“I try to love and respect my body no matter what I weigh.”

My body and I have had a love/hate relationship for as long as I can remember. I remember when I was younger hating my body because it was different than the other girls. I was short and stubby. My mother would tell me to stand up and suck in, so as not to seem so fat. Around third grade is when I realized, I could change the way I look. By third grade, I started off my first course of bad dieting. Eating carrots, soup, and crackers for months at a time. I equated losing weight to being happy. When I lost weight, I felt great. People would comment on how good I looked or how pretty I looked. Eventually, though, I would gain the weight again, starting the whole process over again.

The time that affected me the most, though, was just a couple of years ago. I was a sophomore and junior in college. I was already a vegan, but I decided that being vegan wasn’t enough to lose weight. At the point, I started eating less and less. I would eat a banana for breakfast, gum for lunch, and iceberg lettuce for dinner. I continued to work out. I quickly noticed my body starting to change, but I still wasn’t happy. No matter what the scale told me, I found myself hating my body and who I had become more and more. This sadness oozed out into my everyday life. I found that I couldn’t connect with people anymore. I couldn’t have fun partying or doing random things with friends.

I hit rock bottom when my doctor explained to me that I was ruining my chances of ever having a child. I had lost my period the beginning of sophomore year and had never gotten it back because I was lacking too many nutrients. At that point, I decided to see a counselor.

This was a changing point for me. While you always hear “love your body” and “you are beautiful”, you never really come to understand how reality is distorted by things such as music videos, magazines, the internet, etc. Everywhere around us, we are bombarded with pictures of women who seem so happy. They are thin, tan, and beautiful. Psychologists sometimes like to call it the halo effect. The halo effect is the assumption that persons who are beautiful are perfect. They have great friends, they’re nicer, smarter, etc. That is what I was attempting to do. I was attempting to become beautiful in my body, so that I could achieve this sense of perfection. If I had a beautiful body, then maybe I would have a happier life.

Nowadays, I realize that this mindset was not going to work out. The way my body looked didn’t have to affect my happiness. I could control that. Since that point I saw the counselor and on, I have still struggled with my body. Now, though, I try to love and respect my body no matter what I weigh. I cherish my friends, family, and experiences in life. I understand that I’m beautiful no matter what my body looks like. There is so much more to me. I’m not saying I have all the right answers, but I think I’m off to a good start with my body.

“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.”

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

“My body tells a story; not a story of a victim but one about a survivor.”

*Trigger warning for rape/sexual assault/self-harm/anorexia*

I’ve always been slightly proud of my body.

I’m gay, I have a very liberal attitude to sex and sexuality (I actually work in an erotic boutique!) and, while I’ve never thought my body was ideal, I know that I’m slim and I have nice boobs and a nice be-hind. I’m confident and comfortable in my own skin. It ain’t perfect, but it’s the only one I’ve got so I might as well love it.

I was sexually assaulted and then raped. My initial reaction was to not think about it. To bury it in the recesses of my mind and, essentially, run away, made sense.
I became anorexic and started self-harming. This was because these people, who had taken advantage of me, had so much control over me; even now, when I’ve not seen them for years, they control so much of my life.

I used to be bisexual – now I couldn’t consider having an intimate relationship with a man.

Sometimes, I’d be in a perfectly good mood, when BOOM, I’d start to cry, or to have a panic attack.

Starving or harming myself were forms of control: people who have hurt me controlled my sexuality, my emotions, whether I felt strong enough to out of bed in the morning. I had control over my weight and my physical pain.

I had all these scars over me, and I was dangerously thin. I hated my body. I looked in the mirror and loathed what I saw: a scrawny, scratched and scarred girl. Not the strong confident woman I knew and wanted to be.

Through counselling, support from friends, and learning to accept what happened to me, I got better. It took time and there were so many times I just wanted to give up, but I got better.

Through counselling, I learned not to put what happened behind me or to forget about it, but to confront it, accept it, and move on with it. I now see it as something which shaped me into the strong, confident, compassionate, caring person I am.
And that includes my body. I still use bio-oil to reduce the scars, and I’m no longer underweight, but I love my scars. My body tells a story; not a story of a victim but one about a survivor. Someone who was close to death, who cut herself and who punished her body and nearly gave up on everything and everyone, but didn’t.

My scars say: “remember that time, and be thankful for this time”. They say “you’re a strong, confident woman; you’re not that girl any more”. But most of all, they say “well done”.

“Woman’s body has been territorialised and yet we are held accountable for the violence carried out on our bodies.”

*Trigger warning for sexual assault/rape/anorexia/bulimia/alcohol abuse*

I was a thin child, undistinguishable from the other lads: a tomboy. The only girl out of a group of 13 who lived in each other’s pockets. We did everything together. I was accepted. Until that is, in the words of Jarvis Cocker: I became “the first girl at school to get breasts”, to menstruate. At the age of ten my life changed completely. Three of these boys stripped me naked in our local park: they grabbed my genitalia and breasts; they pointed at me; they laughed at me. In short, they colonised my body. Their gaze followed me throughout high school. They owned my body in the most negative sense: I became anorexic; I became a compulsive eater; I became bulimic. When I left school I also left the country. Still, I could not escape their mockery.

In my twenties I was raped after passing out at a party. I woke up to find a relative stranger stabbing my body with his penis. I told my mother. She blamed me: “this would not have happened if you had not been so drunk. Had you been leading him on?”, she asked. I did not speak to my Mother for a year. I was disgusted with her. I learned to deal with my obsession with food by turning to alcohol instead. Alcohol provided obliteration and a (very) short term confidence boost. It was a means by which I could have sex with partners who refused to believe I could not have sex with them due to triggering affects such encounters had on my mind. Obviously being raped should not be traumatic enough to dull the desire for a sensitive lover such as you! Such is the mind of man under patriarchy.

After getting lucky with a great therapist and much hard work and facing up to reality on my part I am now learning to befriend my body. I no longer abuse alcohol. This has been the greatest step in being able to realise my self-worth. I do not need to obliterate my feelings any more because they are largely positive. I desire lucidity because I want to remember all my experiences to the full. Occasionally, I still find myself obsessing over food but, fuck it! Who doesn’t! If I want to eat Nutella from the jar I will and I won’t feel guilty about it. I do, however, make sure that I exercise and have plenty of fruit and veg in my diet. Not because I want to become a rake but because I want to be healthy (both mentally and physically) and live for a very long time.

I have forgiven my mum, I have forgiven those boys, I have forgiven my rapist. I know why the world is a mess. Capitalism and patriarchy endorse the commodification of women. Woman’s body has been territorialised and yet we are held accountable for the violence carried out on our bodies. I know this and my empowerment comes from taking steps with other amazing. analytical-minded people to change this. When I do think on these people it is with pity and the knowledge that I am strong, that nothing can defeat me. I would not have this without the community of women I hold so dear. As I cry writing this it is with pride and happiness.

– by rouge