I have a confession to make.  I’ve told you that when I hear women around me talk negatively about their bodies, I speak up and tell them why I think they’re lovely, just as they are.  I do not comment on weight gained or lost by myself or by other people.  I do not cast judgment on different body types.  Since I decided to do or not do these things, I’ve generally felt more positive about myself.  Seeing the different kinds of beauty in other women helps me to accept the possibility of beauty in me.  Seeing the strength in other women makes me want to nourish my own strength.  Seeing the bravery in other women helps me work to overcome my fears.

I do like you just as you are. Seriously. Mark Darcy agrees with me.

The last week, though?  This last week has SUCKED from a personal body image point of view.  None of my clothes are fitting.  None of the clothes in the stores are fitting.  I’m wearing the same five outfits to work every week and hoping no one will notice.  I will say “it’s not me– it’s the clothes” until I’m blue in the face (and to some extent this is true– a spaghetti-strap synthetic dress is not high up on the list of things I want to buy and wear in 95 degree heat), but when I struggle to find pants that are long enough, shoes that are big/narrow enough, and blouses and dresses that are fitted enough, and I struggle in all the stores ever. . . yeah, that gets old.

I’m actually feeling better about my body than I have in years.  I’m stronger than I’ve ever been.  My arms are toned, toned, toned, which I never thought I’d see.  My butt has never been perkier.  My legs are slamming.  When I get dressed in the morning and default to the same thing I wore two days prior, I try to hold my head high.  I have muscle where I’ve never had muscle before– of course my clothes are going to fit differently.  I can swing myself around a pole and upside down and land in the splits without trying too hard.

And then last night I burst into tears in the middle of class.

It had been a long time coming.  My shrinking wardrobe, long hours at the office and resulting loneliness and lack of a social life, self-consciousness about my writing, lack of sleep, impending rent increase, messy apartment– these things all fed on each other.  The assignment for class was “Island Girl”, and I wore a bikini for the first time in two years with a man’s white button-down shirt tied at the waist.  The lights were low, the music was loud, and I was doing fine, I really was: feeling good, moving to the music, stretching and arching my back and trying to bask in the moment.  Then as I swung up onto my knees and ran my hands over my torso, I glanced down, and at the same moment my hands hit my belly.  In the dim light I saw pale rolls and pinkish stretch marks, and I felt the shift from the muscles on my thighs to the softness of my stomach and back and breasts.  I closed my eyes and said to myself “You’re ok.  Your curves are beautiful.  They make you womanly and soft and lovely and embraceable.  You’re ok.”

And then my brain said “HAHA JUST KIDDING, you FAKER!  God, will you just look at yourself?  Yuck.  Who do you think you’re fooling?  Can you imagine if [That Guy You Like] saw you right now?”  And then I froze in place and ugly-cried until the song was over.

Thanks, brain.  Asshole.

My belly has been the epicenter of my shame spirals for my entire life.  I saw it as the manifestation of my sins: slovenliness, laziness, greed, lack of self-control, unworthiness.  Growing up I was told to suck it in, to hide it.  Even though I was a scrawny child, I still heard comments about my chubbiness and “big tummy” as early as age five.  It seemed to me that a woman’s flat stomach was the deciding factor in the measure of success, of happiness, of self-control, of health, of attractiveness.

I’ve been working to overcome that early brainwashing, but as last night proved, my body image demons are still there and still sneaky.  Today I can say “Fuck it.  It’s just my belly, for shit’s sake.  I am more than the checks and balances of my negative and positive physical attributes.  All women are more than this.”  I thought I’d want to dance to an angry, woman-power song when it was my turn for an individual dance.  Instead I danced to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”  I barely touched the pole.  I held on to my wounded self, and I tried to soothe her and love her.  I cried again when I got home.  I cried again writing this.

Ladies (and Gentlemen), if you struggle with body image, you’re not alone.  Keep fighting to soothe yourself and love yourself, even when it’s hard to do.  Especially when it’s hard.  We’ve been taught, in many, many ways, both overt and subtle, that something’s wrong with us.  That we’re not enough.  That we’re too much.  That something needs to be changed or concealed or fixed or erased or camouflaged or lost or gained before we are worthy of love or self-esteem or kindness or compliments or praise or nice things.  Or pretty underwear.

