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?