Unruly Bodies

Published June 24, 2014 by sleepydumpling

Ever since I was born, my body has been unruly.  It has never done what bodies are “supposed” to do.  From a newborn, my body has always rebelled against the world around it.  From allergies to everyday baby items like soap, lambs wool, and lanolin which left my tender skin covered in eczema and hives to the big birthmark that graces my thigh, I was untidy from the get go.  Through childhood when more allergies had me a sneezy, snuffly, itchy hayfever sufferer.  I was never the kid that could run fast, it took me forever to learn to swim, I couldn’t catch a ball, and have always been a klutz.  Then puberty hit… and I became fat, the thing considered by society in general the unruliest thing of all for bodies to be.  As well as being fat, and allergic, and uncoordinated, I had a head full of enormous hair that has never done what I wanted it to.  I couldn’t afford cool clothes, but even if I could they are denied to fat people.

From my teens I started doing all sorts of things to myself to try to get thin, which my body rebelled against even further.  Years of disordered eating, exercise bingeing and ridiculous diets wreaked havoc on my body.  In my 20’s I went through stages of self harm.  Everything I did to myself to try to make my body conform to what I was told it should be, just made the problem worse.  Yo-yo dieting gave me stretch marks.  Purging damaged my teeth and my skin.  I scarred myself as punishment for being fat and unworthy and to escape the emotional pain.   The more I fought my body to be tidy, neat, contained, the more my body fought back.

Of course, by the time that one is 35, most people see the signs of aging.  The body continues to be unruly.   Hair starts to go grey.  Wrinkles and lines appear.  Collagen reduces allowing gravity to do it’s job.  So the body continues to be unruly.  And again, I’m still fat – the unruliest thing of all.

It wasn’t until I was 35 that I stopped fighting my body.  I found fat liberation and feminism, and realised that my value is not in my appearance, that it is in who I am as a person, and no matter what a person looks like, they are worthy of dignity and respect.

Part of fat liberation is finding the way to appreciate the unruliness of your body.  It is finding the power in your body.  It is seeing the unruliness as the history book of your body.  I look at my body now and the very things that I once loathed are the things that I am finding are my strengths.  The soft warmth of my round, generous body.  A small child once called me “The huggiest lady in the world!” because she enjoyed cuddling up to my big body.  The strength that I have at my disposal just by putting my weight into movement.  The space I take up, full and abundant.  I see smile lines, scars that tell of great adventures, stretchmarks that tell of changes I have lived through.  Soft skin that is a canvas for beautiful art.  Even my enormous, untameable hair is a pleasure now – I just dye it hot pink and let it go crazy.  Sure I’d love to get rid of the allergies – but they are a small price to pay for a big, soft, warm, bountiful body that carries me through life.

But another thing happened… I started to notice that while I had all these things about my body that were unruly, untidy, awkward, there are also a lot of things about my body that are amazing and have always been there, I just never appreciated them when I was spending so much time focusing on the things I couldn’t change.   I never could run fast, but I’ve always had phenomenal endurance.  It took me ages to learn to swim, but once I did, I could swim long distances with ease.  I might not have been able to catch a ball, but I have a shot like a cannon and can split tennis balls and golf balls with my strength.  While my hair may be big and wild, it’s also thick and shiny.  My body is fat, but it’s also soft and warm.  I may have allergies, but I’ve also got a fine sense of smell and taste.

I learnt that instead of focusing on what my body is not, I need to focus on what it IS.  And what it is, is wonderous.  Flawed and weird yes, as are ALL bodies, but also amazing.

Why must women be small, tidy, contained, unobtrusive?  Why must we spend our lives trying to disappear, be invisible, to not take up any space, to keep out of everyone’s way?  Why can’t we inhabit our bodies as they are, find comfort and joy in them?

Let’s start here.  Before we go further, I want you to sit up straight, or as straight as you can.  Put your shoulders back.   Lift your head up and look straight forward.  Take a deep breath and expand your lungs, and then let that breath out.  Take up the space you inhabit.  Now think about the things your body CAN do.

What are the things that are amazing about your body?

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36 comments on “Unruly Bodies

  • Great post! I have always found my body unruly as well – I am tall even for a Dutch woman (5 ft 9) with very long arms and legs, large hands and feet, narrow face with large nose, prone to ‘premature’ wrinkling/witch-resembling and hardly any ‘feminine curves’. But I can outrun my husband when our 3yo has escaped the garden, look most men in the eyes and play large chords on the pianoforte.

  • I always enjoy reading your posts. You are so right about the women’s problem with trying to disappear. They are also strongly influenced by their boyfriends and husband’s attitude women and their weight. I have been married twice. My first husband constantly about my size. The second one forbade me to diet. The point is that no one has the right to judge you about your body. We do plenty enough on our own, I have gained around 50 pounds since I was in my mid to late 50’s. Now I’m 60 years old. I still judge my appearance. I am making baby steps toward self-acceptance.

  • Sorry, I meant my first husband judge my appearance constant and, in fact, used to buy me
    clothes that were too small for me as he thought it would encourage me to diet. What an idiot!

  • I love my concentrated body. When I was younger I despaired of my ‘thunder thighs’ but now I love them because my legs are strong and can carry me great distances. I feared to open my loudmouth back then, but now I adore that I can fill a room with sound just by opening my mouth. But I still think it’s fun sometimes not to let anyone in on that until it will do the most good.

