“Mama, I’m fat. But I want to be skinny like Kelly. See my tummy?” She pulled up her shirt to show me a beautiful belly that loves tickles.
And I looked at my five year old daughter – really looked at her. The pleading sadness in her big, brown eyes. The ‘yuck-face’ she made as she patted at her little-girl tummy. The discontent in the droop of her shoulders as she turned to look at her reflection in the mirror. It was a sadness and a ‘yuck-face’ and a discontent that I know all too well.
What have I done?
She didn’t stop there. She wanted to be smaller – ‘like my friend blah blah’. Less hairy – ‘like my friend blah blah’. I noted that all the friends she was aspiring to look like – were palagi. Very different physically from her Samoan girl self. They were fair-skinned, blonde and very petite. (Although, at five years old, is ‘petite’ even a real word?!)
It didn’t matter when I told Bella she was beautiful and strong and brave and funny and clever. That her body was shamaaahzing and could do wonderful things. She was still unhappy with her appearance because she was measuring it against an “ideal” that she didn’t fit, and so nothing else mattered.
What have I done?
Among other things, this conversation with Bella, led to my ‘awakening’, my own personal epiphany. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of my life, my every waking minute – obsessed with my appearance and in particular, with my weight. I grew up ‘gangly’ skinny and tall, flat on both sides – surrounded by girls who were Samoan-style curvaceous, with big and bold thighs, legs and breasts. A nice boy who had a way with words, called me Chicken-Legs. Another added, Skinny Owl-Face, to my name. But I didn’t need them to make me feel crap about my body because I already loathed it. Because it was too skinny, too tall, too flat.
Then I grew up and something called marriage, motherhood and madness happened. I wasn’t skinny anymore. Now I was too fat, too squishy, too stretch-marked. I did diets. Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers and Soup Starvation. No carbs. No dairy. High protein. High carb. I did fitness programs. Weight training, Extreme Challenge, aerobics, fun-runs. Heck, I did the 102km Perimeter Relay. TWICE. I embraced fitness so hard, me and the Hot Man organized community run/walk events for families. (Except I got so excited about motivating other people that I couldn’t do the races myself because somebody had to do all the registration, race times and refreshments.)
In and of themselves, none of those things were bad. Eating better and moving more are all good things we should do. They can make us feel great, have fun and live longer, better-quality lives. The problem though, was I did them hating my body. Hating what it looked like and what it felt like. A lot of that self-hatred came from being a sexual abuse survivor. Some of it came from simply being a woman in this often screwed-up world we live in. It didn’t matter that I had a partner who loved me and thought my ‘fat/squishy/stretchmarked’ body was beautiful and who always wanted to do wildly exciting things with my aforementioned squishy self. Because the truth is, you cant find self-worth in someone else’s love for you. No matter how Hot that someone else is…
It didn’t matter that I had babies who loved me and appreciated my nurturing, hugs, kisses and snuggles. No, that barely made a dent because I was too busy measuring…weighing…and despising the body my spirit lives in. Its been a miserable way to live and I cannot begin to comprehend the impact my body-hatred has had on my children, in particular, my daughters.
I am so done.
It’s not easy, it’s taken awhile, but with lots of help – I have let go of the body hate and am learning how to love. And live. Food is not my enemy, my friend, my excuse, or my escape. Its a delicious, essential part of life. I don’t stand on a scale anymore. When I’m having a bad day, I don’t blame it on my body and complain about being fat and ugly (especially in front of my children!) Now, I own my emotions and name them – I am tired, angry, sad, stressed, afraid, nervous – and food aint gonna fix any of it. When I go for a walk/run, its because I like how it feels, I like having a shot of fresh air and endorphins. Its not about how many calories I need to burn.
I look in the mirror and I rejoice in what I see there. In what I feel. In what I am. I am a thousand stories and countless more waiting to be told. Strength, scars, wisdom, laughter, tears, fears, courage, compassion, endurance, tenderness, faith, questions, passion, love – I am all these and more. It’s truly a joyous way to live each day.
I hadn’t realized how exhausting body-image obsession is, not until I stopped. Its so much nicer to be nice to myself! This has changed the way I view the women around me as well. I am no longer critical of how they dress or what they look like. Instead I can focus on what they say, what they do and how they treat the people around them.
And, I am able now to quietly expect others to give me and my body, the same respect. This isn’t easy… I was in Samoa this week and a dear friend of mine told me, very loudly, very emphatically, in front of a group of men and women – “You need to go on a diet. You have to lose weight.”
Her response, when I very nicely told her that I’m never dieting again and I don’t want to lose weight because “I’m happy with my body”? She told me off. Very loudly and emphatically.
“Don’t lie to yourself. You can’t be happy when you’re fat, when you look like that. Nobody can.”
The old Me would have been horribly hurt and ashamed – and would have agreed with her. The old Me would then have gone home, looked in the mirror at the curves, the rolls, the jiggly bits – and been disgusted. Then made 101 plans for how to try and stop being so ugly/disgusting.
But I am not the same Me. And so I wasn’t horribly hurt. And I didn’t agree with her. Was I embarrassed at being spoken to like that, especially in front of others? Yes. Was I disappointed that a friend would treat me that way? Yes. But I know what place she’s coming from. I’ve been there and it’s a miserable place to live in. So as she continued to reprimand me about ‘living in a fantasy land of lies because you just don’t want to face the truth of what you need to do…I’ve been fat and so I know how unhappy that is…‘ I didn’t get angry. Instead, I was able to say, “What is it about a big woman who likes her body that makes you feel so uncomfortable? So threatened? I’ve spent years hating my body and it had nothing to do with size because I wasn’t happy even when I was stick skinny…”
This is an example of how pervasive body shaming is – even your friends and family can try to do it to you and think its okay.
I am so done.
It’s taken me a lifetime, but I am finally able to say, (stealing a few lines here from some random character in some random book somewhere…)
“I am Lani, I was broken and now I am whole. I am Beloved.”
Beloved, by me – also means I am better able to love those around me. I only hope I can repair the damage I’ve already done with my daughters. I want Bella to be able to read this,
– and believe it, with all of her strong, brave, funny, clever, talented, beloved self.
Helpful to Remember: (from Laura Bradley Rede on Pinterest.)