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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.