I am a woman.
I grew up in America.
Ergo, I have a complicated relationship with my body. We have a history, which includes bad times and good times and mixed emotions.
This phrasing is awkward (After all, when did “my body” and “me” become separate entities? Answer: I don’t know, I guess when English was invented by that notorious patriarch, Mr. English); yet, every other woman in America knows what I’m talking about. If your relationship with your body is not complicated, well, congratulations, but I bet you know someone whose is.
I remember being about 13 years old when I first looked in the mirror and thought that I looked fat, and that that was an undesirable trait. I told my mom so, and she scolded me (a rare occurrence in my house): “You are not going to start with this now. You’re too young for this.” Her intentions were good, but her message was clear: growing into a woman meant that I would eventually join the flocks of women who hate their bodies. That’s just what a woman does.
I didn’t know much about losing weight. I took up running – even though I hated it. Some days I would force myself to bring only raw broccoli and carrots to school in a Tupperware and leave my money at home, so that I would have no other option but to consume zero calories. I went to the gym and read Cosmopolitan on the treadmill, learning about all the ways my body was imperfect and all the products I could buy to fix it. I put my mental math skills to use on that treadmill, calculating over and over how much time it would take to burn off the beer I drank that weekend. Regardless, I never got out of the “overweight”category and this made me feel even more guilty. This is all typical white girl stuff – I know plenty of people who have a similar journey and some are living this life right now.
I started drinking coffee in college alongside my rigorous work-out routine – I lost 15 pounds and remember telling anyone who’d listen that I had found the secret. Of course, I gained it all back. I was in college!
I didn’t really start accepting my body until I moved out here to California. I think it was just being away from my past in Ohio that allowed me to let it all go. I began to enjoy running because I didn’t force myself to do it – I ate whatever I could afford on my AmeriCorps stipend, so I didn’t have anything to feel guilty about. Roller derby became a huge part of my life. In fact, sometimes at practice, I catch myself wishing that I had more weight on me, so I could hit harder and absorb the hits easier – how many American women can say they’ve ever had that thought?
My body would never be featured in a magazine, but I stopped caring. I have cellulite – so what? I feel beautiful regardless. A friend whose body I’ve always envied even confessed to me how much she envies mine – that was a surprise! Things were looking up for my body and me!
Unfortunately, my recent transition out of AmeriCorps and into a new workplace has shaken this great relationship I have with my body. For the summer, I’m working as an RA to a STEM academy for minority high schoolers. It’s a 24/6 kind of a thing – an all-encompassing environment and now, I can’t escape my co-workers’ body hang-ups. The hottest topic of discussion is how fat this food makes you, or how someone is trying to give up red meat, or how we really should work out today. The constant moralizing of our food intake and exercise routine is bringing up issues for me that I thought I had locked away for good.
And the thing that bothers me most is that we are supposed to be mentors to the students, and instead we are passing on our insecurities and guilt over consumption on to them, and at such a delicate age. Some of the RAs have put together a whole lesson to shame students for what they do to their bodies. The lesson requires the students to track everything they eat for two days (I remember doing that voluntarily in high school, and how terrible it made me feel). Girls are getting up at 5:30am to go running with the RAs. Freshmen in high school are being shamed for eating red meat, because “it stays in your system for 30 days,” (a Google-able urban legend).
This is how society teaches us to be women. Just like I learned when I was 13. You hate your body; your body is a source of guilt and fear. I can’t stand to think of how many hours of our lives women waste in front of a mirror, criticizing ourselves, moralizing our diets, and directing perfectly good conversations to self-deprecation. I don’t like the way this is going for me. I want to get out of here as soon as I can so I can stay in love with my body. Any tips out there for a fairly fierce feminist, trying to escape this environment of self-hate? I think just writing it down helps, logicking it away, but I could use some thoughtful discussion on the topic right about now.