The day was absolutely gorgeous. My little boy had tucked his hand into mine and we walked down the causeway in a little lake town in Maine. I felt good. Whole. And we were about to go get some ice cream.
“Mama, look at all those people down there!”
I glanced down to where he was pointing and saw a group of 20-something women lounging on a little spit of sand beside the town boat launch. I wondered vaguely if there were some sort of model convention in town because each and every one seemed to be thin and long limbed, fit and tan. In a word: gorgeous. I automatically started to feel embarrassed and frumpy. Honestly, at 30, I probably wasn’t much older than them, but with my five year old pulling me along as I wore my comfy draw string shorts, my mom bod felt particularly tired and conspicuous.
The ice cream cone I shared with my son mollified the self-loathing that started to creep in. As we ate, my son chattered on and I tried to listen closely, but my mind kept pulling itself away to the women by the water. I realized I was obsessing. Obsessing over just how much more attractive they were than me. Obsessing over how I would never look like that, how I never had looked like that. Obsessing over how I felt like this flabby, inconsequential mom.
“Why do you even care, though?”
The question was so abrupt it was as though someone had spoken it aloud. It stopped my compulsive thought pattern dead in it’s tracks as I sought to answer the question: “Because that’s what I’m supposed to look like, right?”
I think the trope of a fat woman realizing that she’s been given toxic rules for her body all her life is nothing new, and I knew them well before that day. What’s important to understand is not that I knew the rules were bunk, but that I still felt compelled to follow them. But if you’re new to these rules around women’s/femme’s bodies, here are just few, certainly the ones that I’ve struggled to follow my whole life:
- First and foremost these bodies should be thin, or at least fit and strong looking (because strong is the new skinny).
- Rounder bottoms, breasts, and thighs are okay, as long as everything else is small.
- These bodies should not take up too much space.
- If you are fat, you need to repent for that sin and always try to lose weight.
- God forbid, should you stay fat, at least have big breasts.
- These bodies should always appear youthful (but not too youthful if you’re older, don’t try so hard) and you shouldn’t use any sort of product to produce that aura of youth (but of course you will, but for Pete’s sake, be discreet about it).
It’s often human nature to want to follow rules, and it is painful and isolating to not be in line with them. And so, fat women often do one of two things, even when they realize society’s message about body is bull; they either try not to be fat, with mixed results, or stop giving a shit about the rules.
And so, as I wiped chocolate ice cream off of my five year old’s face, I came to the conclusion that I was done. Why did I even care? I didn’t. You see, I have actually, regardless of size, always liked my body. I liked it when I was 16 and just chubby. I liked it when I was 20, full of new stretch marks from my baby. And I like my body now, when my body is the biggest it’s every been. I have plenty of moments where I don’t feel particularly attractive, and I do worry about my health sometimes, but overall, I like my body.
As I considered this, I felt like a balloon attached to the ground by lots strings, and the more thought about letting go of the rules around my body, a string was cut. Snip, snip, snip, until I truly felt as though I was floating. I was making the rules now:
- No clothes are off limits. If it feels good on my body, I will wear it.
- Movement is something that I want to do because I like the way it makes me feel and will help me live a long, productive life, not because it will change my body’s appearance.
- I will not say unkind things about my body or anyone else’s. Bodies deserve respect.
- Food isn’t “good” or “bad”, and I’ll eat what makes me feel good.
- I will not compare my body to another person’s body.
- My body does not need to be fixed.
- I will believe my husband, loved ones, and friends when they tell me I’m beautiful.
- I will take my body out into the world with confidence, because it is a good body.
My son and I walked back to my car, passing the young women again, now sunning themselves on a dock. I looked at them and smiled. They seemed confident (I know looks can be deceiving) and I genuinely hoped it was a confidence they would maintain all their lives, long after their bodies changed from possible motherhood, shifting body chemistry, and time. They would always be beautiful, and so would I.
Note to the reader: I wrote this in a way that makes it seem like I just suddenly stumbled upon the idea of body positivity. A discerning reader, familiar with the philosophies that fall under the that movement, could rightly argue this doesn’t seem possible. It’s not. I’ve spent the last year or so following a variety of folks, mostly women and femmes, who are deeply involved in this much needed movement. I’ve read blogs, articles, and books, followed excellent Instagram accounts, and done a lot of inner work to get to this point. The day I saw those young women by the water, like so many sirens, was a breakthrough for me. I did realize, almost in an instant, that everything I had been reading and learning about was true: I no longer had to be ashamed of my body and that I could love it freely and publicly. That breakthrough was possible because of the hard work of folks involved in the body positive movement. I strongly encourage anyone who wants to learn more about this to get themselves to Google and search body positivity. The hashtags #bodypositivity and #bopo on Instagram and Twitter are great places to start, too.