Sometimes I ask an ETDC reader to write a guest post, because I like the way she tells her story. This is one of those times. In this post, Caroline breaks down her path to body acceptance for us. Reading this, I remember that we all start out dancing…
i was a really exuberant, enthusiastic kid. Apparently i was a very jumpy, running-around, dancing kind of kid.
But at some point i realized i was fat, and i lost that enthusiasm and exuberance of movement. We all know that fat and beauty cannot coexist, and being beautiful is the most important thing for a girl to aspire to! I remember being maybe six or seven years old, running as fast as i could in my babysitter’s house, from the living room to the stairs, back and forth until i was out of breath, and then asking her if she thought i’d lost any weight yet. I was ashamed of my body, ashamed of my appetite.
My first diet was Weight Watchers when i was about 11. That… didn’t go very well. I spent the rest of my adolescence either dieting or binging, including a stint at a fat camp – oops, i mean fitness camp - when i was 18. I continued being neurotic about my weight and appearance through college. Things got particularly bad during my senior year, when i alternated between weighing and accounting for every morsel i put in my mouth, and stuffing it indiscriminately with cookies. Somewhere in there, i stopped moving joyfully. I still dragged myself onto the elliptical trainer, but there was very little dancing.
But i don’t really want to write about my tortured relationship with my body. I want to tell you about how i got out of it, and what i do to maintain my body-love now.
It started with movement. It started with yoga, and with dancing. It started with choosing to move my body in the company of people who didn’t judge it. I began to recognize my body as an emanation of the sacred vibration of life, rather than a fleshy trap.
The internet pretty much saved me when i really decided it was time to change how i felt about my body and my appearance and beauty. Kate Harding’s now-archived Shapely Prose was the starting point for me and it quite literally changed my life. While i’m not sure that i agree with her on all points, it’s still very powerful, particularly the BMI project. I still look at the BMI project from time to time if i start to get down on my body.
The other major thing i did was something similar to cognitive therapy. I started to carefully observe my thoughts about my body and other people’s bodies. I noticed that when i saw someone that i considered more beautiful than myself, i would think, “Oh, i wonder what it’s like to be that beautiful,” or, “I’ll never look like that.” The emotional feeling was a tangle of appreciation of the person’s beauty, tied up with jealousy, self-hate, and wistfulness. When i saw someone i considered to be LESS beautiful than me, it was more along the lines of, “Well, at least i don’t look like THAT!” Neither of these things were helpful. So i started forcing a thought change on myself. Whenever i saw someone and noticed their appearance, “better” or “worse,” i said to myself, “There’s another kind of beauty,” or, “That person is beautiful, and so am i.” This was pretty hard at first, and it felt terribly awkward and forced. Eventually, though, it stuck!
I make a point to look at images that present beauty diversity. I make a point to acknowledge beauty where i might not have been able to see it before. I make a point to acknowledge my own beauty, frequently. I make a point to appreciate other people’s beauty – we can be beautiful without bringing each other down. Beauty knows no hierarchy.
And after all this, one of the things i know for sure is: it takes practice. Lots of fucking practice. It gets easier and easier, but it still takes practice for me. A lot of it has to do with recognizing, unpacking, and reprogramming your internal self-talk. And it feels stupid and cheesy for a long time. But it works. Another friend of mine who is interested in this kind of thing encourages people to look in the mirror at least once a day and give yourself a compliment, about your appearance, out loud. Even (maybe especially) if you don’t believe it.
Another critical part for me is the practice of being naked. Choose to be naked alone, and choose to touch your body. Not necessarily in a sexual way, though that’s helpful too, but for just to lay my hands on my own body and feel the shape, temperature, and texture of me, and actively appreciate it – again, even if i have to force it.
I read an article once, it’s been probably over a year ago, about vaginoplasty – plastic surgery to make one’s vagina “prettier.” Of course i found the whole idea horrifying, and the article was definitely coming down on the idea of it, but in it the author explored beauty as a concept and discussed a little bit what drives us to make ourselves beautiful. Therein she mentioned service. Beauty as an act of service. And that really blew me away, because it resonated really hugely. That we want to be beautiful as a way of contributing to the world, which is not to say that by being “unbeautiful” we are a detriment to the world. I haven’t fully explored this idea, it’s just been rolling around in my head for the past year or so. I think it’s part of why i like to dress up, why i like to be exuberant in how i present myself. I want to be clear that i do it for myself, and i don’t feel bad when i’m wearing work clothes and no makeup or jewelry, but i’m aware that it has an impact on other people and i do enjoy that aspect of it. It’s something of a performance for me, an artistic experience.
And to be totally honest, i started by asking. I went through a phase where i asked people outright if they thought i was pretty. Nobody said no, and maybe i set that up by only asking people who i thought would say yes, but what shocked me was how frequently i was met with surprised laughter and something along the lines of, “Are you out of your mind? OF COURSE.” But probably the thing that was most valuable out of that experience was the general sense that i got from people that yes, i was pretty, but that wasn’t what made me attractive; that it was confidence and grace of movement that made me stand out, and that is something i cultivated myself. This is maybe the most empowering way that beauty takes shape. I scraped myself out of a deep, dark hole of self-loathing and built me back up all by myself, through sheer force of will, choosing the right allies, and the right tools. And i think when you do that, your beauty becomes your own. Beauty can be a trap and a burden. So you have to own it. Cultivate it for yourself, beauty for beauty’s sake.
Shifting your relationship to your body can be unbelievably transformative. Regardless of whether you view your mind and body as one, or your body as a vehicle for your spirit, it is how we exist in the world. Understanding it as a burden to be dealt with and maintained or ignored is not really helpful – and yet it is how many people approach it. Loving my body is how i came to begin to make nutritional choices that truly served me, to enjoy moving rather than loathe “exercise.” These things all radically changed my life.
I’m still fat by some people’s standards, and “overweight,” according to the BMI. But that doesn’t conflict with my self perception and presentation as beautiful – though i still do have some dips in my self-love. Mostly, i now find myself an exuberant, enthusiastic, gorgeous woman, who loves to run around, stretch, jump, and most of all, dance.
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Caroline MorningStar is a wandering wayfinder who currently resides in Louisville, KY, where she goes to nursing school. She’s also studied art, French, yoga/Ayurveda, and herbalism. Caroline lived on a commune in Virginia off and on for 7 years, and blogs sporadically about yoga and life at radiantyogi.wordpress.com. She loves her cat and dressing up (but not dressing up her cat).
Caroline’s Unroast: i *LOVE* the curve of my hips!
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If you have a body image story you’d like to share, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org!
P.S. I want to kill myself right now because I just spent an hour searching for images of non-skinny women dancing. There appear to be, um, two? And they look vaguely insulting.