I have obsessed about weight. In college I abused laxatives. I’ve battled with disordered eating. I said hateful things to myself. I compared myself to women in magazine, classmates, strangers, and, quite possibly, people who didn’t even exist. The lengths I took to keep the bar of how I was supposed to look and what I should weigh just out of reach was staggering. I made it impossible to succeed.
As I raise three daughters I feel terror because of all the very real threats in the world, hating ourselves can be the most devastating. I watch them grow, their shapes changing constantly, and each new contour and curve makes me fall more intensely in love with who they are. They have never had a blemish, freckle, or roll that I have seen as anything short of magnificent, and yet that is still not a way that I can respond to changes in my own appearance.
I’ve largely quieted the voice in my head. Don’t get me wrong, she’s still in there, but she no longer possesses the mic around the clock. I don’t writhe to get out of my own skin like I once did. I donate clothes that don’t make me feel good, I move my body to remind myself of its strength, and I try to lean into the things that I used to hate. I work at loving myself.
I used to have no-touch zones on my body, worried that someone feeling my stomach would think it was too soft, I worried about the size of my butt, the width of my calves, I once came to think that my index fingers were hideously shaped. I had self-loathing super powers, but I couldn’t possibly tell you where they came from. I can’t blame my mom, I don’t remember a pivotal moment in time when I heard or saw something that specifically said I was the wrong shape. This is what terrifies me. How do I help the girls or is it simply inevitable that they will hate parts of themselves?
I want to believe we can do this. I let them see me. I tell them that sometimes we feel sad for no reason or that things can go bad, but that these are moments in time, not concrete definitions. We talk openly about changes, puberty, peer pressure. Tight skirts, skimpy tops, make-up or no make-up. I tell them that it is all ok. I don’t know if that’s enough.
Today we are going to see Embrace—the documentary. It is one woman’s journey to understand why we apply so much pressure to ourselves and what is at the root of the relentless sense of being less than. I realize that there is a good chance we’ll be exposing the girls to sentiments that they haven’t entertained. They don’t look at each other’s body with envy; they very plainly understand that each of them has her own shape, speed, height, weight, you name it.
The comparisons I hear them make to classmates and celebrities has nothing to do with weight or beauty. Yet. I want to do this with them so that we can all be reminded of perception. I think sometimes we are more receptive to seeing the flaws in self-loathing logic when it isn’t our own voice. “Of course she shouldn’t feel like that” unless of course, the she is me. Right?
“Darling girl, don’t waste a single moment of your life being at war with your body, just embrace it.”
I want to work toward that, and so in a couple of hours, our entire family will go see the movie. I’m looking forward to hearing from the girls on the other side of it.