I can distinctly remember the last time I remember liking my body without thinking about it. I was young, maybe seven, and I had just spent a day outside with my family picking sun-warmed raspberries, chasing after garter snakes that shook the tall grass, and squirting each other with the garden hose. After my bath, my mom combed my wet hair and I admired my belly and the way it stuck out in a perfectly rounded curve.
Marking and plotting the chain of events that lead to me thinking anything other than positive thoughts about my body, when I actually noticed my body at all, is a bit harder and more complicated than that.
Like Julia Church, Founder of body positive swimwear brand Nettle's Tale, mentioned on the brand's blog learning to hate our bodies is often not something so blatant -- it's the subtext that simmers quietly in the background of our lives from the youngest age.
It's catching a glimpse of the magazine your older sister is reading and seeing the headline "Lose 5 Pounds This Weekend!" It's watching women on TV exasperatedly whine and sigh about how they have nothing to wear because they gained 10 pounds -- even though they're still stick-thin.
It's in the way we talk about "willpower" and praise people who are thin and shower them with compliments about their looks and assume they're better, stronger, more worthy. Learning to hate your body is just a primer for learning to hate yourself; it's the training camp for a lifetime in the big leagues of always trying to be better.
That simmering in the background eventually reaches its boiling point and erupts when body hate boils to the surface. Congrats kid, you're a woman now. I remember the first negative thought I had about my body at around age 10. I felt cute that day, I remember, in my pleather snakeskin print skirt and strawberry ice cream-pink Britney Spears tank top. One of the older girls I was friends with told me that I'd be really pretty once I lost my baby fat since I had such a cute face.
I remember feeling embarrassed by my body and even mad at it for betraying me. As I swallowed my pride, nodded, and squeaked out a "totally" in response, her brother walked by and pinched the fat on my arm and ran away laughing. And that was the end of it.
I've been thinking a lot lately about what it means to "love your body" and if that's a goal that I should have or not. I've been thinking about what that entails and what it takes for someone to arrive at that destination of "body love" and if it's a destination at all or a journey. I've been trying to decide whether loving my body is a goal I should have or whether I should strive for the type of body neutrality I had as a kid, before I realized I should have thoughts, either good or bad, about my body.
I don't hate my fat body, but I hate the way that other people treat it and think about it and feel about it. That's what I hate most about my body.
Thinking back to the first time I felt shame about my body, I realized that it wasn't internal -- it was external. Even though I'd been picking up on that subtle messaging, I'd been resisting. I don't know if Tegan meant to purposefully make me feel bad about myself or if she was just regurgitating a line she'd been fed her whole life; but until she pointed it out, I hadn't yet seen my body as anything less than competent and enjoyable. It's something that sticks with me now: I don't hate my fat body, but I hate the way that other people treat it and think about it and feel about it. That's what I hate most about my body.
I've realized that, between the books about bodies my mom gave me when I started going through puberty and the current fat positive activism I find myself learning from daily, I have actually learned to love my body sometimes. I'm working towards the goal of "not feeling like garbage about my body" on a regular basis and I'm getting there. But it's a struggle and not because I inherently believe my body is bad or ugly or flawed.
My fatness has given me so much and it feels like a big deal to have said the words "I really like my body" out loud this week. And I do. My fatness has given me so many glorious things. My fatness has made me more fearless. My worst fear used to be being fat. Now I'm fat with gratuitous chins, fleshy thighs, a folded stomach, pillowy arms, salmon-colored stretch marks, the texture of my thighs defined by cellulite -- all of it, everything I used to be scared of. And I'm fine.
I like how my body feels and I like how I feel in my body -- I really do.
I like the softness of my body and the way that it looks in clothes and the space it takes up when I've spent my whole life trying not to take up space. I like how my body feels and I like how I feel in my body -- I really do. I wish people would just let me feel that way and, like, be chill about it.
Instead, there's the sidelong glances as I browse the racks at a straight-size store with my sister. There's the doctor who lectures me on my weight and BMI even though my blood work is great, my blood pressure is "that of a 12 year old girl -- in a good way", and my cholesterol is flawless. There's the way people talk to me condescendingly about "healthy eating" even though they don't know a damned thing about my life. There are the internet trolls who tell me that I deserve their abuse because they find me disgusting and that's what I get for "putting myself out there".
There is the mother and daughter who turn around in the market to openly laugh together at my culottes that show my visible belly outline. These moments, I don't feel shame about my body or my choices or feel the urge to apologize but I want to kindly ask people to mind their own business. Well, not so kindly, some days. They're what makes it hard to live in my fat body that I otherwise am learning to love and I just want to be allowed to do that.
I know that people's discomfort with someone who is happy, fat, and not actively advertising that they're trying to lose weight is often one of envy. When we're taught to only wear clothes that are "flattering" or that we'll only be lovable or beautiful or worthy if the scale hits a certain number, we derive value from that. We are taught to deny ourselves other pleasures -- eating things without feeling guilt, moving our body for the sake of moving it and not using it as a weapon against largeness, wearing that bikini we really want to -- in order to be treated as a human and seen as worthy.
My body is not a lightning rod for your insecurities.
When someone breaks the rules and dares to demand those things or feel good about themselves, their investment becomes devalued. I get it. But my body is not a lightning rod for your insecurities (oh, how I want to invite you to come with me and shed them) or your displeasure with the game we're all taught to play (let's quit it together, it's so fun over here playing the game we made up and the rules we break whenever we want).
We put the burden of loving every unique and diverse body on the person who owns those bodies. We tell people to have "self-esteem" and that "confidence is so sexy" and "no one will love you unless you love yourself", but I am learning that it's not enough. I am learning to love myself, but sometimes it's not enough. All the love I can give myself can't cancel out the hate that people have for fat bodies.
If we want to be real about changing the way that beauty is portrayed and what bodies are considered good, then everyone has to do the heavy lifting to normalize marginalized bodies together. Meet me halfway and we'll both be better for it, I promise.
This blog was originally posted on the Nettle's Tale Blog and had been reprinted with their consent.
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