I have had a fraught relationship with my body for as long as I can remember. Just like with my hair. From a young age, I was a victim of emotional eating as a coping mechanism for the absence of my father. I remember it pretty well. My dad was a free spirit. He moved around continually making con artistry look like child’s play. He was tall, dark, handsome, and charming. What he was not was responsible. I have come now to believe that parenting just was not for him, and his absence was a blessing that kept me from being irreparably damaged by his inability to get his shit together. But I am nowhere near unscathed.
My earliest childhood memories were filled with sporadic visits, letters, cards, and money. Abusive carrots strung along a fierce love that my five-year-old self held for her daddy. Even in his absence, I only longed to be daddy’s girl. His last visit, I was five and met his then-wife who I really liked. She was pretty and kind, so much so that she garnered my grandmother’s seal of approval, and they kept in touch for years even after the marriage inevitably failed. My dad was not much for equitable relationships either. On his last visit, closely watched by my grandmother, we went up on the hill to the mall and walked around. I was so excited to just be with him. That was the visit he bought me a bicycle with training wheels. It was also the last time that I heard from or saw him for the better part of fifteen years.
My sordid affair with food was tied to my grandmother’s sweet tooth and my attempting to cope with the fact that the first man I loved did not seem to want to be part of my life. By age eleven, I was a women’s size sixteen and was getting my church clothing made by a seamstress. My grandmother made me start walking 12 miles a week with her and my mom, and I began to drop weight. From then to now, I had always seen myself as too big even when I was wearing a 10/12. In college, I thought I was fat. I look back at those pictures, and I get angry about how small I was. Through college, up to my grandmother’s passing, she would always tell me how pretty I was and warn me about getting too big or too small, depending on where I was at that point. My yo-yoing weight was matched by a yo-yoing sense of self.
When I look at my body, there are things that I will never be able to shed. I have a big butt, wide hips, thighs, and legs for me and at least 2 other people. I understand that this is genetics. I am literally both of my parents with my grandmother’s broad shoulders. It has caused such a struggle for me to feel comfortable in my body; at 31 I just now really dealing with how my body has been circumscribed by my family, the black church, society, and my childhood traumas. It really is like unraveling a tightly wound ball of yarn.
Learning to love my body for what it has caused me to realize that the things that I believe about myself are not my own thoughts, but instead, they are messages that I have internalized for decades and turned into truths. I have placed value on my body, so much so that I turned my weight into something that I hide behind so that I will not stand out.
While I have not made it to self-love, I have stopped the loathing. I have almost totally accepted who I am and where I am, with some confidence. Part of that has come with getting older and knowing that there are things that I don’t need to change to please others. More importantly, I won’t always please others and that I should not try. With my one life, I have to try to make myself happy and fulfilled. I hold close my mother’s motto: “At the end of the day no regrets.” This is extending to being in my body. I do not want to look back over the years and lament over the time I wasted trying to make myself acceptable to someone else’s gaze. There is so much more to experience that does not require me to be small, both literally and shrinking myself to make others comfortable. If nothing else, learning to love myself means taking the pressure off of myself to be something acceptable to others and deciding what is acceptable to me. It is definitely a healthy start.
Love and Light,