I’ve had my body judged my whole life.
“You’re so short.”
“You’re too thin.”
“Isn’t it time you lost the baby weight?”
“You’ve really put on a lot of weight.”
“I see you’ve been enjoying your groceries.”
“If you gain any more weight is that ring still going to fit?”
Every time I’d hear a negative comment about my body, the same thing would happen: my face would flush with shame that I didn’t measure up to whoever was making the comment’s yard stick of how I should look, my shoulders would slump, I’d avoid eye contact, my heart would hurt, I’d be fighting tears, and I’d apologize or explain why my body was. On the rare occasion I was feeling brave, I’d cut the other person down with my words.
Three years ago, I had apologized to a new friend about how my body looked, even though they had actually just complimented me on how great my legs looked. They looked me up and down, tilted my chin up so I would meet their eyes and they said something to me that hit me very hard: “There is nothing wrong with your body and how you look. You’re a beautiful woman, inside and out. But there is something very wrong with how you see yourself.”
It says something about how my life was that those kind words were the exception, not the rule.
Flash to now, at a time in my life where I am at my healthiest spiritually, emotionally and physically. I’ve shed a lot of weight, not just physical, but I’ve walked away from toxic friendships and toxic situations, choosing to immerse myself in a world in which it is okay to just be who you are and how you are, with no explanations needed or given. You just simply be yourself and you are accepted and loved unconditionally.
The past three years have been a journey in self discovery, self love, and most importantly, healing.
Last week, during a photo shoot, someone made comments about my body yet again, in the whole ball-busting style of passive aggression I loathe and have an almost physically ill to my stomach response to when I see or hear happen. This person has not seen me for a good year and a half, and I could see the surprise on their face when they saw me in person and saw how very much I’ve changed since the last time we saw one another in person.
“Don’t exhale near Amber, she’ll fall over she’s so tiny now.”
“You don’t need to get Amber lunch, clearly she no longer eats.”
“Don’t drink that water, you might get fat again.”
I made it through three comments. Three comments and I hit my limit. I stepped out of the shot, walked directly over to the person who made the comments, my head held high, my shoulders back. If my face flushed, it was in anger, not shame. I looked that person in the eyes, and forty two years of being teased and made fun of bubbled up to the surface.
I didn’t apologize for my body, I did not make a hateful comment in response.
What I did was look them directly in their eyes and said, “There is no reason or call for you to make comments on my body. Stop it now.”
“Don’t be so sensitive,” they responded, barely meeting my eyes.
“You’re lucky I’m so sensitive; if I weren’t, I can promise you would be ugly crying with what I’d say to you.”
The photo shoot went on with zero comments from the peanut gallery regarding how my body looks.
I cried on the drive home, cried my way through my shower, cried on the way to the studio to take practice before teaching, cried while I was talking with a friend via text while waiting for my class to start, and cried on the shoulder of a friend I ran into when I dropped into a restaurant for dinner after I taught.
I don’t care if the person who made those comments reads this and knows they hurt me. I’m past the point in my life where I put up a front, hiding behind a brave face, not being honest about how I feel or how I’m doing.
And I am done apologizing or explaining away who I am, how I look, the people I choose to spend time with, how I spend my free time.
I’ve been on both sides of different issues or ideals or philosophies. The whole stay at home mom versus working mom debate. The whole breastfeeding versus bottle feeding debate. Being painfully underweight because my first husband would not accept a fat wife and I starved myself to please him. Being overweight because life and my health and bad choices led me there. Being fit because I made life changes.
People tend to get defensive or offended if we have a different mindset or philosophy. If we choose a different path than they themselves are on. It almost seems as if our choices make them feel judged.
Is it any wonder I’m happiest in a yoga studio, where the only rules seem to be “just show up and breathe”, “take care of yourself,” and “you be you and I’ll be me, and we’ll love one another for the beauty of our differences and the beauty of our similarities”?
I’ve been called both “fat bitch” and “skinny bitch”. Both hurt equally as bad, for the simple reason that hearing either of those phrases from the lips of another person, it gives the impression that that is all they are seeing of you: the wrapping. It discredits and makes expendable all the other parts of who I am as a person when a I’m described by what’s on the outside.
Fat, skinny, curvy, fit: how ever my body has been, whatever my size and shape, I am still Amber, a woman who is a mother, friend, aunt, author, yoga instructor, artist, and so many other things. No matter what my body looks like, I’ll still be the person who will offer a hug to someone who’s hurting, or just because hugs are amazing. I’ll still be the person who is going to run full on for a damn good Italian meal, who does a happy dance when she gets good news, who will never say no to a Malbec wine. I’ll still be the person who says “I love you” for no reason other than I love you, who screams like a maniac while watching baseball, who’s prone to do somersaults just because, who throws her phone to friends so they can take a photo of her popping up into a handstand.
A friend I told about the photo shoot asked what they could do to cheer me up. “Never use “fat/skinny bitch” again, please,” was my response, not that they ever have or ever would use a phrase that cruel. Another friend suggested a comeback that would hit below the belt; and while I might have at one time in my life used an acid tongue to make my point, I no longer have it within me. To respond with unkindness in no way would undo the unkindness that was directed at me.
At age forty-two, I no longer measure my worth, my value on the number I see on the scale, on the size tags on my clothing. I measure it in how I move through my day, how I treat people I have no reason to be nice to, how I react to other people’s actions, how much peace I feel when I’m on my mat, either as a student or a teacher. It’s been quite some time since what I eat and how often I exercise is related to self care and self love versus looking good in a bikini.
I only wish my friend last week could hold my true weight and worth in the same way. Because I no longer hold space for those who are unkind, even if they think it’s all in good fun and a joke. Because it’s neither a good fun or a joke when it hurts a person’s heart.
Love each other and yourselves,