    My skin and hair have always played nice with societal expectations (well, except that my hair will not under any circumstances hold a curl without a perm, which is just too much bother and expense for me to deal with). But now my hair is being unruly in that it refuses to go grey. I’m fifty-one and my hair is still the lustrous dark brown it has been for decades. That’s cool by me… though I must admit I do like the couple of odd silver hairs that have shown up randomly (and temporarily) in the past couple years. If it goes that kind of grey, no way am I covering it up! Silver makes me smile. But if I eventually went grey and didn’t like the shade, I would probably start dying my hair all kinds of non-standard colors, like purple, blue, or lime green. Those colors make me smile, too. And I rock the hell out of them.

    When I was a small kid, I figured out that I was never going to naturally be what society expected of me. While my classmates were diligently working on Dick and Jane, I was reading Poe for fun. Where the other kids ran, I preferred to walk. I hated hot dogs, didn’t see what was funny about the Three Stooges, and wanted a pet duck-billed platypus. By the time I was seven, I knew I was never going to really fit in.

    In many ways, that has sucked. But in others, it has freed me. Ultimately, I like me, inside and out, warts and all. I’ve always considered that more important than being patted on the head for being a ‘good girl.’ I would much rather be considered interesting than well-behaved.

  • Yes, let’s play to our strengthes!
    My body’s strengthes? I got big boobs (sagging, because they are 45, like myself and have been big boobs when I was 12 and wore a C-cup) – and none of the leathery brownish skin (never tanned well, now I still got milky baby like skin) covering them. Wearing good strong bras really makes me enjoy my boob size. And they are important whenever I want to lift myself from the couch … counterweights to the big ass I am sitting on. I bend forward, lifting the ass up and when I move the ass back to front the boobs get up where they belong (if I wear a bra, that is, otherwise I have big knees …)

  • I honestly think society believes women are still supposed to be small and quietly in the background, doing quiet, womanly things in as little space as possible.

    I’ve had a couple of discussions recently with friends of mine who all have broad shoulders like I do and have always struggled to find tops that fit over our shoulders and breasts.

    Women’s clothes from shoes on up are meant for smallish people. Big feet? Not feminine? Thick legs? Not feminine. Strong shoulders? Not feminine.

    Whether we have loud voices or loud clothes or just take up space, it isn’t ‘feminine’.

    Let’s all be unruly!

  • This times a hundred, times a thousand, times a million. I started crying half way through reading the post because all I could think was, wow, me too. I am 41 and it took me until 38 to finally stop hating my body, and start caring for it. Given the harm I’ve inflicted on it, it’s got some tenacity to say the least. I’m rambling, I realize that. I just am alway so thrown out of sorts by your posts because they hit so close to how I feel, and to what I want to say. I’ve learned so much from you. Thank you for always being so honest and willing to share yourself here.

  • Oh God thank you for this thread! I really needed to read something like this today, you have no idea :)

    I’ve always had an unruly body too. But you’re right, it also has some awesome things about it. My body created, birthed and nurtured 2 sets of twins. My body is a workhorse; it just keeps going and going, and I’m usually thinking “Gee, it might be time to see a doctor” about the time other people are keeling over. I like having big boobs, they make me feel feminine. And my body both gives and receives pleasure, comfort, and love.

    And best of all – my body is *mine*!

  • A little late to comment on this one, but I just had to say… Your blogging (here and on tumblr) is one of the main reasons I have come to actually love my body. I used to think I was gross to look at. I thought I had a pretty face but my body was letting me down. These days I can look at myself naked and the majority of the time I see nothing I don’t like. And if it wasn’t for the examples I’ve seen in you and other bloggers it never would have occurred to me that it was possible to learn to love my body and not just learn to tolerate it.

    I’m not the most active person in the world. I’m a chocoholic with a bad hip who likes nothing more than to chill in front of her laptop. But my body is the house for my brain, and my brain deserves a nice comfy couch to crash on. My legs are shapely, my hands are small and dexterous, and my “squishiness” just makes me extra-comfy to anyone I might happen to be snuggling with.

  • I feel like I always say the same thing… you are fabulous and this entry is fabulous. (Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!) Thanks!

  • ” I realised that my value is not in my appearance, that it is in who I am as a person, and no matter what a person looks like, they are worthy of dignity and respect”. These words just resonated with me and thank you for writing them! My body can swim across huge stretches of water and while people may make the jokes when I’m in my cossie, it’s water off a ducks back right?

    • And Bonnie – it doesn’t HAVE to be water off a duck’s back. You have every right to feel angry or offended or upset by people being shitty to you. Don’t feel you just have to tolerate or ignore that crap.

  • I have been reading your blog for a couple of months now and this is my first time commenting. I LOVE your blog and I love you! THANK YOU for this post, it’s wonderful. It has taken me until age 45 to begin loving my body. The first thought that came to mind reading this was my large breasts. I had always had a love/hate relationship with them…enjoyed the attention from men as a teen but hated how they were always in the way. But reading this today made me think of my children. These amazing female organs fed and comforted my four children for a grand total of nearly 6 1/2 years. All that closeness and cuddling and such a good healthy start for them in life. My big boobs are awesome! And my round tummy and hips covered with stretch marks from carrying four big babies…beautiful evidence of the absolute wonder of being able to carry and nurture life.

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