This picture was taken six months after I gave birth to my daughter.
The beach was empty. The air was warm. And I was terrified.
I showed up on this day because I had spent the majority of my life battling the exterior I was given. I didn’t know how to love or appreciate or respect my body. I had never known how to look past my small chest or my untoned thighs or my broad shoulders.
I only ever saw inadequacy and imperfection and flaws.
My relationship with my body has been one of the most difficult and heartbreaking relationships of my life. It has been a struggle at best…a devastation at worst.
And somewhere in the midst having my children and losing myself…I needed to find my way to neutral ground; to seek peace between who I was and who I thought I had to be.
So I sat on a beach…in a bathing suit…while a friend photographed the first moments of me unchaining myself from a lifetime of pain.
And I cried for nearly the entire time.
That was six years ago. And living cohesively with my body is something I have to work at every single day. And I will likely have to for the rest of my life.
I seldom – if ever – discuss this issue openly.
Because there is nothing easy about saying that you once starved yourself. Once tortured yourself. Once hated yourself.
And there is nothing easy about having another human tell you that you aren’t entitled to feel that way because you can shop at certain stores or wear certain clothes.
I have learned, over time, that the only thing harder than being at war with yourself…is watching others go to war over your right to be in that battle.
And so, most of the time, I choose to fight this alone. And I imagine I can’t be the only one.
We live in a world that is bringing power to the notion of self-love and acceptance. We are seeing ourselves as more than the bodies we possess and the images we see and the standards we live amongst.
We are standing tall and rushing forth and being brave.
But I worry that we are also forgetting…
We are forgetting that EVERY body – regardless of the number stitched into the tag – can possess demons. We are forgetting that EVERY size is a “real” body to someone. We are forgetting that EVERY person holds on to a certain self-image. And that image isn’t about what you see when you look at them…it’s about what they see when they look at themselves.
“You have such long legs…you can’t possibly understand”
“You’re so slender…there’s no way you could know what it’s like to be judged because of your body”.
It breaks my heart every time I hear a statement like this being made……every time a hurting soul gets forced into isolation..every time a person is asked to walk alone because we’ve taken it upon ourselves to decide what they should or shouldn’t feel.
We aren’t breaking new ground if we compliment an individual’s figure and then diminish their internal battle.
When you criticize someone’s appearance…you are shaming their body.
When you criticize someone’s feelings…you are shaming their mind. Their experience. Their struggle.
Because a body type doesn’t dictate someone’s ability to know how it feels.
The five year old in me who was “advised” not to eat too much ice cream knows how it feels.
The ten year old in me who got stared at for standing three inches taller than all the boys knows how it feels.
The thirteen year old in me who got teased by other girls for having a flat chest knows how it feels.
The sixteen year old in me who was held down in the dirt by a guy twice my size knows how it feels.
The nineteen year old in me who watched her own beautiful mother struggle to feel accepted in the world knows how it feels.
The twenty-five year old in me who worked in an office that “monitored our lunches” knows how it feels.
The thirty-nine year old in me who is trying desperately to be an example for her own children knows how it feels.
We all do in some capacity.
And while my experience may not be your experience and while my struggle may not be your struggle…I know how it feels to be held hostage by shame.
Because it’s not our legs or our smiles or our abs that are causing our pain. It’s the voice. It’s that tiny voice that whispers in our ear that our worthiness is found when perfection is reached. All the while, the more perfect we try to be…the more insecure we begin to feel. And the more insecure we begin to feel…the more walls we start to build.
Until we are all left suffering alone.
So it begs the question…
What’s really worth building?
Safety or Unity?
We can build walls between us because our bodies don’t look the same way. Or we can build strength between us because we’ve all felt the same way.
One will hurt. One will heal.
And in a world that is constantly trying to tear us apart…I am left with one wish…
May we see ourselves more clearly…may we love each other more deeply…may we share our struggle more honestly.