“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.”
“Shame, for women, is this web of unobtainable, conflicting, competing expectations about who we’re supposed to be. And it’s a straight-jacket.”
I was ten years old, MAXIMUM, when I first started feeling ashamed of my body. Maybe it was all the spandex figure-skating dresses that did me in, making it so easy to compare the softness of my own tummy to the firm ones of other girls I skated with. The comparison would have come soon enough though, whether or not I had been wearing those little dresses. We all know how our culture is saturated heavy with images of “perfect” bodies… images that validate some while simultaneously shaming others.
It was my tummy that always got to me, protruding a little bit more than I was sure was acceptable. I was eleven when I discovered the magic of sucking it in. I remember walking through the cafeteria in a striped purple shirt, feeling oh-so-skinny, oh-so-beautiful, sucking in that little bit of belly fat I was so ashamed of.
I remember once during those awkward teen years my Mom telling me a story about how much I loved milkshakes when I was a toddler. She told me that story and I got mad at her. I said, “WHY DID YOU LET ME DRINK MILKSHAKES?!!?!!” I was sure I wouldn’t have become so fat if she hadn’t allowed me to consume so much sugar. “You’re not fat!!” She would reassure me, but the thing is.. the way we perceive our bodies is so often absolutely skewed. While others described my body as slender, I was disgusted by what I saw in the mirror.
Somewhere around the age of 18 I discovered the magic of calorie counting. I know how many calories are in an egg, in a slice of bread, in an apple, an orange, a banana, a carrot, spinach, raisins, a glass of milk, a glass of soy milk, a glass of rice milk, a glass of almond milk. That’s why I used to go with almond: only 60 calories. I know how many in a slice of cheese, oatmeal, popcorn, cashews, ice cream, peanut butter, honey, pasta noodles, pizza sauce, coffee. Pretty much everything I would consume. I learned that the minimum amount of calories our bodies need each day to function properly is 1,200. So I started counting everything I put into my mouth in an attempt to stop each day at that magic number (although 2,000 was a healthy amount for the lifestyle I was living.) The problem is I often failed, consuming as many as 1,500 calories a day and then absolutely LOATHING myself because of it. Every morning was a fresh start, one I would begin with two oranges (good girl!) but inevitably end with a handful of chocolate kisses or a spoonful too many of peanut butter (nasty, disgusting, horrible fat girl!) Lots of people were noticing how I was slimming down, but nobody knew about the battle going on in my head for me to achieve that skinniness.
I had put a quote on my bathroom mirror: “Women are always beautiful.” -Ville Valo. Claire saw it, looked at me skeptically, and asked, “But do you actually believe that??” I didn’t answer her, because no, I didn’t actually believe it at all. At 132 pounds Claire told me I was “scary skinny” but I was intent on lowering those numbers on the scale even more. But then the interruption came. Missions.
There are people who move to other countries and lose all kinds of weight. I started gaining. I no longer had control over what kinds of foods I was consuming and I didn’t know how many calories were in pig skin soup or lentil hot dog soup or cactus salad. More than I estimated, that’s for sure! Over the past 6 years I’ve been dealing with these fickle 30 pounds, on and off and on and off and on, fluctuating depending on where I’m living despite my desperate attempts to control calories.
On one visit to the States I remembering having a sleepover with one of my cousins. I remember we were lying there in the dark and she started telling me about a friend of hers whom she was worried about. She was so concerned about that friend, “She counts the calories of everything she eats and then she hates herself for eating too many. Every. Single. Day. I don’t know how to help her with this eating disorder.”
Did she just say EATING DISORDER?!!?! I was quiet, laying there in the dark, laying there in my shock. My cousin was describing my own behavior, my own ordinary, as an eating disorder.
I went back to Mexico where my weight went down at the orphanage and then I moved to Chile and my weight climbed quickly back up, thank you Chile for your
obsession love of bread. I remember having a little breakdown in a bathroom in Pichilemu, after another starchy meal, crying and begging God, “Pleaaaaasseee God, I JUST WANT SOME SPINAAAAAACH!!!”
My calorie controlling and the hatred & shame I felt about my body became CONSUMING. So when I moved to Colombia I knew I had to make a choice. I had to choose to either keep focusing on trying to fit back into my skinny clothes or I had to give it up, and instead focus on caring for the children in front of me. I chose the kids, deciding to put my weight loss desires on the back-burner, to return to later.
But then something changed.
I stopped hating my body.
It is a miracle.
It’s a miracle that I know has everything to do with all the talk that’s been going on about body image over the past several years… like this synchroblog of women writing love letters to their bodies, and Taryn Brumfitt’s beautiful before & after pictures, and these other famous before & after pictures, and Dove’s Campaign for ‘Real Beauty‘, and Glennon being honest about recovering from her eating disorder, and Sarah Bessey sharing her scared/sacred, and this Mom writing about “staying in the picture”, and these beautiful pictures of these Momma’s bodies, and these celebrity quotes on body image, and Kate Winslet getting upset about being photoshopped skinnier, and Brittany Gibbons stripping down to her swimsuit during her Ted Talk, and this Mom in her swimsuit, and Lily Myer’s poem “Shrinking Women”, and even Colbie Caillat taking off her makeup.
It’s like… the shame can only survive in secret. The shame can only thrive in darkness. But once we let the light in, and start being honest about our insecurities… we realize we’re not alone. And we realize we don’t have to be ashamed anymore.
That’s why I’m writing this, it’s my “Me too!” to join this tidal wave of women being honest about our struggles with beauty & weight & self-hatred, because it’s a tidal wave with the power to crash down upon all this shame we’ve allowed to become a part of us, and carry it off to sea.
My tummy is still squishy, but I’m not disgusted by it anymore. Baby Boy likes to use my tummy as a pillow, because it’s warm and soft and round. J likes to use my tummy as a race-track for his cars, because it jiggles around like jello. He actually exclaims “GELATINAAAA!!!” (JELLOOOOO!!!) whenever he wraps his arms around my waist and feels the squishiness.
And I just smile.
& I agree that YES my belly feels like jello,
because I don’t want my children to think my body, their bodies, anyone’s body, is something to be ashamed of.
Crazy ( skinny ) dancing in Mexico & Crazy ( squishier ) colors in Colombia.
There’s at least a 20 pound difference there… maybe that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but to me it is… & the fact that I’m okay with it, really is a miracle.