I sleep naked. This isn’t type of thing respectable young women say. This isn’t the “right way” to begin a blog post, and yes, all the pragmatic parts of me are cringing at my choice to commence this essay. But I’m not here for your respect. This site exists for unflinching candor and thoughts I hash out in circles. It’s not a text in need of a defense or qualification, and I have no plans of providing apologies or excuses for myself.
I sleep naked. My bed is an altar, the moon its holy water, and my body, a sacred vessel.
Sacred is a recent word in my physical vernacular. Other new additions include love, honor, acceptance. It knew abuse, hatred, starve, shrink, choke, pain, hurt, ache, and trauma. They are a second language my body began to dream in. I’ve heard the most bitter homesickness is when you dream outside your native tongue. The second language became dominant, and I lost my accent, turns of phrases that can’t be translated, and before I knew it, regarding my body in anything other than hate seemed unnatural.
I can’t remember not hating my body. My memory trails back to age two, and even then, I loathed my thick thighs. I glared at my reflection the way you look at someone who has disappointed you: how could you do this to me? how could you let me down? First, I detested my body for what it was: it occupies space. It wasn’t (and still isn’t) lithe or quiet. I used to pray for God to make me quiet. I wanted to shrink. We teach little girls to be ashamed of their strength and space, and when these burdens grow bigger than their adulthood, we shame them for being unable to let go.
Our attitudes about bodies are determined by environment. My parents hate their bodies too. They fear space and visibility. Calories and weight and Weight Watcher’s points were howling realities in my household. We feared fat more than fatalities. Nobody teaches you how to love your body. Nobody tells you that just because our bodies can’t escape us doesn’t give us free reign to abuse them. It wasn’t that food was powerful, but that I failed to empower myself. I failed to see that nourishment and a relationship with food is about the long game.
Later, I hated my body for being the crime scene I was forced to call home. Trauma isn’t a hit and run. You dwell in the debris and caution tape. It’s buried, sometimes for years, and, in an instant, the memories erupt in an invisible explosion. But only the intensity is visible. I’ve felt crazy sometimes. Everyone sees the smoke, but the flame that set it off is so far away. So, I stewed in depression and self-loathing and secret massacres without witnesses. The dichotomy of harming my body and being forced to exist inside it encapsulates twelve years of my life. Puberty came and made caricatures out of my insecurities. Thick thighs got thicker, hips emphasized my ample behind, and as I expanded, my peers remained delicate and slender.
I was eight when I first purged. It felt good– knowing I could eat all the things I wanted and not gain a pound. I didn’t care if I lost parts of me in the process. I wanted to lose parts of me, to be a lesser woman if that meant a simpler life. For twelve years, I jolted between starving myself, binging, purging, excessive exercising. I’ve worn a size 4. I’ve worn a size 12. At 5’7, I’ve weighed 130 lbs and 183 lbs. I couldn’t tell you how much I weigh right now. Even if I knew, they’re just numbers. This is just an innocent body. I didn’t make the scale,
They say nothing tastes as good as being thin feels. That is bullshit. It’s BS because skinny isn’t a feeling. What I felt was starvation. I taught myself that hungry was thin, and since thin is the goal, hungry is good. Weak is not glamorous; it’s exhausting. Eat something, please.
I studied abroad in London. My international debut was haphazard and senseless. I was scared shitless to fly alone across the Atlantic. International travel terrified me, but staying where I was, how I was, terrified me more. Traveling alone was empowering. Then, we spent some time in Edinburgh. While there, I climbed Arthur’s Seat. On my hands and knees, teetering on the heeled boots I poorly chose to wear, I made it to the top. The wind was so unrelenting that I never got a clear look at the sight without the film of my red hair lacing my eyelashes. Edinburgh unfolded before me: the emerald hills, rich architecture, sequin sea– a quilt alive with a brogue. Wind lashing my face, city at my feet, legs sturdy beneath me. “This is why you’ve held on, Marisa. This is what being alive feels like”. I regarded happiness as an emotion in forbearance until I lost enough weight to deserve it. But, here I was, with my doughy body doing all the things I have dreamed of, and my weight didn’t affect my ability to enjoy it.
