A few afternoons ago I did something I’ve never done before. I went for a trail run. Shirtless. Now don’t get twisted on me, I had a sports bra on. This isn’t the south of France (although I’m completely on board with that movement– why do women have to strap in while men’s nipples feel the freedom of fresh summer breezes? Just who IS the jack wagon that came up with this scheme and why haven’t we changed it yet?)
But back to the point: for some people, going for a run in a sports bra isn’t that big of a deal. For me, it was everything. There was a time I would not have fathomed feeling comfortable enough in my own skin to let it be out there nekkie in the sunshine in front of other humans. There’s no way on earth I would have considered letting my abs out in public unless they were glistening in baby-oil, evenly tanned, rock hard, airbrushed beauties like a GQ centerfold. For years I wore jeans even in triple digit temps, terrified that someone might see the scars on my knees or the blemishes on my thighs. I pulled the bottom of my shirts down constantly lest a tiny peek of my non-GQ ready belly be caught by an unsuspecting passerby. The horror, the shock, the disgust they would surely show was too great a risk to bare.
I lived for the winter wardrobe when it wasn’t abnormal to be wearing long sleeves and layers. I covered as much of my skin as possible and got as small as possible. When I look at old photographs, I see myself hunched over, head down, hair cascading all around my face like a fortress. If I could have crawled inside a suit of armor before meeting the public gaze, I surely would have.
All the while, I assumed everyone around me was just cool as cucumbers in their shorts and tank tops, feeling all good about life. I know now just how insidious self-hate is in our consumer culture and that it plagues the masses. Of course, chronic sexual abuse has a way of making you question the integrity of your body as well. And then there are all the little comments people make over the course of a life that reinforce your insecurities and self-loathing. Especially when you take them to heart because while you think you are searching for positive affirmations and validation, you are subconsciously simultaneously seeking out reinforcements of what you are so sure is the capital T truth: you are ugly and unworthy. You will never be enough.
I would now, respectfully, like to give a heartfelt FUCK YOU to all those old beliefs about my body. Over the last several years, my body has become more than just the thing that carries my head around. I’ve seen that it can actually do some pretty cool shit. Like climb big mountains and ride a bike over 80 miles and bend completely backward until my head is upside down and the bendy little yogi next to me is like “dayum!” and all kinds of other cool stuff I’m not writing in here because my mother might read this, for heaven’s sake, but you get the point.
I finally realized that my body and I are, quite literally, in this together. And now we’re having FUN. The sun feels so damn good on my skin I want to get as much of it out there as possible. What a difference! Sometimes I still cringe at my imperfections, and then I remember what a downright miracle it is that all these thousands of cells are doing all these magical things to make my brain work and heart beat and lungs breathe and I just feel grateful beyond measure for this body who has put up with so MUCH of my shit over the years, but kept doing its amazing thing anyway, just waiting for me to come around. Here I am. Doing a dance in the dressing room.
I’m not so obsessed with how I ‘look’ anymore. Now it’s more about just feeling how I feel. It’s a different state of mind, which actually, looks pretty good on me. I also stopped comparing to anyone else. My body feels different than my friend who is an acrobat, different than my friend who just gave birth, different than my friend with quadriplegia. We’re all just going through our own things trying to figure out what we’re capable of. I also must acknowledge and empathize with the challenges that living in a body of another color would entail and doing so I recognize the privilege inherent in this post.
Here and now, I’m done beating my body up, covering her up, and tearing her down. Now I say nice things to her just because. I take her on long walks on the beach. I feed her really healthy food, the good Zin, and German chocolate cake. I show her how much iron she can pump and we’re both like – shoot, not bad! I continue to find ways to heal her from the chronic trauma she endured. I soak her in hot tubs on chilly moonlit nights and swim freely in rivers on hot summer days. I let her feel the air of early spring all over her legs and arms and midriff as I head up the trail, pumping that heart. And maybe one day I’ll just have to take her to the south of France, too!