Lifestyle

The Accidentally Fat Entrepreneur

Can you really judge a startup by looking at its founder? Is there a negative perception about fat entrepreneurs? Founder Natasha Clark considers the correlation between a healthy startup and personal wellness.

Musings From A Fat Female Founder

 

At my slimmest in 2001, my junior year in college.
At my slimmest in 2001, my junior year in college.

The fat girl moment. It’s one of those things that creeps up on you out of nowhere when you’re having a perfectly good day and backhands you into reality. Your emotions are a mix of “oh shit” and shame. We all have them. You’re in the dressing room in your favorite store and the jeans you try on are so tight you think you’ll explode from holding in your gut. Or the seasons change and the further winter progresses, the deeper you reach in your closet for your “fat” clothes.

I had that moment a couple years ago sitting on the table in my doctor’s office for my annual check-up. There I was happily dangling my feet and wondering if I had enough time on my lunch hour to rush to Dunkin Donuts for a coffee on my way back to work.

As my doctor checked my chart from his stool, he looked up at me and said, “Natasha, you’re obese.” And I remember sitting there thinking, “who the hell does he think he’s talking to? Me? Obese? How dare you!” I’d seen obese and usually it was during one of those docu-specials on the TLC cable network.  But he assured me I was and as he began to ask me about my eating and exercise habits, I started to have a fat girl moment.

I’ve never been thin but I haven’t always been fat. The first time my weight started to balloon was in college when I went from a size 12/14 to 16/18. And even then, if I wanted to shed a few pounds, I did. It was never anything that took much effort. If I felt my clothes getting tight, I would just say to myself I needed to shave off a few pounds, my mind seemed to register that and then slowly the weight came off. When I looked at myself in the mirror every day, I didn’t see a fat girl. I saw Natasha.

Flipping through magazines never made me feel awful about myself. If I saw something I liked, I checked to see if they made it in my size. If they didn’t – *shoulder shrug* – on to the next shopping item. I love makeup and nail polish, facials and massages. I am a woman who generally takes care of herself. I have always pretty much felt comfortable in my own skin. So when my doctor asked me how I gained so much weight, I said accidentally.

I know some will find this hard to believe, but not all fat girls spend their days stuffing their faces. My father was a diabetic and because of that, we didn’t keep many sweets in the house. So I grew up eating sugar-free candies and sherbet instead of ice cream. I hate crap like jelly donuts, pies, cakes and sodas. I always felt like that garbage would rot my teeth.

In 2010 when my weight started to seesaw again.
In 2010 when my weight started to seesaw again.

Where I fail, is fast food. I hate to be in the kitchen and I hate to prepare food. So I’ll dash from meeting to meeting and stop at whatever is fast along the way – not overeating, but eventually still packing on pounds in the process. As my career really started to blossom, the busier I became, the fatter I became. And there were spurts here and there where I would have a fat girl moment and spend the next few months working my weight down before I would fall into old habits, and the weight would reappear.

Being fat has never kept me from doing anything I wanted to do. The longer you are fat and OK with it, it’s a bit harder to justify losing the weight.

A Fat Entrepreneur?

When I started throwing my heart and soul into my startup, it took me out of my comfort zone. There was so much I didn’t know (and still don’t) about starting a company, that I am constantly riding the rollercoaster of awesome versus shitty days.

Pitching your company to hundreds of people, doing interviews – it makes you feel exposed. You’re out there for public consumption and ridicule. A year ago, as I began to ramp up my entrepreneurial endeavors, I decided to chop all of my hair off to start fresh and with my natural curls. I wanted to get down to the bone of who Natasha was mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically. That is when I first started thinking about my weight in a different light.

Was my weight an advantage or disadvantage to my success? Here’s a test: Name five of your favorite fat entrepreneurs? It’s a little tough. The ones that come to mind for me tend to work in the food industry. Even a person like Oprah has publicly battled the bulge and we all know the fallout with Paula Deen, her butter-heavy recipes and her admission to having diabetes. In a May 2008 article in Forbes magazine, Allison Van Dusen reported that “obesity could lower a woman’s annual earnings by as much as 6.2% and a man’s by as much as 2.3%.” The bias is usually most apparent during the hiring process when people are being evaluated.

Dropping weight again in 2012 and monitoring my progress at the gym.
Dropping weight again in 2012 and monitoring my progress at the gym.

Does that mean that investors or other professionals take me less seriously or look at me with less value than my thin counterparts? Can you really judge a startup by looking at its founder? When you first launch a company, you’re the everything behind it – the face, the visionary and the brainchild. Investors are not only looking to get behind your idea, but you as well. Is it safe for them to assume your lack of weight control could equate to you lacking in other areas?

I’m not sure. When I first started working for myself, one area where I was lacking quickly became apparent – my personal spending. All of those quick bites on-the-fly and caffeine refuels at Starbucks were adding up. Now that I was solely responsible for earning my wages, I had to become frugal. Once I started penny pinching and – GASP – making all of my meals at home, I noticed just how much money I had wasted on take-out and other things that weren’t necessities.

The more confident I become in leading my startup, the less I am enticed to do things that don’t positively serve my future – whether that’s buying crap food, indulging in extra glasses of wine (holy cow those calories add up) or not squeezing in time to exercise (just a little) and sleep. When I eat a more balanced diet and get plenty of mental rest, I am able to work with a renewed, purposed vigor I never had when I was overworking myself into the wee hours of the morning.

I share this to say that I don’t believe it’s all about the numbers on the scale. When I feel good, I execute even better. I don’t know how much weight I will lose as I continue my entrepreneurial journey, but I do know I don’t want to do anything accidentally anymore. I want to make all of my moves – whether in the boardroom or choosing my lunch – with intention.

About the author

Natasha Zena

Around age eight Natasha Zena was told it was a woman’s job to take care of the home and since then she has built a career out of telling women they can do whatever the hell they want to do. She is the co-founder of Lioness, the digital magazine for female entrepreneurs, and the first media outlet solely dedicated to helping women launch and scale high-growth startups. Natasha was recognized as an emerging leader in digital media by The Poynter Institute and the National Association of Black Journalists. She has mentored women entrepreneurs at a number of accelerators, Startup Weekends and conferences, including The Lean Startup Conference in San Francisco, Calif. Natasha is also the author of the popular whitepaper, "How To Close The Gender Gap In Startup Land By 2021." In her spare time, she writes short fiction and hangs out with her son, Shaun.

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