Just as It’s Not You, It’s Your Bras, our shame and self-disgust don’t originate with us, but with external forces.  Our advertisements, celebrities, parents, friends, co-workers, partners, cat-callers: I am slowly beginning to separate those voices from my own.  I can say “that voice is not mine.  It has crept into my brain, but it’s not mine.”  I don’t need more shame, more criticism, more analysis.  So instead of saying “stop thinking bad things about yourself”, only to find myself unable to think of anything else, I’m going to try to quiet.  To soothe.  To rock.  To comfort.  To cry if I need to.  I’ll get up the next morning, and I’ll keep fighting.

20 Comments on Fighting

  1. Mary
    June 27, 2012 at 12:28 pm (10 years ago)

    I’m so sorry, and so proud of you. Here are the things I thought while reading: a) It really is the clothes and not you. One of the nice things about learning to sew has been truly learning (and not just suspecting) that commercially available clothing (along with, alas, commercial sewing patterns) is designed for an incredibly narrow margin of women. The standard pattern is sized for a B-cup. Ever wonder why basically all the tops you can buy are in a knit fabric? It’s because knits stretch enough to sort of make up for fact that these tops are only going to fit 20% of women. b) God, I’m a stomach person too. My stomach is the locus of all my shame. Everything in American culture tells me I should despise it. On the other hand, every man I’ve been with (all, um, two of them) has loved it and thought it was sexy. But guess which voice in my head always wins? c) Replacing bad thoughts with good thoughts–with truer and more healthy thoughts–is a good thing. But I’ve found too often that this pushes me into a place where I despise myself for letting the bad thoughts win, which is kind of counter-productive. You’re right–soothe yourself. It’s okay that you’re not immune to the overwhelming voices of your environment all the time. You are loved anyway.

    • Sweets
      June 27, 2012 at 12:34 pm (10 years ago)

      Yes, exactly. For over-thinkers (hiiiiii friend, and also me), it’s so easy to say “STOP THINKING THE BAD THOUGHTS” and then beat ourselves up for thinking the bad thoughts, which reinforces the idea that we should feel bad. And then it turns into this confusing weird shame spiral. Soothing is working so much better. You are loved.

  2. lauriedancer
    June 27, 2012 at 1:08 pm (10 years ago)

    I marveled at your beauty during your dance last nite…so graceful and lovely…the way your hair flowed around your lovely face, your alabaster perfect silky soft skin, your never-ending loooong legs, the easy glide in your body as you moved…not once did I notice anything other than perfection.

    • Sweets
      June 27, 2012 at 2:06 pm (10 years ago)

      Thank you Laurie for such kind words. I love our class!

      • lauriedancer
        June 27, 2012 at 5:01 pm (10 years ago)

        I love it too…so much…it is one of the highlights of my week…every week!!! Being with women who are so loving, warm, caring, and generous of spirit …and who also dance (and BAKE) like rock stars…just makes me really happy!!!

  3. wesley @ the way home
    June 27, 2012 at 4:18 pm (10 years ago)

    Love your honesty! Negative thinking can so quickly take us captive, and the comparison aspect of it is never ending. Thanks for the reminder that we all struggle with it and that there are ways to escape it!

  4. threadmistress
    June 27, 2012 at 4:47 pm (10 years ago)

    Your dance last night was, as always, amazing. Yes, it had a quieter energy, but as always, it was deeply authentic and exquisite. You are so graceful and fluid – and I am in awe of how fearlessly you throw yourself into the most daring pole tricks and nail them EVERY time. Even upside down in heels. The passion and dedication you bring to this very challenging movement is inspiring – every week, I can’t wait to see what your dance will bring – the music, the clothes, and more than anything, the artistic way you weave your movement together. Please, please don’t ever doubt what all of us can see so clearly: you radiate sexy, slinky, s.t.r.o.n.g. feminine beauty.
    P.S. – You write like a rock star.

