Why It Is So hard to Exist in a Body
It is so hard to exist in a body. Especially as a woman.
I have been hesitant to talk about body image and really just body stuff in general because it is such a sensitive and layered topic. But I keep feeling this pull, so I’m going to do my best to dive into it and slowly share more and more. I think it is important to name that we all have body struggles no matter what size or shape we are. And I know it can feel strange when someone with a lot of thin privilege talks about self love or body positivity or whatever, but I also feel like that’s a trap too. If this issue is plaguing all of us then we all need to be able to speak openly about it and our experiences otherwise the stigma remains, we stay quiet, and we never heal.
When I was younger I was lucky to not have to think too much about my body. I was tall and thin. I was a dancer and my body fit the ideal. I didn’t have to worry about what I was eating or how I was exercising because my body was what I needed it to be on its own. But, even still I was constantly internalizing messages either said directly to me or to those around me. The number of times older women would comment about how lucky I was to be built like I was, or how they remember the days of being able to eat what they want, or telling me to enjoy it while I can because sooner or later my body will turn against me. All of a sudden I was being told I needed to pay attention to my body and I needed to make sure it didn’t betray me. All of these tiny moments creaked cracks within me and my ability to trust and respect my body. My body became something to control.
Then all of a sudden, the longer I stared at my body looking for flaws and waiting for them to show themselves the easier it became to find them. Suddenly my very strong legs were no longer appreciated for how well they moved me across the dance floor or how high they let me leap, but now they were thunder thighs that I didn’t want to show in shorts. My ankles which lifted me on my pointe shoes were chubby and making me self conscious. My long arms which looked elegant at the ballet barre were gangly. My height was no longer an advantage but something to shrink.
So much attention was paid to my physical body that I created a connection between it and my self worth. My value as a young girl was the fact my body was long and lean. Therefore I needed it to stay long and lean. I felt confident that to be accepted and loved and paid attention to I needed to stay thin. But this wasn’t something I could speak out loud. In fact, if I ever mentioned I was struggling with my body or didn’t like the way I looked I was met with “What?! But you’re so thin!” (Just not thin enough). “I would kill for legs like yours!” (As long as they’re hidden. Appreciated for their length and not their bumps.) “Oh whatever, you’re skinny.” (Therefore the struggle isn’t real.) All of these comments made me feel like my inner turmoil about my body wasn’t legitimate. I was bringing it on myself. I had the shame of not liking my body because I didn’t think it measured up because I was actively being told it didn’t by society, classmates, strangers, etc., but then I also had the guilt of carrying these struggles because they were apparently in my head. (Again, no they weren’t- but we couldn’t say that part out loud), but also the confusion of knowing I didn’t actually bring this on myself, (But maybe I did? I for sure didn’t help.) It is actual insanity. The mental gymnastics is exhausting and often easier to ignore so I would just go on hating my body.
It’s not hard to imagine the chaos anyone would feel when their body starts to change in any way. Whether it is going through puberty, stress, simply aging, getting pregnant or going through fertility treatments, etc. our bodies change. But if we have a death grip on thinness and maintaining a specific size or shape then all of a sudden we feel threatened. Our fight or flight kicks in then we start to grasp at straws. Should I diet? Should I exercise more? Should I exercise harder? (Man. The fact that I believed for most of my life that a workout only “counted” if you were drenched in sweat and could hardly walk afterwards…it’s no wonder I have a complicated relationship with exercise and movement now!) And then someone inevitably makes a comment about our changing body…the negative self talk kicks up, we’re convinced we are flawed, and the cycle continues…
The amount of time I have spent thinking about my body, being thin, wishing I was thinner, wanting to change something about my size or shape, whether I should or shouldn’t eat something, if I would regret eating something, whether I “earned” the right to eat something, guilt about not working out more or harder, whether certain clothes are flattering, etc. is astronomical. Like, seriously. I bet it would total up to years of my life. And I know I’m not alone in that! I think if more of us had the ability to speak this part out loud we would realize just how much time has been spent thinking about our physical bodies and what they look like and feel like and how they’ll be received in the world.
Most of my life I was just convinced this was part of being a woman and having a body. It never even dawned on me that it could be different. But now I’m sitting here imagining all the shit I could’ve gotten done and all the dreams I could’ve dreamed up and chased if I didn’t spend YEARS of my life thinking about my body!
I want to get into the important and impactful steps I’m taking to replace these old messages with new ones and how I’m trying to heal my relationship with my body. But it feels really important to first be able to name my struggle and let it exist as it is. I want to end with this…
If you are struggling with your body, you are not alone. You are not crazy. You are not unworthy. You are not flawed or broken. You are not any less than. You are human. We have been set up to fail. The only way to lessen the struggle is to actively work against it and to start to replace the old beliefs with new ones that serve us and our ability to exist in our bodies better. I’m sorry it has been so hard for us. But I am hopeful that it can be different.
I love you.
With so much love and gratitude,