Before going abroad, I wanted somebody else to take the emotional labor of loving me for me. I leaned on the idea that validation engenders acceptance. Acceptance isn’t a group project. Cheryl Strayed calls it a quiet room. I like that. I think that’s right. No one can love you into acceptance. There is no hero to lasso you away from your troubles. What you do have is you. And acceptance isn’t a constant. It’s a room we make pilgrimage to as often as possible.
I am learning to love my body back. I don’t get to do this with an asterisk. That’s not love. It’s an invitation for conditional acceptance. You aren’t the rustbelt sports team that suddenly gains a following with its success. Neither am I, and I won’t treat myself that way.
What if I do have thunder thighs and my stomach is doughy? What if I never weigh 115 lbs? And what if it’s ok? What if I refused to construct my happiness around the fluidity of my figure? This line of questioning brings me to a series of facts: I am twenty-three years old, twelve years bulimia, three as a cutter, countless over-exertions, exercise to the point of injury, assaults, traumas, battery, dancing, ecstasy, and starvation. Still, my body wakes for me. Despite years of destruction, it wants the best for me. My body is the most concrete proof of unconditional love there is.
I also learned that they sell mini skirts and jeans and bikinis in all sizes. So, really, the motivation to shrink for clothing isn’t necessary. I, after turning 23, purchased all the things I was told not to wear: high waisted shorts, patterned pants, light wash jeans, a bralette. I quit allowing my perception of who I am not to impact my life. It’s just a skirt. I will not turn it into something bigger. Moreover, we, humans, are not defined by stuff. Quit surrendering your power to the disposable.
Reader, I don’t know you. I’ve never seen you. I’m not going to tell you your body is beautiful, as it doesn’t exist for the purpose of being pretty. You are not an accessory nor a painting, and your existence isn’t validated by someone else approving the way flesh hugs you. The feeling and decision that your form is beautiful or sexy is yours to make and own and grow with. What you are is a motherfreaking miracle and so is the breathing, beating beast that houses you. You don’t need to lose weight or bulk up or get a boob job or pec implants or whatever the hell else people are doing these days. However, if you want to do that, your body is not a democracy, and you should do what makes you happy. Your choices are yours to make autonomously. Don’t procrastinate your happiness on a body that isn’t yours. You can’t love your body for what you hope it will be and not what it is right now. Don’t procrastinate a happy, loving relationship or great sex or who you want to be and where you want to go on changing your appearance. Because, best case scenario, you make it to your dream body only to find the unhappy self still lives in this hot bod.
I’m allowed to not like my body. I’m allowed to be insecure. It’s ok to occasionally and unintentionally buy into the superficiality and consumerism. What I can’t do is live in that scarcity. Self-hatred is a wall, not a doorway. You can’t hate yourself into your aspirations. For my little sisters, for the young women I mentor, for the women before me who bought into this BS for far too long, I can’t perpetuate body hate. I also can’t feign this perfect praise. Friends tag me in pictures on social media, and I cringe sometimes. But the thing is, I am growing a body to live in 3 dimensions, not 2. So, I have a complicated relationship with my body– like my closest sister who I occasionally get into knock-down fights with only to make up, and whose quirks annoy me, but I know I’d miss them if they weren’t there. That’s what it feels like to actively engage with my body.
With that, I dance shamelessly. I wear things that magazines warn my figure against. I praise this body in the least respectable ways. And when the skies turn the color of blackberries, I lay in my bed, trace my fingers over this magnificent, crime scene miracle, speckled in cellulite and stretch marks, a site unworthy partners bow to, the first love I ever had to fight for, the first love I let win. To my body, I say Hallelujah. To my body, I say Amen.