|Image from already pretty.|
“Think of an experience from your childhood. Something you remember clearly, something you can see, feel, maybe even smell, as if you were really there. After all you really were there at the time, weren’t you? How else could you remember it? But here is the bombshell: you weren’t there. Not a single atom that is in your body today was there when that event took place...Matter flows from place to place and momentarily comes together to be you. Whatever you are, therefore, you are not the stuff of which you are made. If that does not make the hair stand up on the back of your neck, read it again until it does, because it is important.” - Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion
Heather Minter, as you know her, is really just a compilation of data passed along from cell to cell. “Hello, new cell, welcome to the body, you’ll be a part of the liver. Be strong, this woman enjoys wine. Enjoy your brief stay.”
Apparently, I’ve been passing along the following data from year to year without realizing it. I’ve been playing a crappy radio station of information with a really cranky morning host who continues to tell the cells in my body the following messages:
“The knees are ugly. Keep them covered.”
“The arms are fat. Feel shame.”
“The belly is appalling. People think you’re a fatso.”
“The breasts are vastly inadequate.”
“Thighs should not slap together as yours do, you hate them.”
“You are weak and fat and lazy and hurt.”
I’ve been hating my body in so many ways for so long that I had come to believe that was normal, that hating my cells, hating the atoms that formed my knees, was a completely legitimate and acceptable thing to do. But it’s not. Our culture makes us believe that being a woman means feeling completely inadequate. We believe the marketing that surrounds us. Skinny is good. Stretch marks are bad. Large, perky breasts are good. Post-breastfeeding, soft breasts are horrific. We equate femininity with very specific standards. Legs should look slender. Thighs should never be thick. Bottoms should be round but not too round. Bellies should be flat and firm. Anything short of perfection should be chastised, mourned and, as much as possible, changed.
But, after reading Susie Orbach’s book Bodies, I am seeing my poor hated body in an entirely new way. I’m seeing how we’re sold standards and taught self-hatred. I’m understanding how we pass this along, without full consciousness, to our daughters and sons. We say it in the way we carry our bodies, in the small complaints we make, in the effort we put forth to try to meet a very specific ideal.
But now I’ve come to a few conclusions.
My body is sacred.
It is not hideous because it is soft. It is not beautiful despite its marks of motherhood - stretched skin and softness - it is beautiful because of them. The wrinkles on my face are not signs of weakness or ugliness - they are worn by experience and carry the story of the movement of my life, the smiles, the scowls, the sadness and the joy. My knees are not ugly. They were given to me by my Grandmothers. My natural hair color is not drab. It changes with the seasons. My skin is not too fair. I don’t need a tan. My skin is precious and protects my body. It deserves protecting. My thick arms and thighs are not shameful. They carry my story of triumph over pain, of recovery from disordered eating. My arms don’t need to be hidden. My thighs don’t need to be covered. My legs are strong. My body does not deserve the kind of treatment it has received for these past thirty-five years. Neither does yours.
I stopped dieting and started eating mindfully, feeding a body that needs yummy tastes and nourishing food. It’s not about letting go of standards. It’s about changing the standards to being my own instead of the ones I’ve been marketed my whole life. It’s about being healthy and present and loving myself enough to take good, loving care of my body and to create a collection of cells that is at peace, satisfied, well-fed, hydrated and rested.
I am enough.
After finishing the book, I somehow managed to damage my shoulder. Considering I lift a nearly fifty pound pre-K and two thirty pound toddlers every day at various times in various situations that do not necessarily allow for careful lifting with the knees, it’s no wonder I gave myself tendonitis. But I was ill-prepared for the pain. Apparently shoulder pain is particularly exquisite. I was also ill-prepared for losing the ability to use it. This left me angry. I couldn’t do all the things I normally do, all the things I felt I had to do in the time I felt they had to be done. Every attempt to use the damaged arm left me in searing pain. And again, I got angry - at my body, at myself. I quite naturally assumed I had done something “bad” to hurt my shoulder. I was angry at my body for failing me again. I was angry at myself for not taking better care of my body - for not being stronger, for not being more disciplined, for not being perfectly fit and healthy and strong. I felt shame for, once again, being in pain, for the way I feel like that pain publicly tells of my failures.
It’s this same anger I feel at myself for not being able to get by with less sleep, stay on top of the laundry, prepare gourmet meals in 30 minutes, do everything from scratch, sew my own clothes, find meaningful well-paid work, succeed as a professional, a wife, a mother, a neighbor, a friend.
My shoulder became this internal symbol of all that is wrong with me. I was frustrated and angry and sad. I bargained for quitting altogether, but that was not an option. I was forced to do what my husband recommended, “Just do as much as you can. Take it slowly. You might surprise yourself with what you can do.” I felt this was a completely ridiculous and insurmountable request and spent some time moping and sadly, slowly doing all the stupid things that needed done.
Two things happened.
1.) I grew to love going slowly. It turns out a lot of my time gets wasted in haste and ruined by urgency. All that stress, all that rushing, all that worrying was making time go slowly, increasing the misery, damaging the experience. Slowing down made me listen more, be more careful. And, most of all, it caused me to become much more patient and less frantic with the kids. And all of this made life a thousand times more enjoyable.
2.) I discovered I am enough. If I don’t exercise for a week because I’m in pain, I’m enough. If I don’t get all the cleaning done, I’m enough. If I need to ask for help, I’m enough. If I take a while to adjust to change, I’m enough. If the laundry sometimes sits in the washer and needs to be rewashed, I’m enough. If I forget to buy a birthday gift, I am enough. If I fail to be a perfect friend or call enough or plan enough or do enough, I am still enough.
This collection of self - all my memories, all my cells, all the air and water and food and data that comes in and makes up who I am - it is beautiful. Each moment, with every single breath, I am someone new. I don’t have to keep carrying the old stories, the old shame, the old standards. What’s more, I don’t have to pass these absurdities on to my kids. I am enough. This body is enough.
I’ve been researching and working on an essay about princesses and the way these unrealistic standards are marketed to our children. But I couldn’t begin to point any fingers until I looked at the messages I am passing along with my every movement, every eye roll, every not-so-subtle complaint about my body. I am the model. And this model is a size twelve, wrinkled, scarred, soft-bellied, stretched skinned, fair, dirty blond. And this model sometimes forgets, trips, rushes, snaps, and jumps to conclusions. But this model also laughs, plays tag, dances in public, eats delicious food, exercises, cooks, hugs and accomplishes more than she ever imagined, even with one arm.
Do you believe you are enough?
If so, how did you overcome the doubt?
If not, what holds you back?
[I highly recommend reading Bodies. I am also currently reading Good Enough is the New Perfect and am loving it. More on that later. Check out my current and highly recommended reads above.]