A Letter to My Body: Overcoming My Own Body Image Issues
When Suzanne introduced BlogHer's Letter to My Body project I was very excited to participate. Excited but nervous and scared, as well.
For so long I've struggled with body image and my very unrealistic expectations of how I should look and what I should weigh, and I didn't know how I would put my feelings into words.
I've felt similar feelings about my body as Angella has about hers:
You have never made it easy for me.
For as long as I can remember, I was referred to as a Big Girl. I was bigger than all of my friends. Taller, wider, thicker.
I was a regular kid who liked candy and Pop Shoppe pop. My Mom loved me to a fault. She did not want to deny me anything, for fear that I would choose my Dad over her. Any food, any treat, was mine to be had. I was never denied anything.
I had friends who were skinny. They could eat candy and drink pop and still retain those pencil-thin thighs. I was beyond envious.
My thighs were never pencil-thin. I had that inner thigh that swayed in the breeze and reminded me that I was not in the same class as the Pencils. I would pound my pillow while chanting, "It's NOT FAIR!" and hope that you would hear me. That you would ramp up my metabolism and let me be like the other girls. Candy and pop, and pencil-thin thighs.
You did not listen.
This made me so very, very sad. I would cry myself to sleep and wonder why my body hated me so.
Lady Beams is amazed at how reliable her body is:
Here we are after spending a half a century together, and I figure I know you pretty well. We've pretty much come full circle, the baby with her belly hanging out over her diaper, the little girl who was taller than almost everyone in her class, the blossoming young woman who quickly turned into "full figured", and the older woman who has once again turned into a body with her belly hanging over her underwear. You've taken me from being a kid to having 3, and I must say we got along pretty well thru all of them. We've gone thru menopause together and it was easy. No matter what I've done to you, you have always bounced back and been strong and reliable.
I used to revel in my body; it looked pretty fancy without much effort, it brought me pleasure, allowed me to feel good. The breasts came in a little early and I could have done without nasty people pinging my brand new brastraps. But perhaps it's good that they did because it gave me a little more time with a full pair before the mastectomy at age 28.
Didn't you know body, that you weren't supposed to let cancer in? That it was a baddie who you ought to have fought? I know I didn't go in for playing cops and robbers when I was a child, was that what you needed to teach you to fight baddies?
You did bad, you let me down, you're responsible for the lopsided mess that is now my bosom and yet you still didn't learn because you let Mr Cancer come back and set up residence in my bones and lung. How did he sweet-talk his way back in? Was a year's worth of hideous treatments not enough to teach you to attack Mr Cancer?
It's so hard to hate you, body, because you are me and hating you means hating me - but I do. I can't really bear to be with myself a lot of the time. I look away from the bathroom mirror when getting into the bath. I struggle over what to wear that won't show off a non-existent cleavage. You've cheated me - because the world out there thinks that women have *two* breasts - it's in the magazines, on the Television, in films, in fashion, it's instilled into every baby being breast-fed; it's on every woman I see walking down the street. You've turned me into the Non-Woman.
I had over a month to write my own letter to my body, but I hesitated and worried about what I should say. Each time I started writing, I would find something "wrong" with my letter and I'd start over. I thought that my letter had to be perfect. Then I realized my body image issues were carrying over to other aspects of my life, and it was time to end this obsession with perfection. Here's my letter:
For most of my life I've treated you terribly. For most of my life I've been unhappy with how you look. Growing up I never believed you were pretty. I constantly compared you to other girls. Your hair wasn't long enough. Your eyes weren't blue enough. Your stomach wasn't flat enough. You weren't a size four. You would never be a super model.
I'd like to tell you these feelings of inadequacy began in high school -- junior high even -- but I remember feeling depressed about you, dear body, in fourth grade. I still remember my tenth birthday and calling you fat for the first time.
Do you remember that day? Mother had taken us to a department store to buy a new outfit. I was trying on clothes in the dressing room, looking at your stomach and thighs in the three angled mirrors, and wishing you were skinny. You were the body of a typical ten year old girl, but I thought you were ugly. I didn't know that you weren't fat. I didn't understand that you were still growing. I didn't know you were healthy.
My perceptions were skewed by what I thought you should look like. Looking back now, I truly believe my first dressing room experience affected how I would look you for several years to come.
Every television commercial or magazine ad featured a thin, blond, green-eyed girl with sparkling white teeth. Those models always looked so happy, so confident, so beautiful. I believed it was because they were petite and thin. I thought they had the perfect bodies.
Those ads made me feel worthless. I hated you. You didn't measure up to the bodies of those girls. You were big boned and "hefty," as the school nurse called it. She tried to tell me not to fight genetics. That I should be happy with who I was, not what my body looked like.
Body, what you looked like affected everything in my life. I never went to prom because I didn't think you were thin enough to wear a formal dress. I stopped playing sports because I thought your thighs were huge and I didn't want anyone to seem them jiggle when your legs ran. I wouldn't be caught dead in a two-piece swimming suit because you had large breasts and wide hips and I couldn't risk anyone seeing my less than perfect body.
As I reflect on all of this, I get angry. Not at you, dear body, but at me.
I've spent twenty-nine years insulting you instead of cherishing you. You're the one constant in my life. My relationship with you is the longest I've ever been in and I treat you terribly. If I treated my husband this way, he'd have left me a long time ago.
I constantly insult your breasts, stomach, ass, thighs and arms. For ten years I forced you to smoke cigarettes. For too long I've shoved chocolate and potato chips into your mouth instead of all the healthy foods you need to function properly.
I've neglected you, yet you're still with me. Your heart still beats. Your lungs still breathe. You conceived and carried a beautiful child for nine months. I never thanked you for the wear and tear, and the pain you endured to deliver my precious baby.
I've never treated you with respect and honor. I've done nothing to show you how much I appreciate you. In twenty-nine years I've never told you I love you. Not once. But, I do love you.
I love your eyes. I love your hair. I love the freckles on your knees. I love the scar on your right arm, proof that you were able to heal from my gymnastic clumsiness in kindergarten.
I love your wide feet (even if it is hard to find shoes that fit them), because they've carried me everywhere I need to go.
I love your lips, they've given many kisses. I love your arms, they've given many hugs.
I love your stomach, stretch marks and all, proof that a little person lived there. I love your breasts that nourished my baby.
My deepest regret is not taking the time to tell you how much I love you and appreciate you before now. Thank you for sticking with me. Without you I'm truly nothing.
Writing this letter was therapeutic for me. As I dug through all the layers of my body, I discovered so many emotions have prevented me from loving my body. I had taken my body for granted, always expecting it to just be there without realizing what it does to keep me alive and well. It's empowering to discover how much I do love my body when I think of all it's been through.
I'm challenging you to write your letter to your body. Don't hesitate like I did. Don't worry about what to say. Your body is beautiful, imperfections and all. Won't you share your story with us? Please use Mr Linky to ensure we click to your blog to read your amazing letters.