Your Body is not Voldemort

Published July 28, 2011 by sleepydumpling

One of the lovely, but slightly scary, things about blogging and having your blog audience grow to a fair size is that people start asking your advice about all kinds of things.  It’s lovely and awesome, to be seen as some kind of fairy fat-mother, but in the same time, it’s kind of scary.  I mean, I’m not an expert on anything by any stretch of the imagination, and in my day job, I’m an IT librarian.  I want to get things right for you guys when you ask my advice, I want to help.  But I am a human being and I can only give my own thoughts/opinions and hopefully that helps.

I get a lot of questions from people who hate their bodies.  Or they hate something about their body or appearance.  I get a lot of questions about people (usually young cis-women) who are ashamed of something about their bodies/appearance, and don’t know how to change that.  Or want to know how to hide the thing they’re ashamed of, or who to talk to about that shame.  Sometimes it’s about being too embarrassed or ashamed to go to the doctor to talk about something that worries them.

Mostly, it’s a whole lot of shame and fear about their appearance.

Every time I get a question like this, there are two things I want to do.  Firstly, I want to hug that person and tell them that they’re perfectly ok as they are.  But I also want to give them something to set them free of that shame and fear.  I don’t quite know what that is yet though!

One thing I do know, is that fear and shame often make the issue seem a whole lot bigger than it is.  That’s the nature of fear and shame – it festers away in our heads growing bigger and bigger and bigger by feeding off itself and each other.  Think about when you were a kid, and someone told you a scary story, or you watched a scary movie.  It was terrifying, wasn’t it?  But then when you go back and watch it as an adult, often it looks silly and cheesy, rather than scary.

Fear makes the wolf look bigger.

Source unknown*

Well it’s the same with our bodies and our appearance.  That scar we obsess over, those stretchmarks, the wobbly arms we hide away, the round bellies, the hairy legs… whatever it is we attach shame and fear to.  We stare at them in the mirror, or poke and prod at them as we get dressed or bathe… and we look at them in every minute detail.  You’ll never know a body as intimately as you know your own.  We practically go over ourselves with a magnifying glass, looking so closely at our supposed flaws that we are afraid other people will see, that we usually fear those flaws far bigger, far uglier and far more dramatic than they actually are.

Sometimes douchey people pick up on those things, and they use our fears and shame against us.  They are perceptive of our vulnerabilities, so they will hone in on that and ridicule or point out those things because they know they can hurt us with  it.  Thus the person who has that ridiculous habit of bellowing “You’re so fat!” or something else about our appearance, or in my case, posting troll comments about how I’m fat, hairy or ugly.

I do understand those fears and the shame though.  I lived with them my whole life until just a few years ago.  I’m fat and hairy.  I’m kind of a tall hobbit really.  I tried EVERYTHING to hide my fat, hairy self.  I avoided those topics in conversation.  I wore clothes that I thought disguised me.  And worst of all, for many years I let so many people hurt me so deeply by pointing out how fat and hairy I am.  Sometimes the barbs still sting for a second, but not like they used to, and it’s rare that it does actually sting any more.  Because it’s a pretty sad person that has to highlight other people’s supposed faults or belittle someone because of their appearance to make themselves feel better.  Seriously… it’s a bit hard to give them any power to hurt you when you stop and think just how pathetic that is!

What we do, is turn our flaws into Voldemort.  Yes, I am a Potterfile, stick with me here.  Through most of the Harry Potter series, everyone is SO afraid to even think about “The Dark Lord”, they can’t even name him.  He is You-Know-Who and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.  Even the name Lord Voldemort isn’t really his name, it’s the name he’s given himself to appear even more frightening, because he knows that not speaking the real name of something you fear, keeps the fear growing.

J.K. Rowling actually said it in the first Harry Potter book:

Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.
J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, 1997.

We do that.  We speak of fatness in hushed tones.  We don’t mention being hairy, or having acne, or stretchmarks, or skin problems, for fear of uttering those names will conjure them up in front of us, or put a huge neon sign over those “flaws” we have.

