Embodied: Suzy's Story
We were absolutely delighted to receive this beautiful submission to our Embodied: Letters to reclaim the whole blog series from one of our recent e-course participants. Suzy explores and shares her journey with complete honesty and one courageous heart. Such profound gratitude to you, Suzy, for reclaiming with us and for us!
This blog series is an opportunity for anyone and everyone to reclaim their most hated body part and share it with the world. We believe this is how we can create change for one another. Our hearts long to have the layer of shame seen and lifted. Our bellies, thighs, calves, and arms want to be felt and experienced. Our bodies want to be whole. And the world needs us to reclaim. If you’d like to submit your story, check out our submission guidelines. Your willingness to share your body story, your journey from belly, butt, thigh, or arm hatred to body respect, will be a gift to our community.
OF COURSE your body is not the problem!
I have big legs. They are large-boned, sturdy. When i gain weight, that’s where it starts to accumulate. It’s just the way it is for my body. I work with a lot of babies, and fat little newborn baby legs are SO CUTE! All dimply and adorable; people, including myself, just love to squeeze them and marvel over them. At some point, however, it stops being cute, and starts to become “a problem”. For me, it started with some teenagers making fun of my legs at a swimming pool when I was 9 or 10. That’s when I realized there was something wrong with my body, especially my big legs. My parents joined in the over the years. I didn’t take after the elegant slimness of my mom’s people, who had “good legs”, and though I was built more like my dad, he felt free to make jokes about my body that were not flattering and which embarrassed me. Food was another issue: I was bottle fed 3 meals a day at 2 months. (I’m sure mom was doing her best, but seriously??) Food was a comfort commodity for our dysfunctional family with a terminally ill mother and generally poor coping skills, so the pattern of overeating was set as well. In high school, the dieting cycles began; I started using diet pills and running to lose weight, my high school boyfriend rooted for me to get down to 125# from 135 # (at 5’8″, legs and all!) so I could look better in my emerald green bikini. WTF?
As an middle-aged adult, despite the truth that I have steadily increased in weight over the decades, my legs have done amazing things, like climb Mt. Hood (Yes–amazing, I say!) and Mt. St. Helens (twice), carry a big old backpack from northern Guatemala to southern Chile on a months-long adventure, do an olympic distance triathlon and run the Hood to Coast several times. Legs still not worthy of my love! I have done a lot of bouncing around in my weight, up and down with dieting and compulsive eating, the behaviors around food and my inability to change them vexing me incessantly. I felt really out of control as I recently gained some more weight under stress and noticed it around my middle, which was new to me. As I became more aware of my body issues, I knew I was supposed to love my body, all of me. I tried and tried to love my legs and then my middle section, but it just felt like false lip service. How can I love that, too? UGH! My sad reflection on Good Friday was of women’s bodies nailed to the cross for everyone to judge and criticize and jeer at, a big old no-win for women, either you are fat and thus hate-able, those nasty parts just out there for all to see and maybe throw rocks at or spit upon, or you have “the body”, you are deemed “hot”, but you have to eat like one lettuce leaf per day to maintain it, or maybe you stress about being TOO thin, and we are all grossly objectified anyway. Here so many of us hang, up there on the cross of scarcity, dieting, deprivation, objectification, disordered eating and feeling deeply ashamed of ourselves for not being perfect. Depressing.
There have been other messages, too, ideas from the fringe that contradicted what I had swallowed hook, line and sinker about the problem of my body. Once when I was in Chicago for the summer while in college, a man from a different culture (not white, upper/middle class) admired my legs as he walked behind me on my way to work in shorts, telling me I had “big, pretty legs”. Was he for real, I wondered? I had never heard that before. How can those three words belong in the same sentence? I later learned as i traveled the world beyond white-bread suburbia that there might be different cultural standards of beauty that were more inclusive of larger sizes. And now some of those ideas are creeping towards the mainstream; a backlash to all the oppression of the ridiculous and unrealistic standards of beauty that cause our daughters to head to eating disorder clinics by the droves. People like Megan Trainor have jumped on board, embracing her curves, all about that lovely bass, Kelly Clarkson stood up to the media’s criticism over her size, Lane Bryant launched it’s “I’m No Angel” campaign, and it seems like there are getting to be more alternatives for my daughter to choose from among all the messaging. I have looked at beaudacious “Plus Sized models” (who are the minus-sized ones? I wonder) and body positive activists online, and appreciated their beauty, their perspectives, their spunk, and their intelligent contributions to the conversation. My husband has never paid much attention to my weight or gotten into body disparaging of me or other women based on size or shape. He honestly doesn’t seem to care about fat. He loves me for who I am, period. These influences have had a place in my cognition and appreciation for sure, but when it came down to my feelings about my body, they never held a candle to my harsh inner judge and critic. Some bad shit was lodged in there deep and wasn’t about to give without a little work on my part.
“Of course your body is not the problem!” BOOM! It was then that I really knew the problem was not me, not my body, not my sturdy legs. The PROBLEM was in the lies that I was being told as a child, as a teen and the cultural obsession with thinness or needing to have a certain shape to be beautiful that seems to permeate everything when you are a girl or woman growing up in the US.
For me, a big turning point has been in the last few months: finding Be Nourished at the same time as engaging in EMDR therapy for trauma healing. During one therapy session which was devoted to my poor, bashed and hated body, I went back to the initial experience at the swimming pool. I imagined those teenagers then and all the other voices stacked up against me over the years since…..how can a little child or scared people-pleasing teenager stand up to all those voices? I was afraid to contradict them, so I internalized their messages and accepted the body-hating paradigm instead, which produced some sort of stuck pattern in my brain that couldn’t see my body as anything but bad, wrong, unlovable and gross. Then during the EMDR session, I was given the opportunity to bring the adult me to the scene, to talk to the child me. What did i have to say to her? For whatever reason, probably imagining my own daughter, and moved with compassion for the predicament of my inner little girl and her scared self, I was able to speak with conviction: “Of course your body is not the problem!” BOOM! It was then that I really knew the problem was not me, not my body, not my sturdy legs. The PROBLEM was in the lies that I was being told as a child, as a teen and the cultural obsession with thinness or needing to have a certain shape to be beautiful that seems to permeate everything when you are a girl or woman growing up in the US. In that moment, the body hatred just dissolved. There in it’s place was a new and beautiful thing: genuine love for my body, a deep knowing that I was ok as I am, exactly as I am. I wish that understanding was always so clear as in that moment, but I know it’s there, more true than false, even when I have some “bad body days”. And I can now choose to nurture that love that is there, and don’t have to pretend anymore. Interestingly, it has also been easier to refrain from dieting and compulsive eating. The principles of Be Nourished are easier to follow because they flow from love: “It’s easier to take care of something you love than something you hate”, right? So there is the redemption that came after the Good Friday death. And now I wonder: Where will all of this lead me? How might life unfold for me in a truly body loving paradigm? I now know that no matter what my body actually weighs doesn’t matter as much, that it will carry a lot less “dead weight” with the body hatred now unpacked, examined, shed and tossed out the window and left by the roadside as roadkill. Bye, bye, mother-fucker! I won’t miss you one bit!! Now I have self-love, which is refreshing and light and happy and free. And I can remember that guy in Chicago with a smile (thank you, sir!) and embrace my big, pretty legs.