Though I can’t remember a time when I felt as if it was acceptable to like my body, I can remember the moment that I first began to dislike my body.
I was 9.
It seems especially fitting that I can’t really remember liking my body. For a long, long time, that is where things stood: I didn’t like my body, assumed others felt the same, and actively worked to get to a place where my body was worthy of being liked, or at least that is what I told myself. Honestly, it was just a series of attempts to change my body so that I could hate it less.
But hate it less was the goal; liking my body seemed downright impossible.
I know the origins of the dislike and they are deep-seated. Of greater importance to me is the way the dislike played out. For most of my life, I’ve seen everything via an internal lens of weight. To the outside world I present a picture of confidence and sass. It is my protective armor; a fake-it-til-you-make-it strategy that helped me to step forward in the world. At various times, that outside attitude did reflect my internal landscape. But never for very long.
Internally, the dialogue was often painfully critical. I avoided mirrors and photos; I assumed that entire categories of clothing were off-limits for me because of my body. I could (and can!) look at other people and see a whole person whom I value and see as beautiful because they are human and I value them as a person. But that was rarely the case when I looked at myself. Then, all I could see was a catalog of disappointments.
Pregnancy, and healthcare by an amazing midwife, did help me for a while. I delivered a healthy baby and vowed to make sure I didn’t pass on my body hate to him. But that was the goal: not to actually like my body but to make sure my son didn’t hate his.
I devoured books about a healthy body image and, for the most part, I think I was a success on the body image front when it comes to my son. But when it came to me, the dysfunction seemed like it had become a part of my DNA.
A few years ago, when a podiatrist was treating my exercise-induced heel pain, he pointed out the high arches and narrow heels of my feet and asked if it was hard for me to find shoes that fit comfortably. I replied yes and mentioned my weight and he looked at me and said, “no…..I’m talking about your high arches and narrow heel.” For the first time in my life, I realized that my feet are just odd, not a function of my weight.
I was 44.
I know that shaming people about their bodies is wrong and dangerous. I also know that it happens all the time. In the last year I have begun to pay attention to women associated with the body positivity movement. I like and admire them and their work. I see them as amazing human beings with bodies that fuel their outspoken presence in a world that rarely welcomes women who step outside the limits of constrained social norms for female bodies. When I feel like I am part of something hopeful for women. That is a significant transition for me, one that is the outcome of years of hard work to undo the impressions first made on 9 year old me.
It doesn’t always come easy and these days I suspect that it never will. But honesty demands that we value all of our bodies for what they do for us. It means giving myself permission to eat alone in public and wear the clothing I like. To wear a swimsuit. It means being willing to be in photos and not flinching from them (okay, this remains a challenge). It means making a concerted effort to like my self without apology. To take up space and feel and believe that I deserve to do so.
And so I do.