02/08/2016

Food, Thighs and TMI


My body and I have always had an odd relationship, for the majority of my life I have considered it to be a means of transportation for my brain. Even looking back at pictures recently, from various points in my teens and early adulthood, I was struck by the fact that I know that at every point I thought I was bigger than I actually was. This was largely because at the age of 12 I had already decided that I was overweight (I wasn't, I was tall and a bit chubby), unpopular, and that no boy could possibly want me. It was beyond the realms of reality for me, it just wasn't going to happen. Of course, with thoughts like that painted across the walls of my mind, it didn't. I gained weight year on year and because I'd already decided I was unloveable, and that I didn't need anyone anyway, I did nothing about it. I retreated into books and unrequited crushes and pretended really hard that I was ok with being alone, that I was in fact stronger for it.

Not until last year did I finally admit that maybe I did need or would at least like someone, and that it was worth letting my guard down. My heart still feels that on the whole this was a good thing to do, even if my brain tells me it was monumentally stupid. After all, it's just a fact that I'm not ever going to get what I want and need by building a wall around myself. However, along with this came the stomach churning realisation that I now also cared about another person's approval of my body, for the first time ever.


I have dieted many times in my life, for many reasons, but for the first time I was motivated by fear. Fear that my body would stop me from getting what I now realised I wanted, that it would not provide pleasure for another, that it would be my own fault for neglecting it for so long, and most of all that maybe it was already too late to get to a point where my body would be acceptable. I told myself that I needed to lose weight, fast.

As well as starting to diet, I began to exfoliate and moisturise, scrubbing my body harshly like my happiness depended on it and occasionally wincing as I moisturised skin that could never be perfect. I would scrutinise myself too, stood in front of the mirror in my optimistically, I had already decided I was unloveablenewly bought underwear, touching my stomach, my hips, and my thighs. I alternated day by day between hating what I saw and feeling like maybe I could bear to be touched and not feel ashamed. After months of psyching myself up to finally let someone near me, I began to actually appreciate my body, to anticipate sharing whatever I had to give. When it came to it though, I was rejected.

Despite the fact that this rejection actually had nothing to do with my body, I was plunged into a crisis of self confidence that I have never felt before. My foolish goal had been the approval of another and now I was denied that. I couldn't bear to look at myself, or touch myself. Taking a bath or shower became a shameful ordeal, and I would turn my back on the mirror and shove my body into clothes as soon as possible when getting changed.

Before I would have turned to food as comfort. That cliché image of a girl eating a pint of icecream in front of Bridget Jones had not been far from the truth. Now however, I couldn't even do that. Not only did the most tempting of foods turn to ash in my mouth, but they became disgusting representations of how I had brought this all on myself. The ridiculous idea, that perhaps this was a blessing in disguise, frequently occured to me and for the first time food became just a requirement so that I could function. It turns out that heartache, for me, was the best and worst diet.

Even at my heaviest though, I have always at least been comfortable with my body's ability to bring me pleasure. It was the most natural thing in the world to me but now even that made me feel sick. It took courage to even press my palms to my inner thighs, touching my own body now felt like a violation. My imagination, once prolific, was also overwhelmed by the ghosts of touches and heated exchanges that had filled my nights for so long, my body shut down, and I would gather the duvet around me and surrender to fractured sleep. The anger at being denied even this basic pleasure burned inside me, and began to forge the will to fight back. After all, as Laura Bates says in Girl Up:

Our worth is not measured by a gap between our thighs. We are friends, daughters, sisters, lovers, listeners, talkers, thinkers, and a thousand other things that are not measured in centimetres or kilos. What we look like is not who we are. You aren't your body. ... Pretty much the strongest, most badass and rebellious thing that you can do is to love your body in this world that screams at you that you shouldn't.

Just yesterday I was sat on the floor of the gym, passively watching the overcast sky and the occasional car driving through the leafy suburb. I was twisting with my right knee bent, stomach squished and definitely not dignified, but enjoying going through the motions of stretching, when my eyes were drawn to my reflection. I saw myself with all my supposed flaws and in that quiet moment I felt how relaxed I was and tentatively thought, "Hmm, this might be OK". I'm taking that as progress.

Since then I have continued to lose weight, to exercise and to be ... kind ... to myself ... although it is a daily struggle to do this for the right reasons. I am comforted though by the positive thoughts that are beginning to break through.

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