Friday, October 24, 2014

Love Your Body, Without Apology

Earlier this week I had the privilege of participating in a discussion at East Stroudsburg University entitled "A Conversation about Learning to Love Your Body Without Apology".  A wonderful friend of mine, who knows my personal history and struggles with body image, is an alumni of ESU and a member of the school's Feminist Alliance organization which put together the event.  Initially it was supposed to be a formal event where those who wished would read a monologue, and although about a dozen of us still did, it was in a much more casual setting, which was great because it encouraged commentary and conversation that would not have been possible otherwise.  My hope is that this was just a stepping stone to more involved projects, with more students and community members attending.  And eventually my friend and I are planning to bring some of the amazing young women we met that night to do a similar presentation at the local high school and middle school.  The teenage years are not easy, and the more that young women, and men, are encouraged to share their insecurities, fears, accomplishments and strengths, the stronger they will be as adults.  And the first step to being a productive citizen is to be proud of who you are, and love yourself, your body and your mind, without apology.

The following is the monologue that I prepared and shared with the group:

     Her nose is perfect.  She has great hair.  She has amazing abs. She is really tall.  Look how strong her arms are.  I wish my boobs were firmer, my butt was bigger, my hair longer, my feet smaller, my legs skinnier.  I hate being short. I hate being tall.  I want, I hate,  I need, look at her, look at her. Just look.
     Nobody is perfect.  No one goes through life completely satisfied with how they feel every day, how they look in the mirror or how their clothes fit. But we are all perfect.  Our bodies are marvelous creations that have been formed by the choices we have made and the circumstances we have been presented with.  As women, our bodies are beautiful and strong, miracles of nature that we far too often take for granted.
     I hate to admit that I spent years torturing my body and in the end I achieved nothing but self-destruction, depression and misery. Sure I was skinny, but I was miserable and half dead inside.  From the age of 14 until 23 I struggled with anorexia, sometimes acutely when I needed hospitalization and sometimes more in my head than in my outward appearance or actions. I was never heavy, never suffered from abuse; honestly I had nothing to complain about.  My life was “perfect”.  I should have been ok. I was one of the “lucky” ones.  And yet even I was not safe from my own mind.  I understand more fully the reasons now for why I suffered so much back then, but I can’t change the past, nor do I wish to.  I only have control over what I do today and how I restructure my thoughts whenever I begin to falter.
     There may have been a lot of reasons why I fell prey to an eating disorder and later to a strong bout of alcohol abuse, but I know one main reason why I survived.  At the age of 23, I got pregnant.  Obviously this could look like just another bump in a road to disaster and I would not recommend this path to anyone.  Having a child is usually the worst thing you can add to an already shaky life.  But it worked for me.  For years I had been searching for my purpose in life, my passion, a way to focus all my strengths without the need to be perfect.  And the only consistent answer I had ever given when asked what I wanted to be when I "grew up," was "a mom."  So getting pregnant, and having an amazing man by my side through it all, saved me.  My son, saved me. I know that in my heart and honestly believe that if it wasn’t for him, I may not be standing here in front of all of you today.
     This is not to say that every day since I heard the words “you are pregnant” my life has been easy or all my problems have been solved.  But it forced me to look outside of myself while learning to absolutely love all that my body is capable of doing.  I had something and someone to focus my energy on, and I started to be kinder to myself.  I began to really grasp the concept that what I put in my body really mattered, not just as far as how many calories it had and what it would do to my shape, but in regards to the simple fact that “we are what we eat.”  If I want to feel strong and healthy, I need to eat properly, and focus on a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, proteins, vitamins and minerals.  I need to trust that my body knows what it needs and to give into my cravings whether it be a piece of fruit, a bar of chocolate or a jar of pickles.  My body knows what it needs if I quiet my mind long enough to listen. 
     Of course I still slip up, both in action and in thought.  In the past year alone I have found myself working out too much, eating too much or too little at times, drinking too many beers on a Saturday night, or not letting myself rest when all I really need to do is breathe. But I don’t punish myself because of it.  I am kind.  I look at myself in the mirror as others would (sometimes by not focusing on my face and looking solely at my body as if it was someone else’s- that really can work!) and I try to find things I love about myself.  Every day. If I feel the demons of my past creeping up, I close my eyes, and just let myself feel.  Feel my breath enter and exit my body and just be.  Think of the feeling of extreme relaxation I experience before drifting off to sleep, the sweet complex taste of a simple strawberry against my tongue, the complete exhaustion of my muscles after running for 3 miles, aching for breath and relief but bursting with adrenaline and pride.  My body can do all those things; this one body that I have been given, that I have tortured, scrutinized, bullied and finally learned to love. 
     This body made life. That is really cool.  And it is the only vessel I have been given to get through this life of mine. So I need to treat it well.  All I have to do is look into the eyes of my two marvelous children and I know what I have to keep fighting for, who I have to be an example for, and what I have to be proud of.  But I am also proud of me, who I am, with all my flaws, mistakes, bumps and bruises.  I have the ability with this imperfect body of mine to offer comfort and security to my children, express my love for my husband of almost ten years, prove my own strength by running for 30 minutes without stopping, and running a 200m race in a little over 30 seconds even though I know my athletic prime is long gone.  I keep on trying, because what do I have to lose, except everything?  I am here now, I am alive, and for that, I am thankful. 
     I am not perfect, I will never be perfect, but I am perfect just the way I am.

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