into yet a higher gear when I was sworn in [as a U.S. Senator] on January 26, 2009. I received an education in what New Yorkers thought of plus-sized me. One day I met with a labor leader to get his advice. He said, “When I first met you in 2006, you were beautiful—a breath of fresh air. To win [the special election], you need to be beautiful again.”

I knew I was too heavy for my own health. I got my daily workout back on my work calendar, telling my staff that the first hour of every day after I dropped my kids at school had to be for exercise, no debate about it. I also hired a nutritionist and wrote down everything I ate. After I lost that 50 pounds, one of my favorite older members of the Senate walked up behind me, squeezed my waist and said, “Don’t lose too much weight now. I like my girls chubby!”

Appearance and how much to think about it is a never-ending question and I haven’t put it to rest myself. But I’ve learned that how I look and feel is important, for reasons beyond health and vanity. If I look and feel good, I’m more positive and confident and people are more likely to listen to me. If more people are listening, I have more power to fight effectively for what I believe in.

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