Monday, October 17, 2011

On shame

October Unprocessed update: Meh. Last week we had successes (yogurt, eggs, homemade turkey soup-thanks, mum) and a few un-successes (ordering pizza the other night upon the surprise arrival of much loved dinner guests, ice cream), but progress has been made. I’ve turned down some very appealing processed food, and I had a bit of a moment while at the grocery store last night, coming to realize that so much in the store had been manhandled in some way. I’m inspired to create some delicious food that has only been womanhandled by yours truly. (Or, if you want to make some food and send it my way, I’ll gratefully accept your handling. We’re friends.)


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 fifteen twenty pounds of baby weight (ahem) put me in this category of “People Who Should Apologize for Their Size Fourteenness and Not Have That Extra Piece of Cake.”

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.


  1. Let's work on this body image issue together! I could use a lot of help in that dept

  2. Wow I feel so sad reading stuff like this...
    First of Danielle, I have never thought you were fat!
    Everyone has different body types, and you have the classic beauty curves that most guys I know love.
    Every since I met you, I have adore how cute you were and was always jealous of your beauty.

    I also admired you highly when you told me about the people who doubted you in ballet. I was 16 at the time and I always thought of you as a confident woman standing up for women everywhere. After having that conversation with you that Christmas I joined a women's empowerment group at my high school...yes I looked up to my Cousin :)
    And still are an amazing woman, mother, wife, friend and cousin....would not trade you for anything!

    ...ah and the cute for little girls, but your mean teacher did you a favour cause (no offense)ballet in adulthood is kinda creepy anyway! A culture of skinny 12 year old body type anorexic women acting like little girls...ha ha you should watch black swan.

    love your cuz lisa

  3. Oh, my dear... yes, me, too... I, too, try to stay in the moment and revel in all the amazing things my body does... walks, dances, sings, nimble fingers for crafting, and strong hands and arms for managing children and preparing lovely meals, etc... etc... It's so difficult to avoid those pointless feelings of shame just because there a little "more" of me to love...

    P.S. I did ballet for many years, too... Had to quit about 5 years ago due to a problem with my right foot and my back. Perhaps in a year or two I'll have that foot surgery and try to go back to it. I miss it desperately... it's the only form of exercise I really enjoy.

  4. OH my dear Stepdaughter. I have never thought, in my whole life, that you were fat. I have however, thought you were one of the nicest people i knew and that your hair was to die for. I did NOT enjoy your taste in men…i.e Justin, and i NEVER understood your ability or desire to be all consumed by motherhood. However, you inspire me to be better.
    My baby Sydney May is very much a Lefebvre woman and i love every single tiny curve of her body. She was born with boobs. Yes, my little 4 year old girl has boobs and hips…wow, those hips. And junk in the trunk. I am terrified she wont love every bit of her as i do. So instead, i show her every roll and curve of my body is awesome. I shake my jiggly bits and NEVER deny a good meal.
    Together, these little girls are going to kick some boy ass.

  5. Oh Danielle, I know exactly what you mean, and thank you for articulating it that way...I'm over most of my body image stuff, and I no longer hate my body the way I did when I was 20, but I've got some lingering issues to be sure. And you've nailed it. I think my body can do some amazing things, and I love it, but I retain this nagging sense of feeling like I ought to apologize for it, as though it were a disappointing child that you love anyways. I guess that's my new frontier in the body image struggle. :)

  6. Dude, this was brutally honest in the most amazing way. I hear myself in your voice just like the previous women noted. So much yuckiness, especially, like this person said x, but I really heard them saying I'm gross. Argh!

    You're amazing.

  7. You're speaking not only for yourself, but for so many women of our generation. My mother was overweight, and she's amazed at the energy I spend berating myself for my repeated "failures" to lose weight. She says it never occurred to her to worry about it. Of course, I grew up in the 70s and 80s...supermodel era...and like you, I was a skinny tomboy, then hit puberty, hard. My friends were all skinny. I was also in high school/uni in the 90s, and considered myself a feminist, and that really created conflict, too...because I SHOULD like my body no matter what, and it created conflicts in me...because I didn't.
    Now I'm 37 and I'm kinda tired. I've finally accepted that I'll never have long skinny legs (mostly accepted it!). And I'm getting better at nourishing my body and try daily to treat myself as lovingly and gently as I treat my daughters. Like you, it kills me to think of them thinking that they are somehow wrong, when I know my son will travel blithely through life (likely) without lamenting the shape of his hips or the skinniness of his legs. It's deep, deep stuff...I heard a lot of the same comments you did, even though I'm from a line of voluptuous women.
    You know what really helped me? I took up bellydancing in my mid-twenties, and finally felt present in my body, grounded, and like my body was MADE to do it. I miss bellydancing. Thanks for reminding me...must get a coin belt on today and remember.

  8. Thanks for sharing this, Danielle. It really resonates with my experience. The problem with shame, and so many of those harder feelings we have to deal with, is living through them in isolation. This gives us the false perception that we're the only one struggling with those feelings, and worse yet, that those feelings are somehow objectively true. Thanks for sharing your experience - maybe moving out of isolation.

    It must have been awful being publicly criticized like that. I wish people were more aware of the lasting hurt that does to children, and I've begun to understand that these are other people's issues put on to others. My grandma projected a lot of her self-loathing and "fat phobia" onto me, and then started in on my niece Tasha when she already just a baby. Just a few public humiliations over our bodies linger in unexpected ways.

    You've seen my body in a variety of size incarnations now - and emotional and physical health are not strictly equated with a particular size - and it's a struggle for me every single day. I've just recently made a pact with myself not to avoid going out (on dates, with friends - you know, out in public) as I had been avoiding on those days when I felt shame about eating too much "bad food". I was internalizing all that expected outside judgement and self-shunning. That even after all this hard work getting healthy and fit I was *more*, not less, isolated. Not always - mostly I feel as emotionally fit and healthy as I've become physically fit and healthy, but these don't always match up. And no matter the size, I still feel that shame about my body. What an incredible waste of time, energy, and a beautiful body!

    So boo to shame, and yay to celebrating bodies, in all their glorious shapes.


  9. I'm not sure what to say. Everyone should have a blog, and talk about how they feel like crap, and then be reassured lovingly by good people in the world. Thank you so much, and mostly for sharing how you feel about shame. I look around at all of you and all I see are beautiful women, and it's hard for me to imagine that any of you might feel the same way I do. It's good perspective.

    Now I am off to eat second breakfast, because it's delicious.

  10. Could I just post this on my blog and pretend I wrote it? It's like you were in my head whilst writing this. Thank you.