You guys. This post. I just can’t even. When Karissa first sent it to me I immediately responded with this mondo email chronicling my own constant battles with my body, my weight, and my eating. For me, they all started at summer camp the year I was ten when I was playing soccer and a boy behind me said to his friend, “Hey look! That girl’s butt jiggles when she runs.” I don’t think there’s been a day of my life since then that I haven’t been self-conscious about my body. So many of us have those stories. So many of us need this post. There are so many things I admire about Karissa as a writer and as a woman, and her ability and willingness to tell these truths here today is one of them. Soak this in, friends, and then be sure to head over and subscribe to her blog. She’s doing some great and beautiful work there that you won’t want to miss.
I’m Thankful for My Body
You might think this is an inappropriate thing to be thankful for. But as a woman, I believe I’ve been taught to despise my body. The magazines at the grocery checkout teach me I need to diet, the photos of movie stars teach me I need to be a smaller size, and even my coworkers’ chatter in the teacher’s lounge teaches me I need to exercise more. We live in a world where only certain body types are praised, and mine is not one of them.
My husband and I were talking before bed the other night. “It makes me unhappy when I tell you you’re beautiful and you don’t believe it,” he told me. I tried to hold them back, but the tears came anyway.
Seventh grade: I have been living in Bangkok for a year and am applying to a new school. When I arrive at the uniform store, a Thai woman takes her yellow measuring tape and winds it around my hips. “So fat!” she exclaims. It doesn’t matter that as an American I am simply taller and bigger than most Thais (even the men). Her words scar. My body disappoints.
High school senior trip: My friend Denny and I stand shoulder-to-shoulder in front of the hotel room mirror in our bathing suits. We compare our bodies, inspecting the curves of our hips, turning sideways to see how far our stomachs stick out. “Who’s bigger?” I ask. “I think we’re the same,” she says. She’s Bulgarian; I’m American. We are the biggest girls in our grade.
My wedding day, 15 years ago: 128 pounds. Skinny arms that boast a bit of a farmer’s tan. I never considered trying to fix that. Hair: short, streaked with highlights, impossible curls. Size 8. I wear a fitted, straight wedding dress with a mandarin collar. The pearl-covered dress fits beautifully over my hips.
Today: I step on the scale before getting into the shower. 156.5. At the doctor’s office a couple of weeks ago, his scale said 158. “Losing ten pounds might help your heartburn issues,” he told me. I sigh and turn the water on. After showering and drying off, I inspect myself in the mirror.
Stretch lines stripe my hips. They look pink head-on, but silver if I turn sideways. Mom arms that jiggle. A waistline that pushes out of last year’s size 10 capris. Thighs riddled with cellulite. Size 12. Surely I won’t edge to 14.
Face: Round. Full cheeks, a double chin when I look down. Crows feet around my eyes when I smile, permanent shadows beneath my eyes, oily skin, makeup that rubs off by noon.
The problem is that I like food, and I don’t like to exercise much. If I stick to diets, I lose weight. But I have a hard time following through. One week I get up early every morning and lift weights. The next week I drink wine and eat Oreos every night.
When attempts to lose weight don’t work, I try to make my body seem more acceptable. I feel the need to apologize for how large my body has become, the need to soften the blow of thirty pounds gained. I get tattoos and dye my hair and layer on make-up. I research body types and try to dress for my shape: belts, flared skirts, empire waist dresses, fitted jackets.
Underneath it all, this one truth haunts me: I won’t be happy until I accept my body. My attempt to make my body more presentable to others is really just a way to combat my disappointment with myself.
So here I am, declaring it: I am thankful for my body.
My body is a gift, a vessel that brought two babies into the world and carried three into the afterlife. It is a source of pleasure, of help, of kindness, of love. My body is a gift, even to me, the gift of being present in the world in a physical way.
My son gave me this little questionnaire for Mothers Day:
“My mother looks prettiest when she is here.” Not when she’s got make-up on, not when she’s wearing a dress or after she’s lost ten pounds. When she’s here. My presence is beauty.
Observe: Arms that wrap around my children every morning. Round, full lips that give goodbye kisses. Hands that brush out long tangles in hair and wrap bandaids around toes. Feet that carry me with confidence into my workplace, where my face smiles at coworkers. Legs that take me up hiking paths and around playground walking tracks. Lungs that take in oxygen, skin that renews itself constantly, ears that notice the sounds of a world discovered.
I am learning to be thankful for my own skin: even its round softness, even its scars, even its imperfections. I am learning to be thankful for this gift that my husband calls beautiful, and to actually believe that myself.
PS- Sorry about the placement of these ads. Haven’t figured out how to move them yet!