My Body, My Host: How I Have Hated You

I have written my body with many voices. I have written it sideways and from underneath. I have recorded it from the outside while shuddering at what is inside. I have recorded from the inside while shuddering at my outside. I know myself, my scars, the physical and emotional layers I carry. I mourn what is lost and mull over what is gained.

Rarely  have I viewed my body with joy.

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How can I love my body with all it has been through? How, when I have been taught by countless ads, images, voices, actions, adults and children what my body is, can and will be?

My body. My host. Oh, how I have hated you. You are the greatest betrayal. I remember the shame of you from my earliest days. You came with an unforgivable cleft. You were born ready to receive and for every day of your existence earthside, you have shivered in the sun waiting to be told if you are too covered or too bare, too fat or too thin, too prudish or too loose, too hairy, too dimpled, too happy, too angry, too hungry, too, too, too, too. It ended only when you began to denigrate yourself by passing along the shame to your daughter/sister/mother/neighbor/stranger. You reflected onto them what you accepted about yourself. This truth:

I am unlovable.

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I believed this in my lover’s arms and while my children snuggled on my lap and covered my face with kisses. I believed it even as my babies requested that I marry them and offered me plastic rings from milk cartons. I danced through their celebrations of their love for me and their declarations of my beauty while telling myself I am unlovable because of the revolting, imperfect mess of my physical being.

If we can’t love our bodies, how can we love ourselves?

My female experience is typical: at 10 I was bullied over body hair. At 12 I began dieting. At 14 I began starving myself. At 15 I cut words into the tenderest portion of my ankle because I deserved the pain. At 16 I bounced back and forth between starving and bingeing. At 19 I joined Weight Watchers but was so strict with my eating plan I dipped back into anorexia and had to stop. I once again began bingeing.

At 23, I felt in control. I was less ashamed of my body because I was pregnant and the people around me stumbled over themselves to hold open doors or compliment my “glow.” At 24, my son was born. Though I did nothing to help it along, I lost 75 pounds while breastfeeding. I was overjoyed at the rapidly declining numbers, but I was aghast when I looked in the mirror. The world had made a promise that my skin would “snap back.” Magazine workouts assured me my “pre-baby body” was within reach. Even a decade later, after a dedicated fitness routine and cosmetic surgery, that body is unattainable.

There was a choice to be made: I could starve. I’m very good at not eating. I could continue to binge. That is how I prevent myself from starving. Or I can learn to love myself just as I am right now.

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Self-love is a complicated tactical procedure which requires training and perseverance.

It is a path locked behind a poison-coated gate hidden in a thicket of thorny brambles. Getting here hurts. It has opened wounds I have hidden with makeup or slimming clothing or buried in peanut butter and ice cream.

But here I am, through the gate. It’s empowering to respond to the never-ending body-negative remarks of well-meaning friends and family with, “I know I’m beautiful” or “You are beautiful. Tell yourself that because it’s true.”

Here I am I would be honored to work with you.

I found this place by putting my body on the page.

And now I get to work with a group of women as we write about our bodies, what we hate, fear, miss or wish to let go. We will write to destroy what no longer serves us, and we will write a new story for ourselves in which our physical experiences are validated not only with acceptance, but with love. Because women should lift each other up–let the internal and external competition go, begin defining ourselves with wonder and be excellent to each other.

If you’d like to put your body on the page in a safe group setting, read more about my upcoming retreat here.

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15 Discussion to this post

  1. Russ says:

    Self-love is a hard place to reach, but a freeing path to walk. Blessings as you continue to walk that path.

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  2. Mary Rowen says:

    This is beautiful, Shawna. I relate to so much of it. You are a beautiful person inside and out. Thank you for writing this.

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  3. Rosemond says:

    Thank you for sharing. How can we love ourselves if we hate our bodies? I am now 50 and have spent decades hating my body and measuring it against unreal standards. I struggle to remember that this body is strong and a gift to be treasured.

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    • Shawna Ainslie says:

      There is always some part of our body to be honored. I think one great flaw in marketing to women (and thus the body culture developed) is that items (bras, swimwear, pants, A-line skirts) are aimed at making your whole body “perfect.” Right there is an assumption that there is a “problem area” that must be “corrected” when the standard isn’t even reality. Julie Anderson and Jackie Cioffa (models) have both written about how the body we see in magazines is not the body that was photographed. All media is pointed at telling us there is something wrong with how we are but if we keep sculpting and chipping and exercising and counting calories we can achieve “perfection.” I’m rambling a bit. I apologize. But how can we love our bodies? The first step is to find our natural voice, the one tucked under layers of toxic messages. Then we need to turn up the volume. My method of doing that is putting my body on the page.

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  4. Thank you for writing this! As is often the case, words really do fail to convey how deeply this post touched my life.

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    • Shawna Ainslie says:

      Thank you for being here, Rachel. Voicing these topics are difficult, but I love that we can come together in support of one another when it happens.

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  5. Thank you for expressing this body-hate issue so clearly and passionately. I have wasted so much engaging in this war against myself. I’m sure your retreat will be wonderful.

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  6. Norah Colvin says:

    Coming to accept that you are good enough can be difficult. I’m sure your course asking others to put their bodies on the page will be of great benefit. It takes courage to share.

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    • Shawna Ainslie says:

      Norah, Absolutely! I have a number of unpublished pieces on body love and body un-love waiting for their day in the light. There is much to say. My heart is open to help my upcoming group write their beauty.

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  7. Kate Spencer says:

    I feel the confidence you gained in your journey to be you. A heartfelt post. While we can rationalize away the media impact, it is so much harder to overcome the remarks from family and friends and sometimes even strangers that we meet. I loved the line, “It’s empowering to respond to the never-ending body-negative remarks of well-meaning friends and family with, “I know I’m beautiful” or “You are beautiful. Tell yourself that because it’s true.”

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    • Shawna Ainslie says:

      Kate, yes! It is hard not to become what is drummed into us–or at least see that warped version when we look in the mirror. Thank you for being here. 🙂

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  8. Charli Mills says:

    It all begins so young before we have the capacity to understand why. Writing is recovery. Writing empowers. Thank you for sharing your experience, and for coming to the conclusion you are indeed good enough!

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    • Shawna Ainslie says:

      Charli, Why is it such a hard conclusion to come to? I’ve worked so much on self-love and forgiveness. I’m happy I get to share with wonderful souls like you. <3

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