    • Sweets
      June 27, 2012 at 4:52 pm (10 years ago)

      Ughhhhhh, I love you guys. Thank you so much.
      P.S. — You bake like a rock star.

  5. questfortheperfectbra
    June 28, 2012 at 11:21 am (10 years ago)

    I completely understand. I can go from feeling great to a experiencing full-blown panic attack. When you’ve struggled with body issues, it’s hard to understand that your perception of your body really doesn’t reflect what you look like. Being unable to find clothing that fits makes that problem 100 times worse.

    • Sweets
      June 28, 2012 at 11:40 am (10 years ago)

      I so agree with you. It’s hard for me, an adult woman, to recognize that just because my brain is screaming at me, it’s not necessarily screaming the truth. It’s especially hard when those full-blown panic attacks happen! Every time the panic passes and I can say to myself “You’re ok, you can keep fighting next time,” it gets a little better.

  6. stephanie
    July 4, 2012 at 11:45 pm (10 years ago)

    I LOVE YOUR BLOG!! I have to say, in all honesty, I think we have all felt this way at one point in our lives but I am going thru a similar time right now. Having lost 50 lbs and then injured myself only to put some (thank heavens not all, only a bit) back on I feel like everyone I know, everyone at work is staring at me thinking, OMG, she’s headed in the opposite direction!! Its complete torture and I spend every day thinking about my belly, how it was flat for the first time in 43 years only to not be now. I am dying to get out of this surgical boot and get back to S, back to the gym….but the inner voice is still there. Do not let it get the best of you, you are stronger than that….you have to be, because how will I know that I am too if you don’t write about it. 🙂

    • Sweets
      July 5, 2012 at 1:00 am (10 years ago)

      Thank you, Stephanie. Thank you so much. I hope your injury heals soon and you can get back to luscious, luscious S as soon as possible. I just try to remember that no matter how weird/icky/uncomfortable my brain tries to tell me I SHOULD feel, I have to try to make room for my body to tell me how I DO feel. And S makes us feel great!

  7. jackie
    July 17, 2012 at 1:27 pm (10 years ago)

    This made me cry. (at work no less… nice work, sweets) Because it’s me. It’s you. It’s everyone really. I don’t understand when “beauty” became a flat tummy, but it did for me in my head, and every time I think about my body changing, I feel sick. I try to listen to what you say, because you’re the strongest voice in positive body image that I have other than B, and I love you for it. I just have to say it. I love you for a lot of things, but I think I love you for this the most.


    • Sweets
      July 17, 2012 at 1:52 pm (10 years ago)

      Oh sweet Jackie. Keep listening to the voices that ring truest for you. You’ve got B in your corner, and the Sunday night crew, and we all see such beauty in you, as does every animal you care for and love. You are lovely.

  8. Elika
    July 26, 2012 at 4:05 am (10 years ago)

    Your blog is fabulous, and your writing if fabulous so there’s no reason to worry about that. I get your tummy shame. But hey, we’re all on a journey to undo it 🙂 I love love love your blog.

    • Sweets
      July 26, 2012 at 7:03 am (10 years ago)

      Thanks so much Elika!


4Pingbacks & Trackbacks on Fighting

  1. […] Mary recently recommended (in response to Fighting) a short book called How to be Less Crazy About Your Body.  It’s by a hilarious writer named […]

  2. […] So a few weeks ago my brain made a crazy thought that was so loud, so angry, and so vicious that it made me cry: “What if [That Guy You Like] saw you doing this pole dancing shit? He’d be disgusted and repulsed, because you’re unattractive, and deep down you’re gross and unworthy of love.” Brain, you are a dick sometimes. […]

  3. […] except to give myself the space and the time to keep working on it.  The same thing happened the last time I put on a bikini, and I’m sure it will happen again before all is said and done.  The dark and cranky […]

  4. […] and I always have.  I’ve talked about my not-so-great relationship with my body before, in reference to pole-dancing  and in reference to bikinis and in reference to ballet dancing.  Photos usually make me cringe […]

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