When really, most of the time these things aren’t Lord Voldemort, they’re just boring old Tom Riddle, and can be defeated, or at least reduced to something so much easier to deal with, simply by not fearing them any more.

Letting go of that fear and shame is not easy.  But that’s the hardest bit – letting go.  Taking that first step.  Opening the door.  Once you take that step, and set off, it really does get a whole lot easier.  That doesn’t mean you never stumble, or you never have the overwhelming urge to run back in and slam the door shut behind you.  That still happens.  But I think once you’ve taken that first big step, you can often recognise the fear and shame for what it is.  You’ve given it it’s real name, rather than hiding away and never mentioning it.

So… how do you feel about fear and shame in the context of your body and/or appearance?  Is there something you think you could let go of to make the wolf look smaller?  To lessen the grip that fear and shame have on you?

Or have you been able to give something it’s real name and chase that fear and shame away?

*I’m unable to find a source/credit for this awesome grafitti/photo – if you can provide one please let me know and I’ll update with full credit.
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33 comments on “Your Body is not Voldemort

  • Precisely!

    According to common ‘wisdom’ any deviation from a Platonically perfect decorative body (as it appears in the current culture for one’s area) is a cause for gigantic shame and horror. But really, bodies aren’t bad. They’re bodies. And most of the things we think are so disgusting about ourselves aren’t even particularly noticed by others.

    I’m a huge fan of the show Top Chef, which is hosted by Padma Lakshmi. Spectacularly beautiful woman, right? I’d been watching the show – and Padma – for about two seasons before someone mentioned her scar to me and I was flummoxed. What scar? The next episode, I watched carefully for it and was surprised to discover that she does, indeed, have a scar that must run at least six inches down one arm. She usually goes sleeveless on camera, too, so it’s not like she was going out of her way to hide it. It’s just there. It’s just a part of her.

    But I know people who will go to incredible lengths to cover up a tiny scar that you have to look really, really hard to notice, even if you know precisely where it is.

    Okay, so people probably can’t miss the fact that I’m fat. It’s more obvious than most scars. But so what? I’m fat. It’s a fact. Why try to hide it? I worry a lot more about making myself comfortable and decorative on my own terms.

    It seems to work. A lot of people admire my hats, and I once had a woman come up to me in a restaurant to tell me I’m ‘magnificent.’

    Not bad for a less hairy Hobbit!

    • That’s something else isn’t it Twistie – when you stop examining your own body so closely for flaws and imperfections, you cease to notice them on others as well. I’ve had similar experiences where people have mentioned a scar, or something else on a third party… and I’ve never noticed before. Because I’m too busy noticing the things I like (and usually want!) about people, to see these supposed “flaws”.

      No matter who someone is, being comfortable in their own skin and their intellect, wit, kindness and style show through any supposed flaws. But we get so caught up in our own perceived flaws that we think that everyone else does too.

  • This is a bit off-topic but I wanted to tell you about my mother-in-law. She passed away very suddenly last month. We had a memorial service for her this past Monday and I was blown away with the huge number of folks that came. They wanted to say what a great friend she had been.

    I knew that I hit the “mother-in-law” lottery shortly after I married her son. Looking back I have to say she was the most non-judgmental person I have ever met. Never once during my 33 years of being her daughter-in-law did she EVER say anything about my size! She never recommended a diet, a health tip or any of those “not to subtle” ways of trying to help me lose weight. When I was pregnant with her first grandchild, she made me tapioca pudding with whipped cream whenever I visited– she knew it was my favorite.

    She was a great seamstress and years ago, I had a long, comfy bright pink cotton shirt that I used for a swim-suit coverup. I had practically worn it out from over-use. She had my husband collect it (during the winter when it was in closet), and cut it apart to make a pattern. She then made an exact copy- in wild turquoise blue. I loved it but I especially loved the fact that she made it for me.

    She truly loved me for the person, wife, mother that I am. I should not be surprised that she raised her son to also love people based on their merit!

