Whenever I start focusing on what I eat, I inevitably think about shame. Truthfully, I don’t think about shame so much as I feel it. Sometimes deeply. Caring so much about the food I put in my body comes from many places--health, respect for my body (if it can grow such perfect babies I ought to treat it right), wanting to reduce my carbon footprint--but it also just has to do with weight. And as soon as it has to do with weight, the shame creeps in and starts messing with my head. I’m even ashamed to be writing this. Enough already.
But what I need to say, because then maybe I can get over myself, is that I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t feel ashamed of my body in some way. This isn’t to say that I’ve hidden myself away and not enjoyed all the wonderful things a body has to offer, such as the ability to dance long hours into the night, or say, make those babies I’m always talking about. I have a deep respect for my body, but like so many things, it’s a terribly complicated relationship. I’ve never felt that my body was just ok, but instead that it owes the world some explanation. I’ve never been terribly obese, and for most of my childhood I think I was pretty normal, but I’ve always felt as though just that little extra weight, those few additional curves, or that extra
So I’m a bit all over the place on my opinion on this body of mine. I spent years training in classical ballet and I loved how that made me feel. I was strong, I could pirouette for days, and overall I was pretty good. I loved dancing so much I think I actually vibrated in class. But it was also in ballet class that I began to doubt my body, with thanks to puberty. It was clear to the world that I was going to do puberty right. I got the hips, the boobs, but didn’t grow a single inch to compensate for all that extra me. And when it was that time to begin training for my professional ballet exams, my teacher sat me down and warned me that I’d probably fail because of my body. Not for what it might do, like miss a step, but for its very size.
I passed by the way.
It wasn’t just coming from my ballet teacher. My uncle once asked my mum (when I was in the room), if I wasn’t too fat to be a ballerina. I had just bought my first pair of point shoes, so that was soul-crushing. My grandfather routinely commented on my size, sometimes even helpfully suggesting that I not have the dessert that everyone else in the room was having. My family doctor once asked me why I ate so much. But a lot of the time the shame wasn’t coming from anyone else but myself. I dreaded gym class because I imagined that my friends were laughing at my attempts to run track, that if I didn’t do it as well as they did that they’d assume it was because I wasn’t as skinny. When my friends would tell me all the time how beautiful my mum was (and she still is one gorgeous woman), I imagined them wondering what happened to me. And when someone told me that I was pretty, I just felt even more embarrassed, because in my head I could hear them say, if only you weren’t so fat. When I have lost weight at different times in my life, I’ve often been mortified when people comment on how I look. They tell me that I look great, but all I hear is how bad they thought I looked before.
So when I start thinking about how I’d like to eat, or about weight I’d like to lose, it’s hard to feel positive. Instead I feel like I need to apologize for how I look now, for what I’ve eaten, for what I’d like to eat. And then mix-up all those guilty, shameful feelings with how much joy I get from cooking and baking my own food, for myself and for others, and things just start getting messy. And then I get messy.
Why am I telling you this? Because for the love of all things, this has got to stop. I have these two stunningly perfect little girls, and when I hear myself talking to Matt about how I don’t like my body or how I shouldn’t eat something, I also hear alarm bells going off. If Alyce or Shira were to begin feeling this way, and then have their feelings confirmed by my own actions? No way. Not going to happen. Instead I want them to know this:
1. Bodies are awesome.
2. Differently shaped bodies are awesome.
3. Food is delicious. Eat lots of good food.
4. Sharing food with family and friends, or even people you just met, is a wonderful way to live. Don’t let anything stand in the way of enjoying a good meal.
5. Don’t even hide because you think your body isn’t good enough. If there is something you want to do or wear or make, there is nothing stopping you. Your body’s got your back.
I am trying very hard to believe these things for myself.
And now, that’s enough talk about shame for one day.