Welcome here loved ones! Ready for a non-style, super juicy, personal blog post?! I hope so. 😉
Thanks to my lovely friend Martha for giving the documentary “Embrace” a rave review. Because of her I watched it (and you should too!!), and I was inspired by the stories of the women in it to share my own journey with my body. I hope to be known as strong, and I hope to be known as confident, but more so I hope to share my story generously to encourage you.
Today’s post is incredibly vulnerable. It’s a topic I hate being honest about, because it is hard to open yourself up to judgement and it’s hard to be willing to open up about struggles we are intimately connected to.
This is the story between my body and my mind, it is nothing new. It is the classic new age story of anyone who lives in a media centric culture. It is the fight between who I am and how I want to be perceived. Or maybe, how I look and how I wish I looked. I am sharing because I have a story, and it might sound like yours. I want you to know you’re not alone, and I want you to believe in the freedom that can take place in your life. This is a fragment of my story, and I share to encourage you.
THE BODY I LIVE IN:
I have distinct memories of where this began. My first memory of noticing my body was in 2nd grade. At the time I lived in sweatpants and sweaters, and I loved the colors orange and pink. I wore orange and pink together as often as I could. Also, when I was in second grade half sweaters were all the rage. Really, they were. Especially the “Sharpay Evans” ones with the massive sequence sewn on. I owned one of those and it was baby pink. On the day I first ever hated my body I was wearing that half sweater with a soft orange tank top, which usually made me feel very grown up because of its built in bra (Thanks Old Navy). My class was lining up to go to gym class and I looks down and I noticed my tummy stuck out. And for the first time the words “I’m fat” crept into my mind. They built their home there, trespassing on my child-like ignorance and self esteem.
The next time was in 3rd grade when I was wearing J-LO jeans, which also made me feel fantastic, and a boy said to me, “Your bum looks hot.” I didn’t like that attention. At the time I couldn’t have put in to words what I didn’t like about it, but looking back, I felt violated.
I spent a lot of time wrestling with feelings of inadequacy as I watched my slim, beautiful sister enter teenage-hood with clear skin, and great style, and was seemingly perfect. As I was just entering puberty, and enduring the hopeless years of transition I found myself comparing myself tirelessly to her. Shockingly puberty was of no aid to my insecurity.
Grade 6, 7, 8 grew progressively more challenging for me. And I want to share openly about the experiences I had during these times, because now girls at this age are far more aware of society’s pressure than I was. How sad and scary. Not to mention as teenage girls and girls who are in our young adulthood we should be taking responsibility to be good role models to the younger girls. To NOT slander anyone’s appearance, and certainly not our own.
I’m sixth grade I had a traumatic experience, which plays in my mind like a movie. I had a hard time with friends that year and recess was living hell. One day it was exceptionally hellish. I approached a group of people who were a blend of close friends and friendly enough peers. They couldn’t see me as I approached, and I heard them saying “Rachel has a moustache” as I walked toward. I halted, tears fell out of my face, and I turned around out of shame. They turned around and knew I had heard. I went home at lunch and cried in my Mom’s room. I got my lip waxed later that week.
Body hair was the bane of my existence through puberty. Guess what? I’m French and I happen to have hair on my body. The same hair that gives me my trademark eyebrows also gets waxed off my upper lip. Big whoop. (Well, actually at the time it was a big whoop and was damaging to my self esteem… I don’t recommend making another persons body your topic of conversation at recess).
The story of 7th grade is a more vague issue. I began watching A TON of beauty vloggers on YouTube. Not only was I pubescent and insecure and was comparing myself to people much older than me who I didn’t even know, I was also taking their unwitted diet advice. “Don’t eat after 6 PM” “NEVER DRINK POP!!!” “To get a bikini body, eat vegan and stay away from carbs”… blah blah blah.
Here I am in grade 7: I’m documenting everything I eat in a flowered notebook, I’m stressing out because summer is two months away and I just drank a Pepsi. I’m falling deep into a sea of “I want to change this/ I want to look like her”. The influence that these “creators” had, was used in my case and many others, for negative things. It was also ultimately setting me up for a hard year in grade 8. Pretty sad hey?
Eighth grade was when the most evident changes to my body happened. In a 6 month period my chest grew 4 sizes. My body was foreign and I felt uncomfortable in my skin. I feigned sickness to avoid swimming lessons and track and field at school. I had no confidence to be active, to move my body. Track and field in particular was an upsetting experience. I recall practicing high jump with my new body and feeling the laser stares of the boys in my class. It was so uncomfortable. Ahhh! The memories of it make me uncomfortable. I remember being hyper aware of things like underwear lines and tried to hard to not draw anymore attention to the features on my body that made me a woman.
This story continues with the transition to high school and new feat of self discovery that that prompts. I dip-dyed my hair pink, and I tried a lot new styles (I was a big fan of my over the knee leather boots and hair bows). I began my first restrictive diet that year. I ate Paleo, or tried too, and I recall feeling shame in wanting to eat in a way that would alter my body (hopefully). It didn’t last long because it effected my social life, which is always my top priority. I don’t recall feeling much insecurity through that time though, rather it was much more a time of self discovery. However, thoughts of inadequacy and being “too much” surely crept into my mind, as they all too frequently do.