    • Thanks Kate – the picture you found is certainly more recent than the one above, you can tell by the fact that it has been grafitti’d over the top. I’ll update later with a location, I’d love to know who took this beautiful shot above though!

  • Okay, so years ago there was this song by John Mayer, “Your Body is a Wonderland.” I always hated that song, but it was on the radio all the time so I knew it anyway.

    After I read the title of this post all I heard was “You’re body is not Voldemort….” to the same tune. Cuz that’s just how strange I am.

    I can’t speak much to the rest of the post because I’ve never gotten into the HP series, but I do appreciate how certain normal body characteristics are so vehemently shunned. I’m fat, cellulite-riddled, blonde-hairy, stretch-marky, and spider vein-y, and I feel like my body is not counted as valuable, human, or recognizable in any of the ways human bodies without those characteristics are counted.

    I think a good deal of the arbitrary beauty ‘flaws’ of today are tied to a perception of aging, which itself is tied to a fear of death. I don’t go for the evo-psych male-gaze-ad-nauseam explanations of youth as ‘attractive,’ rather that death is pretty effing scary and people want to believe in elvish immortal youth. That is, most body standards enforced by the culture are a symptom of the frightened navel-gazing of a mortal species.

    Fatness has been lumped into that because it’s been rehistoried as ill-health*, which is viscerally associated with a body breaking down (that is, an aging body), and more directly associated with being reminded of one’s own death, if only for an instant. It’s unpleasant business, to be stared back at by the Void.

    *rehistoried, because once fat was associated with healthy babies, healthy moms, successful men, and healthy grandmas. Of course, assuming that fat people existed before 1980 – reading articles on the obesity epipanic tend to leave on with the belief that they didn’t.

    • *Raises hand* I was fat before 1980!

      I’m thinking we need to divorce what is presented to us in the media and marketing as “normal” and start looking around ourselves. Bodies are diverse! Almost nobody meets what is being sold to us as “normal” – particularly not those who quite often tell us we are not “normal”… they don’t even meet that set of requirements themselves.

  • For me, the most influential thing in no longer being ashamed of my body was to read a lot more about fat/body advocacy and the stories of people being treated horribly. When it was just people making comments to me personally about my weight or my eyebrows or my clothes, I felt totally disempowered and hurt and ashamed. When I found out it was systematic, widespread, and commonplace, fueled by my sense of justice and awareness that I was not the only Unconforming Body but that there were thousands, millions of bodies that weren’t “good enough,” I am slowly becoming happy with myself. I slip, like everyone will, but even when I do truly believe that I don’t look good, I still manage to always remember that doesn’t mean anyone has the right to treat me badly.

    Also, I’ve found that for many body features I hate the sight of, I feel fine to the touch. My stretch marks, for example, are really soft, almost velvety. So while I still make a face at them in the mirror, I found a way to appreciate them in other ways.

  • Looks like this is the source of the above picture:

    http://www.mau-mau.co.uk/gallery.php?action=buildFull&artSection=Gallery&articleID=111&page=2&lang=1

    I’m a woman with a long history of fat-and-hairy. In my case, it turned out to be caused by polycystic ovary disease, now called, AFAIK, metabolic syndrome. Think “insulin resistance”. If you have absent/irregular menstrual periods, it’s something to get checked for. Even if the cosmetic aspects don’t bother you, and you don’t intend to become pregnant (it can cause infertility), look into it anyway..
    It’s nothing to be ashamed of, although some people will try to shame you anyway. You didn’t cause it. Just being fat and hairy doesn’t mean you have it, but those are two of the symptoms, and it’s a common condition.

    • Thanks Mulberry but I’m fine with finding out about my own health on my own, I’m not blogging looking for advice based on my fat and hairy status. I’ll ask directly if I want that kind of advice.

      And thanks for the image source, I’ll amend the post when I can.

      • Of course you’re not asking for health advice here. I put the info out for anyone reading this. It’s just info that not everyone might be aware of – what you do with it is your business. “You” means any reader, not specifically you the blogmistress.

