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my own letter to my body + all bodies
Here's to a little vulnerability on a Thursday.
Today I’d like to address our relationship with growth. I’ve been critical of you growing since I was young - fearful that change in you would result in too much of me. Too much to love, too much to look at, too much to accept. And yet I have been proud of my growth in other areas - in my ability to learn, ability to change my mind, ability to see and appreciate new things. Why is this? Where did I learn this? That growth in some areas of life are okay, but you, my body, becoming a teenager, an adult is somehow a failure. A sign that I didn’t have enough control or self-respect. I am proud because we’ve done a lot of work on this. I’m incredibly grateful that our relationship today is healthier than I can remember in my childhood, teenage years, or young adulthood. But I’m here to also state what it took to get here and to acknowledge the hurt that existed in that process.
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I grew up completely aware that for most adults in my life fat was to be feared and avoided. I watched family members I love berate their own bodies and glorify the small bodies in the room. Diet talk was rampant at any gathering, how to change your body has always been a common topic of conversation. At the time, my small, childhood body was safe - I was told explicitly and implicitly I was/am lucky to exist in a small body - but I was also told to beware of the future body I could possibly grow into. The body type that was common in my family, and therefore genetically probable for me, was scary. To be avoided. Would mean that I failed in keeping my good body. Body, I’m sorry that I believed this narrative. I’m sorry that I didn’t push back against the belief that only the smallest bodies are loveable. I’m sorry for hating you when I felt that we weren’t meeting those arbitrary standards.
As a pre-teen, I remember being in a swimsuit and having someone point out a change in my stomach - they congratulated me on finally having a roll, fat showing more visually on my frame. I wish that was a real, authentic congratulations - a celebration of the miraculous nature of bodies changing. Instead, I remember wondering how I could make that go away - it is my strongest memory of realization that my body might not exist in the “okay zone” forever. I remember grappling with the fact that although I had maintained the privilege of thinness up until that point, I may not be able to guarantee that privilege forever. I remember the body checking, the intensity of wanting those positive body acknowledgements back. The fear that I was already too far gone, that my body needed to become smaller, more like my younger body, in order to be seen as okay. Change was scary. Growth was scary. Body, we were so young when this all started. Still a kid when this fear was already so consuming. My heart hurts knowing that this experience is not unique. That so many children grow up in fear or contempt for their own existence in a body that doesn’t perfectly match the current standards for beauty.
I looked back through pictures today - trying to find pictures of just myself, pictures that showed my body throughout the years. But it was hard to find pictures of just myself. It was especially hard to find pictures where I wasn’t hiding behind someone else. And in many of those pictures I can remember what it felt like to want to capture the memory, but not to capture my [believed to be] imperfect body. To find new and more creative ways to join the picture, but not have my body show. I remember looking at the pictures at the time feeling so critical of how my body existed, angry that there were places where bones or fat protruded, that my jeans didn’t perfectly hug my body like the celebrities I saw, that my teeth were crooked, or my hair was flat. And today I looked at those pictures with care and respect for who I was. I looked and felt sadness for the young person who wanted so desperately to be seen as acceptable, loveable, beautiful.
Body - we changed in college despite believing that reaching 18 meant reaching a place of permanence. I can laugh now that we basically went through a second puberty between our sophomore and senior year. So much for 18 being the body we could trust to stay the same indefinitely. The talk of freshmen 15 and avoiding college weight gain was so intensely worrying at that time. It makes me sad that I still remember the numbers on the scale as my body changed year by year - and each time how panicked I felt trying to figure out how I’d get back to those acceptable, smaller numbers from before. And guess what. The changes have never stopped. Body, you are different today than last year, than at 25, than at 21, and different from 18. And thank goodness I have more peace with that fact. Thank goodness we did the work of finding worth in other parts of ourselves. Thank goodness I am both bigger than I’ve ever been and the most at peace with my body. It’s funny how body image can be that way - that the way to feel more confident in your body is almost never about making yourself smaller to fit your idea of what you’re supposed to look like. It’s actually about finding the things you love about who you are. Truly loving yourself has little to do with the number on the scale.
Body, we didn’t deserve to hate ourselves. Not only because we have existed in a generally recognized as thin body throughout life, but because no person deserves to feel that their worth is revokable if their body changes. Or that they can earn that worth by making themselves smaller. Because our life was smaller when we were striving for small, thin, feminine, delicate, not too much. We had less time/energy/compassion/thought to give others and less to give ourselves.
Building ourselves up to confidence has taken time and effort that I wish didn’t have to be the case for so many people. I spend so much time wondering how we can take away this particular pain for others. There is sadness, anger, frustration, hope, loneliness, and pain that lives in the perpetual pursuit of thinness. And yet it is something that is so incredibly normal - the pain of either eternally working to change your body or the uphill battle of body acceptance. But what would happen if we all decided to actually accept ourselves. If we decided that we don’t need to live in constant battle with our own bodies and instead worked toward compassion and love for our bodies. I would love to find out.
Body - what does our future look like? I guess what I want is to embrace our continued growth - to embrace age climbing higher as a signal of a life well lived. I want to see our life experiences in our skin, wrinkles, and greying hair. I want to welcome the way you change with the seasons of life to prepare me for the coming years. I want to see beauty in exactly how I show up in the world - not looking to alter my beauty to fit the current trend in the industry. I want to spend less time, less money, and less effort on making us appear to fit the molds of some other body type or complexion. I want to exist in a way that gives other people the same freedom to be themselves when they are with me.
Body - I want to thank you for forgiving me for the ways I treated you in the past. For being resilient. Thank you for being with me while I found my way to accept you. I know we may not always meet the current, trendy beauty standard or maintain perfect health, but I know that you are the vessel I have to live the life I desire. So, thank you for being mine.
A very important acknowledgement that my existence thus far in a smaller body means that the way I perceived and was impacted by fatphobia is different than a person in a larger body. For someone who exists in a larger body, fatphobia is discrimination. The perception that your body is too big as a thin person is harmful but is not the same as experiencing bias and discrimination as a fat person. (I consider fat a neutral descriptor, something that describes your body similarly to being a tall person, a blonde person, or a thin person. You can find more information here). This is a story of my own experience of body image and it will likely look different than your story in some ways and similar in others. If reading about disordered thoughts about bodies is not supportive to you at this time, I encourage you to pass on this post.
If you would like to share your own body image story, an idea for a future post, or ask a question, please use this link!