I would like you to meet my alter ego Mr Body Shamer. And why he no longer controls my life.
As I write this, I’m munching on salted roasted cashew nuts. Which is kind of timely because I’m about to write about food, eating and body image. I know nuts are high in fat, which in turn is not so great, particularly since I’ve already had spoonfuls of peanut butter today.
And then I think, well at least it’s a ‘good’ fat. But then quickly I tell myself to shut up and stop making excuses. Then I admonish myself for choosing to eat the cashews in the first place because I decided two days ago to commit to cutting down fats. Well that really lasted. Good one Nadia.
But I want to let you in on a little secret. That inner voice speaking isn’t really me, telling myself to shut up. They’re not my words. That’s just Pierre, he’s been visiting my thoughts for years now. Possibly decades, multiple decades in fact. He was there when I was a teenager, telling me about my shameful ‘big tits,’ the wideness of my unfeminine shoulders, the roundness of my tummy, the yucky hairiness of my body. Please meet Pierre or as I also like to call him on my bad days, ‘Mr Body Shamer’. He likes to spend his time leafing through fashion magazines and visiting catwalk shows in Paris and New York. He works with the best supermodels, the skinniest in the business. He goes around measuring their thighs, butts and tummies, ensuring they haven’t allowed their bodies to expand one iota. He carries around a tape measure and his favourite pastime is to grab a loudspeaker and announce a woman’s name when she has put on weight. He’s very vigilant like that. In fact, he’s so vigilant, he shames women into thinking they’ve put on weight when they actually haven’t. It might seem like he’s distorting our perspective. But really, he’s just very attentive.
It’s quite funny that Pierre hangs out in my life. I mean, I’m no model. And that’s okay. I don’t grace the pages of magazines or stroll down catwalks for a living. I’m a teacher and a passionate foodie, so it is rather odd that Pierre looks out for me. He thinks he’s improving my life. Because after all, isn’t life better when you’re admired?
Ahhh admiration (as I pop another handful of deliciously salty cashews into my mouth) - that old chestnut. Women have always been admired for their beauty. Even though ‘beauty’ has changed definition over and over again. Slender, plump, buxomly, small chested, athletic, wiry, curvy, small feet, long neck, short, tall. Chances are, your body shape has at some point in history been en vogue. And for many of us, we swallow beauty trends like they’re a healthy dose of Vitamin C. We believe the story.
Surely I’m not the only woman whose weight and body shape has seesawed throughout her life. So I hope you can relate to this when I reveal that my unhappiest times have been when I’ve been at my skinniest. And let me make this clear, ‘skinny’ is not a bad thing, many women are naturally thin. Beautifully thin, just as they are. But for me, it’s not my regular size. So in the last 6 years, my weight dropped unnaturally low a couple of times because of a physical illness that was plaguing me. I couldn’t eat the foods I normally enjoyed and I was desperately unhappy losing my appetite. And you know what, old mate Pierre, my numero uno Body Shamer, was by my side, through the pain. And when I started feeling better, there he was with his measuring tape focused on one thing. Weight gain. He never measured my health, my happiness, my love or my creative goals. He never grabbed the scales and weighed how much my husband and I were in love or how amazing I felt when I wrote that play. He would just stand there measuring me up, to check if I still fit into that dress or those jeans.
The fact is, Pierre has made my life fucking miserable. And I know he’s made millions of other women’s lives pitiful too. Lives that have been lived in shame, restriction, embarrassment, inferiority, sickness, comparison, anxiety, disorder – a life lived in the dark. The Pierre’s of this world take away our ability to love the parts of ourselves that are unique, funny, generous, kind, creative, caring, cheeky, spontaneous…and imperfect.
I’m not sure if Pierre will ever leave me, he may stick around for the rest of my life. But it’s funny, the more I realise it’s Pierre’s voice and not mine – the more his voice gets a little quieter each time. He gets smaller too – like Mike Teavee from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He has shrunk so much that his teeny tiny hands are too small to place his teeny tiny measuring tape around my curvy healthy body. He really has no power. Well not like he used to.
At the end of the day, there will always be Pierre’s. There will always be Body Shamers. Sometimes their voices will be loud as hell, other times, like squeaky mice scattering about in your thoughts. But they’ll never be your voice. Because your voice comes from your heart, your soul, your joy. Your soul wants to be valued for a heck of a lot more than your current weight. You want to be loved for who you are now. And I know for a fact that who you are is not the sum of your body type.
Let me repeat that. Who you are, is not the sum of your body type.
So today, I’m going to embrace me, the current me, the woman who ebbs and flows with life and age and experience. Because I can. Because I can choose joy. I choose heart, I choose soul.
I hope you choose that too.
Because really, the cliché is true – life’s too damn short to be hung up on such things.
Keep eating and living with love.