A year ago on Facebook, I wrote these words:
As you might have heard, my family and I are going on a Caribbean cruise at the end of March and through the first week of April. This will be our first big family vacation in years and I’ve made a conscious choice that I’ve been working up the courage to tell you about, not just because–as an author, as a person with a public platform–I have an irrepressible and inexplicable drive to make myself vulnerable to strangers (which all artists have), but because I also feel driven to contribute to the feminist conversation. More intimately, I hope reading about my story might help some of my friends. So here I go…
In January, moments after I hit “confirm” and sent payment to the cruise company for our first ever Caribbean cruise, I decided once and for all that I’m going to love my body unequivocally and out loud throughout the entire vacation, even while wearing body-revealing swimsuits, because I have a daughter on the cusp of age 12 and who, despite my ceaseless work in the fight for her self-confidence, feels insecure about her healthy, normal-sized body.
I’m not thin and this big body of mine has a lot of imperfections. Like, A LOT. Our culture would have me hating the way I look. Until pretty recently, I did. Absolutely. Not just my body, but my face and my hair and my feet and every little bit in between. The first time I remember feeling ashamed of my body was first grade, not just because of the cruel kids at school but because I had a verbally and physically abusive father who publicly and privately called me fat on a regular basis, and I have hated my body every day since.
Then, in January, I hit “confirm” on that cruise. We’re going to be practically living in swimsuits. Swimming, snorkeling, sunning at tropical beaches, the list goes on. With a tween daughter, I knew I couldn’t afford to be self-conscious in those swimsuits. It wasn’t going to be good enough to bottle up my body-hating so it didn’t come through in my behavior or words. I needed to actually figure out a way to embrace my physical self and stop the hating because I am in a solo fight for my precious daughter’s quality of life and the forces I am up against are awesome in their power and scope.
So I took action. It feels laughable to say that Tumblr was my greatest ally at first, but it was. I started following body-positive accounts that showed photographs of women of every shape, size, and manner of imperfection posing with confidence and in various stages of undress, sometimes even having sex. (Note: I am reappropriating the word imperfection as something positive to be celebrated because how could something we all have be considered shameful? So, here you go: Fuck, yeah, imperfections.) And I threw away every piece of clothing that I owned in which some negative body experience had happened to me. That shirt I was wearing the time my husband’s drunk friend joked that if I lost weight I’d be better in bed. Gone. The dress I was wearing that time I accidentally cut off another car at the airport and the driver shouted “You fat bitch” at me. Gone. The pajamas I was wearing last year when I was on the phone with my mom and she told me that she was relieved to hear I was watching my sodium intake because “I’d blown up like a balloon” that year. The dress I was wearing that time I went to a beginner Latin dancing class at a club with a friend, where not a single man asked me to dance in the two hours of dance time after the lesson and I stood on the sidelines alone watching my friend dance and sipping my soda and I couldn’t even get drunk or leave early because I was the designated driver. Gone.
My closet was pretty empty when I was done with that gem of a project. And standing there looking at the row of empty hangers, that’s when I realized: I’m pretty fucking tired of hating my body. And I’m pretty fucking tired of caring that other people hate my body. This is not just about saving my daughter or a cruise. This is now about ME.
I bought a new wardrobe, patronizing women’s clothing stores that cater to women of diverse shapes and sizes instead of stores in which I have to reach to the back of the rack and pray that there are still pieces in my size available, if that clothing item had even been created in my size at all. I got a new hairstyle, with pink highlights that get me noticed by a lot of people because I’m no longer trying to blend into the background with the hope that the people I encounter don’t pay my looks too much mind. And I refuse to waste another second of my precious time associating with people who don’t lift me up. You make me feel lesser? You bring me down? You. Are. Gone. Like the piles of clothes I threw away.
I’m still checking out Tumblr every day, reveling in photos of all those courageous, imperfect, sexy-as-hell, body-loving women. Here’s a sample of the Tumblr accounts I follow now: StopHatingYourBody, Curvynerdywordy, VintageCityLady, notfatforyou, big-girl-yoga. Also, I can’t get enough of Leonard Nimoy’s book and photographs in his The Full Body Project. The images are spectacular.
I feel free. And really, really happy.
We leave for the cruise in seventeen days and I can’t wait. You know what? For the first time since i was six years old, I don’t hate my body. I really, honestly don’t. I’m physically imperfect and I will never be someone that others call beautiful. Oh well. I love the way I look and I don’t give a shit if anyone else does. Bring on the cruise! Bring on the swimsuits! Bring on my daughter’s teenage years! I’ve got this
That was a life-changing week for me. So this weekend, I’m celebrating the one year anniversary of my own personal liberation, of deciding to love myself and my body, just as I am. Zora Neale Hurston wrote, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” These past 12 months have been all about the big questions for me! What started as a desire to set a better example for my daughter morphed into a complete overhaul of how I’m living my life.
The clean-out of my closet quickly escalated into a clean-out of the toxic thoughts and memories and people poisoning my mind and heart. When I felt like the journey was getting too rough to manage on my own, I started seeing a therapist, which turned out to be the best thing EVER and had me wondering why we all wait so long to seek out help from the experts. Of course, I know the answer–before I started on this journey of self-love, I didn’t think I was worth spending that kind of money on. Oh, how that has changed!
Over the past year, I’ve learned the true, deep, abiding value of having a network of girlfriends. I’ve learned to walk away from the things and people and situations that don’t lift me up. I’ve learned that true peace and happiness cannot be anything less than a way of life–a state of mind that must be attended to with daily practice and gentle determination. Now I meditate regularly, I practice yoga, I wear bikinis and shape-revealing clothes proudly, I wear my red lipstick loud and proud, and I am absolutely committed to cultivating a lifetime of personal happiness and true fulfillment, something I never thought possible a year ago.
I believe in Brene Brown’s philosophy of wholehearted living, which is why I’m sharing my journey here, so that it might help some of you who are struggling with those same issues as I have. I also share it to thank those of you who have cheered me on and supported me along the way. What an incredible world this is. What incredible beings we all are. Whatever year you’re in, whatever stage of your life journey, I wish you all the peace and happiness in the universe.