I remember as a child seeing my size 16 post-four-children mother lie reading on her side on the couch and thinking how beautiful her curves were. She was like a renaissance painting to me. Or when I was walking behind her up the stairs and was mesmerized by her swaying hips and voluptuous behind and thought to myself that I would like to be as beautiful as her when I grew up. But it turned out, I was wrong. That wasn’t the way she or I should look at all. Her mother before her was a petite, small-minded woman whose main aim in life was to be attractive, well-coordinated and to be the envy of others. Women who were not attractive were to be pitied and others who didn’t comply with fashion ideals were scorned. She constantly reminded my mom to suck in her belly and she put hairbands over my ears to keep them from sticking out.
I watched my mother and her friends diet constantly growing up. They went to Weight Watchers, low-carbed, counted points, calories, enjoyed temporary satisfaction when they had managed to be “good” for a sustained amount of time and would “reward” themselves with treats when they lost weight. This was the way women should be, I soon learned. Reward, punish, control, deprive, bargain, scrutinise, congratulate, berate, stick-to-it, push through, treat, fall-off-the-wagon, squeeze. Disappointment, exhilaration, relief, depression, failure, exhaustion. The end of the diet cycle usually begins with the words “fuck it.” And then they begin all over again. This was what women should spend their time doing, obsessing over and striving for.
I was very active as a child, constantly hungry and wishing there was more food available in our kitchen. By the end of primary school, I was thin and flat-chested and was bullied mercilessly. By my second year of secondary school, I hit puberty and with that came the inevitable curves. I was bullied for this also. By sixteen, I started a part-time job and I spent most of my money on food, luxuriating in the fact that I now could eat whatever I wanted, not like when I was younger. I was soon pulled aside by my father who said I should lose some weight. The shame and self-loathing that washed over me was overwhelming and lingers on in my mind and heart.
Throughout my teens and twenties, I often naturally lost weight in the summer due to being more active. I was slim, tanned, intoxicated with hormones and addicted to the flattering attentions of guys. One summer, I became infatuated with one of my friends who liked me back. He saw me again that December, pasty and back to my normal weight, and his feelings for me evaporated. There was my ex-boyfriend who “loved” me when he could be proud and show off my slim body to others and and was ashamed of me when I was overweight and dared to wear a bikini in front of his friends. Or my dad who only posts old photos of me when I was slim and doesn’t post the new ones but constantly shows off my slimmer sisters. Or well-meaning friends who say “You look great; have you lost weight?” Or colleagues who casually mention the newest fad diet and ask if I would be interested. Up until now, as my weight has vacillated constantly, so has other people’s – both men and women, friends, family – treatment of me. And now, this much I know: when you find your worth in how you look and the reaction that provokes from others, it can be an unstable, insecure and deeply unsatisfying existence.
So, what now? I am at my heaviest weight ever. I am medically obese and long to be a healthy weight but I am overwhelmed with how complicated my feelings are around my body and what I eat and don’t know where to start. I have done therapy and need lots more to work through the layers. I’m still not sure about my elfish ears that my grandmother so disliked. Or my saddle-bags that my ex thought I should work on. Or my fat ass that I get affectionate slagging for. It all hurts. And yet. YET. I know that one day I can eventually live freely and lightly. Nutritious eating and exercising and resting and self-caring will someday be as natural, uncomplicated, life-giving and anxiety-free for me as sleeping. And I long for that day to come quickly.
The stretch marks, cellulite, broken veins, dimples, freckles, moles, lumps, thinning hair, crows feet, short ‘n lumpy legs are all just as much a part of me as my sparkling blue eyes, my long neck, high cheekbones, big breasts and small waist. My body tells some of my story. It is my vessel that carries everything I have been and am in it. My body can do amazing and destructive things. My body is not an ornament but an instrument. It allows me to give hugs, work hard, create, make love, play, feel nature, bear children, to dance. It allows me to live and to love and to feel and to experience.
So I remind myself yet again for today: my body is me and I am beautiful, loved and worthwhile; I always have been and I always will be, no matter what.
– by an anonymous woman