When I was in high school, one of my volleyball teammates told me my legs looked like “cottage cheese”. We were on the bus travelling to an out-of-town volleyball game and I was sitting on the bus seat with my legs in a certain way, pressed against that leathery material where my cellulite was more visible. She said it in a light hearted way. And I laughed it off. But visibly blushed because my pale skin can’t hide that. Inside, it was like a knife stabbing me right in the gut.
My legs were always my most self-conscious part of my body growing up. To be honest, they are still a part of myself I actively have to send a lot of compassion to. Ironically, having knee surgery made me love them more than any beauty tip, tanning lotion or squat routine ever had. That critical, body shaming voice was so loud when I was quite young (I think it comes with being a highly sensitive person, amongst other things). I thought, probably on a more subconscious level, that if I could hate my body first, then when/if others commented on those parts it wouldn’t sting as much. Well, it did. The shaming I did to myself did nothing to protect me in the long-run. As a mental health professional now, I know that judgment and criticism isn’t helpful in this process. Love and compassion on the other hand, are much more beneficial.
I also grew up in Purity Culture. A subculture of Christianity that encouraged modesty at all costs for women. No sexual expression or exploration before marriage in any way, and well, a very disembodied spirituality. My body-hatred kind of fit well into that narrative. Modesty, great. I can cover up now because it’s “holy”. It can be cloaked in a righteousness instead of insecurity. It was the “right” thing to do, to protect my “brothers”. Meanwhile, I don’t think I took that part as seriously — it was more “cover up because you are ugly and you won’t be desirable to them if you show more yourself.” As I write this, I just have so much compassion and love for my younger self — she was so beautiful and magnificent and I am sad I didn’t let the world see more of her then, physically and just in her wholeness. But now, I get to do better. For me.
I mention purity culture, because I think it played a big role in general for individuals trying to inhabit their bodies. I know it did for me. Add that to my own disposition and other trauma and experience and it wasn’t really a healthy recipe for self-esteem and embodiment. But, and I am so glad that there is a but, the story didn’t end there and isn’t ending there. The process of untangling my faith and discovering a deeper sense of spirituality, also allowed me to discover an incredible love and confidence for my body at the same time.
The liberation of my body came through the process of my own liberation as a woman who grew up in a restrictive and limiting ideology. I mean, I did a lot of my own inner work, therapy, and mindfulness recovering from my own burnout, breakdown and surgery. Yes, that all happened around the same two years. And it was a beautifully terrible time and I am so glad for it.
It’s summer now. Well, it at least feels like summer. Summer is always a tough season to transition into I find. We wear less clothing and show more skin. We can’t hide behind layers as we do in the winter, or cover up the parts we don’t like as easily. Or we do, and suffer the blistering heat (never worth it, especially if you sweat as much as me). But today I went for a run in almost 40 degree weather. I wore spandex shorts, the kind I would wear for my volleyball games, and a sports bra. That’s it. I felt so incredibly happy to be running again for one, but running and loving my body and caring far less about who was looking at her or how much skin she was showing. Just being in her thirties, less toned, still pale and pinkish in hue, and just so much more fucking free
Summertime can be a tender time. Because I think old narratives about our bodies can creep in, telling us not to wear those shorts, or that tank top. And just as the mantras I keep seeing floating around saying “All bodies are summer bodies”, really is a beautiful reminder and TRUE one, I just want to say along with them, “WEAR THAT THING YOU WANT TO WEAR!” We all belong in the summer. ALL OF US.
I didn’t really plan to write on this topic. But it kind of just came out of me today. I took notice of myself while running and felt a surge of acceptance for all that I am. This isn’t a constant state of being by the way. Like all of life, it ebb and flows. But we can experience it. Don’t you just want that for all of us? I do. For all genders and gender expressions, to be free, to feel that we can wear whatever we want to wear. To not suffer in the insane heatwave we are experiencing this weekend, but to experience the sunshine and breeze on our skin that we maybe used to cover up. To recognize that there is no such thing as a “summer body”. There are just BODIES. And what a magnificent miracle that is.
Your body is absolutely, unconditionally and irrevocably magnificent. My body is magnificent. And my god, let’s enjoy them! No matter what you have been told about your body, what you have told yourself about your body, as long as your breathing, you get to choose the narratives you let orient your life. You get to choose which one’s you want to inform your freedom and confidence. People will say what they want to say, or think what they think. We never get to control that. There will always be someone thinner than you, more tanned than you, more muscular, have better hair than you. But no one will ever be you. In your body. With your body. This is your invitation to own, love and embrace the magnificent body you own, because no one else will or can.
Be kind to yourselves, friends. So very kind. And I hope you have a very happy, less self-conscious summer!