I have spent a lot of time lately thinking about my body.
I was raised by some amazing parents who taught me that beauty isn’t skin deep, and that who you are is more important than appearance. And yet, when I made my way out in the world, that wasn’t at all what I heard.
You see, it wasn’t so long ago that I was a tiny little version of myself–and even then, people had something to say about my body. “Jess, you’re so thin– Jess, eat something. Aren’t you hungry?” Truth be told, I just have crazy genetics and a really fast metabolism. In seventh grade, I hit a rich 123 pounds, and I stayed there until my freshman year of college.
And then I fell in love. And as all first loves go, I acted like an idiot. I distinctly remember sitting in my boyfriend’s dorm, smiling at him while he was getting ready to go out, and he looked at me and said, “If your stomach was just a little flatter, I think you’d be so hot.” My smile falls, and I look down at my stomach. “But I’m not fat…” And he shook his head, good-guy style, “No no, not at all. I just think girls with abs are so attractive.”
I’m not going to say having abs as a girl is impossible, but what he meant were six-pack abs. Imagine the cover of fitness magazine… That wasn’t my body. I can assure you that my 5’5″ frame was just fine at 123lbs, but that wasn’t good enough, and I loved this guy, right? So I tried. And at 111lbs, I started to get very negative attention. People were asking questions, because instead of getting a flat stomach, I got crazy skinny. And I was sick. All. The. Time.
We broke up, and I was sick and tired of being sick and tired, so I started to work my weight back up. My WiFit told me that my ideal bodyweight was 135, and that seemed reasonable enough– how hard could it be to put on 22 pounds? Quick answer: HARD. I would make it to the 123-125 mark, and then my body would shut down, I’d get sick, and I’d be back to square one. On the bright side, I wasn’t 111lbs anymore, but on the downside, I wasn’t any healthier.
Keep in mind that this entire time, my body was a point of conversation– Jess is so thin, Jess needs to eat something, Jess looks sick, etc etc.
Cue the circus. In less than a year’s time, I gained over 25lbs, putting me at a very lean, strong, happy 140lbs. I have stopped standing on the scale, because it doesn’t get to rule my life anymore–I’m happy, healthy, and strong. And suddenly, conversations were happening about my body again. Not all bad, but some were. Suddenly instead of being too skinny, my arms looked manly. Instead of looking “anorexic”, I was looking “bulky”. I didn’t (and don’t) care because I was strong and I was happy.
A while back, I decided to start prepping for a fitness competition with my friend and circus partner (I did not follow through with it, simply because it was a crazy time in my life and I frankly lacked the discipline necessary). Comments, judgments, and criticisms came in like a flood. The first few didn’t surprise me, but the more I thought about it, the more I wondered what it was about my body that caused questions. And it occurred to me that earlier in the year, one of the guys in the office was prepping for a cut, and was working out, eating clean… and no one said anything to him. (I don’t mean at all to say that men don’t face this sort of thing, because I don’t believe that’s true; men receive pressures just like women.)
So why me?
Why is it that we can speak down to my body? Is it because I’m a female? Is it because I was so small, then strong? Is there something about a strong woman that upsets people?
But maybe, more than that, we’re uncomfortable with people being vulnerable–with loving and being proud of their body, because we have been trained to hate it. Our whole lives have been structured around the idea that we aren’t good enough, but if we buy this product or follow this plan, life will be better… So when we see someone believing in themselves–recklessly, without question–we get uncomfortable. And I don’t say this to toot my own horn; I say this because I have been made uncomfortable by people who believe so fully and genuinely in themselves that they seem unstoppable. What do you do with a person like that?
You can’t control them… that’s for certain.