Even writing those two words feels both powerful and unnerving. To speak directly to my body, my bones, my muscles, my fat, my hair, my skin, my feet, all of me. I’ve never done that before, and it is long overdue. I owe you an apology, my dear body. I owe you many apologies. And I owe you a whole lot of love.
When I was a teenager, people whose opinions I wanted to respect told me that you were ugly and skinny. They teased me and pinched me and succeeded in making me dislike what you looked like. It took many years to gain a sense of peace about what you looked like and how I felt about you. I dated in high school and college. I got married and had two big, juicy, gorgeous babies. You carried me through it all. You excelled in baby-making and milk production. You labored marvelously and didn’t require any pain medication at all during either delivery. I was amazed by you. I still am amazed by you.
One day about 13 years ago, my love for you shifted and became disdain, shame, anger, even disgust. I remember it clearly. I got up, got dressed, and went to my OB-Gyn for my annual check-up. I stepped on the scale and saw 169 pounds. I was completely comfortable with that number because it is only four pounds above my pre-pregnancy weight and at the time I had two young children in my full time care. I was in a great place with you and what you looked like.
After my check-up and the usual chatter, the doctor told me that I needed to lose 20 pounds - and soon - because “as you get older, it will be harder for you to lose weight. And as you get older, the tendency is to gain more weight.” She went on with something about African-American women and obesity, but I wasn't listening anymore. Twenty pounds? Get down to 149 pounds? That’s what I weighed at the end of my college career, after eight years of being on the middle school, high school, and college track teams. I drove home from that doctor’s appointment in a state of shock. I called my best friend and told her. She agreed: twenty pounds sounded like a lot to her as well.
But that was the day that the battle began, the constant criticism, the vigilance about what I ate, drank, and even thought about food. I worried about what you looked like, dear, faithful body of mine. I worried about what you would look like if I didn’t change things radically. I got angry at you for not being thinner and fitter and smaller.
I began to look at other people’s bodies and thinking that I liked those bodies better. I wanted her arms and her waistline and her hair and her feet and her eyes and her hair. I wanted everybody else’s everything, but very little of what you are and have and have been for me for my entire life.
I looked down at the feet you have given me and told you they were too big. I criticized you because you don’t keep them from getting dry and cracked around the heels. What I neglected to acknowledge is that these feet you have given me have taken me all over these United States and to many countries in Europe, Central and South America. These feet don’t stop functioning even when I slam my toes into bed posts, chairs, and table legs. These feet carried my pregnant body through two hot summers. These feet ran countless laps around indoor and outdoor tracks and up and down many basketball courts. These feet have driven me thousands of miles and slammed on the brake hard enough to keep my single car accident from being more than a fender bender. These feet, these big feet of mine, have taken me to hospitals, churches, cathedrals, museums, airports, homes, tennis courts, horseback riding farms, college and high school campuses without ever letting me down. Ever.
Dear Body, thank you for these size 11, strong, sometimes crusty, always reliable feet of mine. I now recognize that they match your 5' 10" frame perfectly. Anything smaller, and I'd fall over, unable to keep my balance.
After that fateful doctor’s appointment, I looked down at the belly you gave me and scolded it for not being flatter and more muscular. I scolded it for not giving me a belly button that can support a belly ring, not that I’d ever get one, but I wanted to know that I could. Even though I know that this abdomen of mine brought two amazing people into the world, even though I’ve never had “six-pack abs,” even though I never paid any attention to the state of my tummy until that fateful day, even though it has never mattered to me or to anyone who has ever seen my stomach that I don’t look like a body-builder, suddenly I thought I had the right to expect to look like a fitness instructor. Whenever I stand in front of a mirror, oh strong body of mine, the tummy you have given me is the first place I look - and I always look at it wishing it could look different than the way that it looks. Why do I do that to you?
This belly of mine has received and digested all the food I have subjected it to all my life. This belly of mine has held down all kinds of horrible, unsavory, junk food all my life. This belly of mine managed to keep providing nutrition for me even when I have eaten food that is less than healthy. This belly of mine provided nutrition that flowed across the placenta into the bodies of my babies. This belly of mine has heaved and shifted with my laughter and my sobs. This belly of mine is striped with stretch marks, more mementos of the two most important years of my life, the years that you, my dear body, served as a vessel for the journey of two new souls into the world.
I look at my two deflated breasts, one of which has an inverted nipple, and apologize to my husband for not having more for him to see and enjoy. Even though he has always said that you, my wonder-filled body, are beautiful to him, even though I know that these two breasts nourished my children for 18 months and 13 months, respectively, I still criticize you for not giving me bigger breasts once nursing was behind me. What I have neglected to acknowledge is that I still have my breasts. They are healthy. They don’t require special bras or heavy support. In fact, they don’t require a bra at all, which is another kind of gift.
Dear Body, thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you for your beauty, your strength, your stamina, your steadiness, your good health, your cooperation, your reliability, your forgiveness of all my bad choices. Thank you for never condemning me the way that I condemn you and for never beating me up the way that I beat you up. Thank you for not keeping score the way that I keep score on you. Thank you for not weighing me the way that I weigh you. Thank you for loving me, for bearing with me, for bearing up under me even though I have not loved you or been patient, gracious, and tender with you.
Thank you for doing what you do, most of which I can neither understand nor explain. You really are quite amazing. Forgive me for being such a bad student for so long; I have much to learn from you.
Dear Body, I look forward to the rest of our journey together, mind, soul, spirit, and you - my body. Please keep teaching me and transforming me and showing me all that I need to see and be and do. I promise to do better going forward. I promise to love you more and take better care of you. You deserve it.
Thank you for being my body. I love you; I really do.
Forever yours, Gail
PS. Dear Body, you should know that I am no longer trying to get you to weigh 149 pounds. What was that doctor thinking? What was I thinking when I thought she was right? After all, you still fit into clothes I bought on my honeymoon 21 years ago. You rock, body of mine. You totally rock!!!