To Have a Body

"Grace Meets Matisse" (2016)  Elise Peterson

"Grace Meets Matisse" (2016) Elise Peterson

Body positivity. Body confidence. Love your body. These days, messages like these are hard to avoid. In the past few months, it’s become extremely popular to see Instagram posts in which people compare the differences in their body in a posed photo and when it’s relaxed. There are so many messages for us to love our bodies, although these are often followed by images of thin and toned bodies and ads (upon ads) that all promise you a "better" body in as little as 14 days. The conflicting nature of these messages make the cry for body positivity/confidence feel artificial. 

I’ve always been concerned about the size and shape of my body. As a kid, I was always aware that I was bigger than most of my friends, who were small and quiet and cute. I, in comparison, was big and boisterous, and often felt like Princess Fiona when she first hugs her parents in her ogre form. Despite this awareness, I still wasn't bothered much. I was pretty confident and happy as a kid. I was smart and sociable, and the shape and size of my body didn't define me.

In middle school, that started to change. I started to binge eat to combat feelings of loneliness or inadequacy. I didn’t have words to describe what I was feeling but I knew that if I felt horrible, scarfing down a container of cookies and cream ice cream and a pack of powdered donuts was a momentary remedy. I gained a lot of weight, which made me more insecure, especially when people in my life would bring attention to it--my doctor, my family, my best friend. I continued to feel lonely, angry, and insecure. I continued to binge.

When my family moved to Trinidad when I was in the seventh grade, I lost a lot of weight. The unwanted move, the sudden change of circumstance, combined with intensified feelings of sadness, led me to stop eating. Matched with the magic of puberty, all my fat disappeared and i became “shapely”. People began to comment on how much weight I had lost and how good I looked. But I still didn't feel good. Until that moment, I had always associated slimness with happiness and confidence, so it was a bit of wakeup call to realize that my now loose clothes didn’t make me feel any better about myself. Now I worried about keeping off the weight, hungry for compliments so as to validate myself.

Why did it matter if I was fat or skinny, chubby or toned? Why was I, at 12 years old, already evaluating my worth based on the size of my thighs and the roundness of my face? In all the time I’ve been alive, society has always promoted thinness. It has humiliated and shamed people for not fitting certain body standards. Even in our age of body positivity and confidence, this narrative still persists. And while in recent years, there has been a greater acceptance of women with larger bodies, there’s still a lot of work to do before there is an actual change in the way we see and talk about bodies. It feels like there's little room in the body positivity conversation to talk about the complexities of “loving your body”. I wish we talked more about how not loving your body doesn't mean not loving yourself.

I do not love my body. Every time I look in the mirror and tell myself that I love my thighs or that I love my belly, I feel ridiculous. But I also don’t hate my body. There are some days where I wish it was smaller and more toned. Those moments pass.

A body is just a physical vessel. We exist in them, but they do not define us. My body doesn’t say anything about who I am, except maybe that I really like donuts (like REALLY LIKE). My body doesn’t determine my worth, and I don’t need to love it. I think that's okay.