  • Hello,

    I love your blog! After reading through this post I’m so flattered that you also read my blog. :)

    This post synthesizes what I attempted to explain to my auntie and mother recently. They responded to my ideas mostly with disinterest, which bummed me out because I’m feeling very into the whole “my (and other folks’) liberation is contingent upon your liberation” thing.

    However, your post also reminds me that when we step away from body shame and stare down our fears that we liberate ourselves and stop co-signing/validating other people’s body shaming. My favorite author Clarissa Pinkola Estes speaks so eloquently on this:

    “A woman cannot make the culture more aware by saying ‘Change.’ But she can change her own attitude toward herself, thereby causing devaluing projections to glance off. She does this by taking back her body. By not forsaking the joy of her natural body, by not purchasing the popular illusion that happiness is only bestowed on those of a certain configuration or age, by not waiting or holding back to do anything, and by taking back her real life, and living it full bore, all stops out. This dynamic self-acceptance and self-esteem are what begins to change attitudes in the culture.”

    Earlier this week I went on a quick summery vacation with my family and spent time by the pool. I photographed my family in swimsuits and was photographed in my swimsuit. When I looked through the pictures I was struck by the fact that I didn’t feel critical of my body. But rather, I loved it. It’s MY BODY AND ITS A GOOD BODY! I’m delighted to finally enjoy it!! Also, when I get a nice tan my stretch marks on my thighs stay lighter and stand out. I like how they look. They are like tiger stripes.

    I meant to make the point earlier but got sidetracked: I may never convince my auntie and mother about how great it is to love their own body just exactly as it is in this very moment and to release their inner drill sergeant from duty, but I haven’t quite worked out how to discuss these ideas effectively with loved ones so they don’t: a) become SUPER annoyed with me, b) tune me out entirely, and so that I don’t: a) drain myself unnecessarily and b) alienate myself from my family. :) Any ideas?

    Thank you for a great post. You inspired lots of nice feelings in me tonight!

    • Thank you Jessica Mae! I love your blog, especially being a tattooed woman myself!

      You know, I am stumped at how to get people to discuss the idea of self acceptance. I actually don’t think you can. I think others have to want to discuss the idea of self acceptance before we can even get a toe in the door.

      What you CAN do though, is be the change you want to see. Live it, be it, vocalise it about yourself (and others) and just generally immerse yourself in self acceptance… and it naturally rubs off on others.

      And now I’m going to go find some of Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ work!

  • Mulberry I am trying very hard to create an environment that is not about health advice, where I encourage people to advocate for their own health, to squash unsolicited advice, to keep everyone else out of each other’s health business.

    I speak up loudly against others offering unsolicited advice to fat people about what they should do and be aware of when it comes to their bodies and health, and that includes coming from other fat people and even fat activists.

    Nobody is asking for health advice here, so I don’t want anyone giving it unsolicited.

    Most importantly, I want people to know and accept that sometimes, fat and hairy is just how someone is intended to be, they don’t have to find a health reason for being that way.

  • Hey Kath, loved your response to Mulberry! And please keep those outfit posts coming – they’re great, Speaking of clothes – I received a Myer catalogue in the mail the other day with their “plus size” clothing ranges and a more hideous bunch of crappy crap crap I have not seen in a long while. Thank god for Autograph!!
    PS Susie O’Brien is at it again – check out her rant in todays Herald Sun – would love to hear what you think about it.
    Janine – am emailing from work (well its lunchtime!)

    • Janine, I hear you on Myer’s current plus-size range! I went for a look the other day in store. It’s all shapeless sacks, ridiculously priced, bad fabrics and mostly ultra casual. Don’t get me started on the TS line… barf!

      I wish I could scrub my brain after reading Susie O’Brien’s latest piece, UGH!

  • Thank you for sharing this story with us, and hats of to you for being able to take the bull by the horns and get on on with your life. I give you my utmost repect.

    Regards,

    Louise,

    Scotland.

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