For many years now, I’ve been a big proponent of body positivity, health at any size, and loving yourself no matter what. I’ve been at the forefront of fat activism with a kind of in-your-face like me or fuck off kind of attitude.
But something happened in the past two years that has, in a way, eroded a lot of my self-work in regards to my relationship with my body. I fell in love for the first time with someone who wholly and irrevocably loves my body, heart, soul, mind. Not in a fetishist sort of way, and also, not in a “well, I love your heart, so I’ll deal with the body” kind of way. I mean my wife unabashedly adores me, loves me, lusts for me, and respects me in a no holds barred, all of me for all of you kind of way.
That’s the best feeling in the world.
And – also…
For some reason, it has really triggered all of the buried self-hatred that I thought I had dealt with so many years ago. I’ve spent so much more time being disgusted by my body over the past two years than I had previously in a decade. And it’s really only within the past few months that I’ve been able to pinpoint why and start working out of it.
For years, I was either single or, more often than not, dating someone who had hangups about my body. There were the blatant fat-shaming ones. There was the one who seemed to be okay with my body, but then would ask friends who were with big women, “How do you deal with this size thing?” There were those who claimed to love me as is but didn’t really ever look at me or reach for me.
And in parsing it out with my wife a few months ago, I realized that I was body positive in defense. I was dealing with not only the messages from the outside world, from the memories of my parents fat-shaming me, from doctors berating me, from people on airplanes shoving me, from strangers in the street calling me names, I was also dealing with it in what was supposed to be my safe space – my relationships.
And so the self-work that started when I quit smoking and skyrocketed when I left my decade-long, toxic relationship was thrown into overdrive. You’re not going to love me so I’m going to love myself harder and show you what a more evolved and better person I am than you. I don’t think anything like that was ever in the front of my mind, but it does make sense. In the same way that I found it so easy to complete P90X, an uber hard 90-day workout program because my partner at the time was so scornful of it. It was what my friend Nikki calls oppositional defiance disorder.
I had friends who loved me as is and that helped. I counseled other women on body image issues and that helped. I could see through the veil of patriarchy that profits on women hating themselves and that helped. And also…
I remember calling my friend SSML one day after an ex told me I couldn’t blame her for having moments of hatred toward my body. After all, she had to live in a society that gave off the message that fat = ugly. Fat = lazy. Fat = gross. Fat = sexless. And if she had to live in that world, how could I blame her for sometimes having those thoughts? SSML, true to form had gone on a rant of epic proportions about it not being my fault that the person hadn’t done the self-work to get past her own misogyny and patriarchal bullshit.
And I hung up the phone feeling righteous and strong. Because, as SSML reminded me, I’m an Amazon and I show up. That’s what I do.
And then I met my wife. And I suddenly knew what a safe space really was. And I realized that all of the times I was filled with uncertainty and indecision about relationships was because I wasn’t in a safe space at all. And then I was and somehow, the feeling of being completely accepted, cherished even, gave me room to unpack the decades of buried hatred and insecurity.
I remember the day I told her my weight. Said the number. And cried and shook and waited for her to freak out. She just hugged me and said, “There’s nothing different than there was before you told me.” She said, “How is this different than me telling you that thing I never told anyone?” Everyone thinks their own shame is so different, so much worse. I remember giving a self-love workshop to close to 100 women once. At the end of it, I said, “Who here now thinks that the people in this group are carrying shame about things that aren’t really shameful?” They all raised their hands. “Now, who here still thinks your own issue is so much more shameful than everyone else’s?” Again with all the hands.
The truth is we all have shame around something. And unpacking it is the only way to get rid of it. Sometimes that unpacking means talking to a therapist. Sometimes it means sharing it with a friend. And sometimes, it’s as simple as saying, “I hate this about myself” and letting someone acknowledge that it’s okay for you to hate that, but to let you know that they don’t.
It has been a learning experience, going back through all that old baggage I thought I’d gotten rid of long ago. My wife has some of her own body image issues and we’ve held each other through them, working them out with grace, acceptance, and unconditional love.
It reminds me of that stupid phrase – If you don’t love yourself, you can’t truly love anyone else. You know what? That’s bullshit. It’s just another form of shaming people who feel broken from the society that broke us in the first place.
You absolutely can love and be loved when you aren’t truly in love with yourself. In fact, I’d venture to say we love even deeper.
If there’s something you hate about yourself or something that you feel shame around – find someone to talk to. Sometimes, the simple act of saying it aloud is the first step to throwing it away.