The War on Her

Since early September, I have gotten back into swimming laps at the pool. Swimming was an integral part of my childhood – my parents had enrolled me in regular swim lessons since I was a baby. There is something nostalgic and comforting in returning to that routine, to something that was once familiar.

I also have to admit that part of it is for movement and health – I feel that my body needs more exercise and movement, and yet I have not been able to get back into the intensity of those “good old” gym days. But swimming, swimming is something I seem to be able to commit to in the moment.

There is this sense of ritual to stripping down to my bathing suit, plopping on my goggles and slipping into the cool water. The simplicity of it feels easy, inviting. I love how after a few laps, my body has accustomed to the temperature of the water, and I melt into this meditative trance of breath and movement. I love how freely my body moves in the water, fluid almost as if one with the water, of the water. I also love how there is this surrender that happens after spending so much time in the water, with my body, in a bathing suit. Where for a moment, I forget the role I am meant to play; critiquer of my body.

My new obsession of the hour is Dr. Hillary McBride, and as I have done with Brené Brown and Gabor Maté in the past, I have immersed myself in her work, consuming books and podcasts galore. I am currently devouring her new book The Wisdom of the Body in which she explores embodiement as a tool and practice to help us move towards healing and connection. She explores the complex intersection of factors that shape our (lack of) relationship to our bodies, and invites us to view our bodies as who we are, rather than a thing that carries “us” around in life.

She offers up practical exercises and prompts to help us get to know, connect to and listen to our bodies. And so, I have been knee deep in these embodiement practices, learning to nurture my body with loving touch and gentleness, becoming curious about sensations and feelings, caring for my body in a way that feels entirely new and radical.

A few weeks ago, when after my shower, I walked to my locker naked, I felt a wave of sadness wash over me as I saw an older woman scrambling to hide her body behind her towel as she tried to get changed. It reminded me of a moment last year when I was completing a training to become a Groove instructor and we were sharing why we loved Groove and/or what had brought us to the training. This woman in her sixties shared how she had spent her whole adult life hating her body, trying to change it to fit some ideal, constantly fighting with herself to stick to this diet or exercise regime. Groove was the first form of movement that she enjoyed, that she did for joy and because it felt good, not to change her body.

In that moment, last year, I remember making a promise to myself that I would not, at any cost, spend any more time hating my body and wishing she was different. Spend any more time believing the lie that the shape of my body was somehow related to my worth. No more, I told my self.

In that locker room, I was reminded of this promise, and smiled at myself as I reflected on how far I’ve come in ending the war on my body, on her. How sad, I thought, to be riddled with insecurities about our body into late adulthood. A stolen life, stolen pleasure, stolen joy.

And then something else happened, that quickly reminded me how the wounds are still fresh, having just barely begun to heal.

I was completing forms as part of an application for a psychedelic-assisted therapeutic program and the medical portion requires a basic set of vitals: height, weight, blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory rate. No biggie, I thought. I have access to all the required tools at work.

A few months ago, I put my scale away at home because I had noticed this pattern I had of weighing myself when I felt good, only to note that my weight remained unchanged, which triggered harsh self-talk and horrible feelings of guilt and shame. So I did away with the scale. Just as I have slowly been getting rid of clothes that are too small, fit tightly or are simply uncomfortable. All parts of this a slow recovery from years of being at war with my body.

So I hopped on the scale at work, got the number in kilograms which doesn’t mean much to my brain. Then I sat down at my computer to convert the number from kilograms to pounds, and I froze as my eyes registered the number om the screen. A wave of embarrassment washed over me, and before I knew it my thoughts were spiraling.

I should weigh myself naked in the morning at home, before I drink and after my daily morning bowel movement… this scale must be off … no wonder I am single, who could possibly be attracted to this body??… I really need to start working out again, my ass really has been looking flimsy lately … how could I be so stupid as to adopt a more stretchy and flowy wardrobe?!… I have let myself go….

These intrusive thoughts came and went for about a full day. I seriously considered dusting off that scale at home and weighing myself first thing in the morning to see if those extra pounds I’d apparently accumulated in the last 6 months were truly there. I am happy to report I forgot about hating my body long enough to miss the opportunity to weigh myself in the morning. Long enough for me to have a moment of awareness, to come up for air and remember the embodiement exercises I had been practicing in the last few weeks.

So for a moment, I paused, placed a hand on my chest and one on my soft belly rolls, and took a deep breath. I am so sorry, I told my body, for thinking such horrible things about you. I am sorry for not knowing how to care for you and love you. Thank you for all that you do, for your resilience, for always being here, no matter how much I have hated you and tortured you. I am listening now, and I want to learn. It won’t be perfect, I will make mistakes, but I promise to keep trying, and to love you now, as you are.

I am mad.

And for once, it’s not at myself. I am not mad for having hated my body. I am not mad for eating in ways that have harmed my body – both the dieting and the over eating.

No.

I am mad at the messages I received for most of my life that taught me that my body was bad, that it needed to be a certain way to be worthy of love and affection, that if I failed to look a certain way it meant that I was lazy and gross.

I am mad at the culture that made it okay for boys to objectify my body when I was still a young girl. For the lack of education and support around my body and its health, something I could have so desperately used at the age of 14.

I am mad at the people that continue to perpetuate this idea that the only worthy bodies are thin, that weight loss is always to be celebrated (or even mentioned), that dieting is somehow healthy, that the opposite of fitness is unhealthy.

I am mad that I have been conditioned to wage a war on my body when she has always been perfect. I am mad for the years lost, the money lost, and the peace lost.

The war may not be entirely over, but more often than not, the war is now directed at the systems, rather than at my self. I no longer want to engage in self hate, in the war against my body, against her.

In her book, McBride describes this concept she discovered in her studies, that happens as women age, and inevitably find themselves farther and farther away from the beauty standards associated with youth, thinness, fertility and sexual objeftification. One of two things happens: they either fight and struggle to keep up with this unrealistic standard, or they find freedom in essentially saying “fuck it”.

So fuck it.

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