Tenth grade was also a fair bit more of self discovery. Nothing stands out as notable to me during that time. However, I know that at some point I was cat called on my way home from a friend’s house late at night, and I believe it was that year.
The summer between grade 10 and 11 I went to camp on Quadra Island for 2 months. I remember feeling anxious that o would have to eat a diet of primarily carbs. I felt like weight gain was some sort of impending doom. I also recall avoiding water front at all costs. I didn’t want to be seen in a swimsuit? Don’t you know I’m as pale as Snow White and have cellulite?! I can’t be seen like that! How embarrassing.
In retrospect I wish that hadn’t been a concern of mine in any capacity. I wish I had taken every opportunity instead of making excuses. I wish I had enjoyed the freedom of camp, and have done more.
Let me make this clear: my body didn’t hold me back. My perception of what is acceptable for a body to be like did.
At the end of my grade 11 year I had an unforgettable experience with being sexually harassed. I was working a position in Tourism that summer between my junior and senior year, and one job I had to do was take people from the meeting place of the tour to where it actually began. It was a short walk that during a shift you would walk about 20/30 times. One hot July day I was taking tours back and forth and I noticed a gentleman wearing a reflective vest that would eye me up and down the street then would whistle or say something gross things like “hey baby” to me. I assumed the professional route was to ignore him and continue as always. I felt incredibly uncomfortable and unsafe. I made a small comment about it to a co-worker and they told me I had to immediately tell my supervisor. I did so, and he (my supervisor) dealt with the problem. He watched the gentleman do it with his own eyes, then he called the cops. I had no idea it was that serious of an offence. The man was taken in by the cops.
My twelfth grade year I felt fantastic. I was down 15 pounds and I was very happy. It was great! My Mom had made dietary changes that had fabulous repercussions for me as well. I wasn’t obsessive with food on my appearance. I reflect on that time and see that it was a healthy time for me. It was disrupted unfortunately the summer after graduation.
I developed really poor habits. Not just dietary, but lifestyle. Not sleeping enough, living off of Junior Chickens, going way too long without eating. It was bad. And it developed in me an obsession with eating as little as possible. From July until probably December, I ate primarily crap food but I would just eat a little bit so that I would stay thin. My bloodstream was primarily coffee and I guarantee I was constantly on the verge of dehydration.
But more than just a nutritional standpoint, I want to talk something much more vulnerable. It was during this time that I realized how I could so easily manipulate others to perceive my body as something sexual. I began posting provocative photos on my Instagram. It was fun at first and it seemed like the best thing ever because I could control the attention I got. But it also didn’t fulfill me for very long, it left me feeling more empty than ever. It wasn’t a genuine interest in me. It produced a shallow and uninteresting interaction with the world. I began seeing myself as a one dimensional being. I lost passion for the things I loved, and honestly, for life.
I wasn’t just mistreating my body, I was mistreating my personhood. It is a deep and complex issue and the details feel too intimate to recount at the moment since it is all so fresh in my mind.
After December I moved into my college’s dorms and began to eat at the caf. I ate primarily tater tots and frosted flakes, and guess what? I gained 8 pounds because of that.
Guess what else? That was actually the healthiest thing for me at the time. Food wasn’t about it being food anymore. It was about a time of healing and rebuilding myself. In the fall previous to this spring I was trying to isolate myself from reality, and it hurt me. When I was re-discovering myself I had to let loose and go on that midnight burger run, or slurpee run. That was my first step.
Now that I have healed in deep and meaningful ways, I am rebuilding again. I am rebuilding my relationship with food. I can honestly write down now that I love fueling my body well! I set time aside every night to pack a healthy meal to take with me to work. I prioritize drinking water. I also love my friends and will never ever put a pants size over having fun.
To the girls who are navigating what health is (a group that includes myself): the journey is tiresome at times, but you can find freedom in food and peace with your body. It doesn’t have to be a ball and chain. Don’t put your journey into overdrive, allow it to unfold as it does. It’s never ending… which can be scary, or that itself can be freeing. You choose.
Looking back on my story I see the ebb and flow of my journey and where it has brought me. Currently, I love my body. I have grown to accept and cherish it for the ways it is uniquely mine. I am not guaranteed a healthy body for my whole life, but right now I have one and I am going to use it to the best of my ability.
If I can offer an advice, even just to myself, it is this: Don’t let anything physical hold you back. Not hair, not cellulite, not the colour of your skin, not the size of your body, not the jiggle in your step. If you are lucky enough to have a body that functions and lets you live, be thankful for it! Don’t you dare waste an opportunity because of your body.
And lastly, beauty isn’t the end all and be all. I hope to age. I hope to see my beauty fade into nothingness. I hope my hair goes grey and my skin sags. I hope to feel the pain of aging, because it means I am alive. The same with my youth, the pains of growing and discovering are just a sign of life. However, I hope my spirit will radiate as the most beautiful part of me for my whole life. A life freed from insecurity, and made up of confidence and joy… That is a life lived well. Dare to live it.
WANT TO BE FEATURED ON MY BLOG?
I want to expand this into a series. If you want to share your experience with your body, message me.
E M A I L: firstname.lastname@example.org (no “O” in From)
I N S T A G R A M: instagram.com/rachel.from