I am not my body. Seems like an obvious statement, doesn’t it? Of course we are not our bodies, we are the sum of our parts, physical and otherwise. We’re the combination and result of a mashing up of skin and cells, muscle and tissue, hair and fingernails, bone and blood, yes, but also heart and soul and imagination and personality. Basically, all the things.
But, our relationship with our bodies is sometimes a complicated one, isn’t it?
I would say, the most prominent thought I have when I think about my body (which is actually not that much), is that I’m grateful for it. It’s taken me a lot of places over these 38 years. For instance, my body has kept me inside the raft when I went white water rafting, and man alive, I’m glad it did! It has withstood freezing temperatures in the depths of a long winter walk (or, you know, just waiting for a streetcar) and sweaty, oppressively hot summers working in a one thousand degree restaurant kitchen (OK, so it wasn’t a thousand degrees, but it might as well have been).
My legs, my strong (albeit short and stalky and, as I get older, increasingly varicose-veined) legs have carried me to places I’d never imagined. These legs have hiked me into the canopies of the Costa Rican rainforest and they’ve propelled me through countless lakes and seas in various continents. They’ve powered me through 11 years of 14 hour restaurant shifts, and they currently navigate me through this fantastic big city that I now call home. My body is the source of immense sexual pleasure, both mine and others’ (I’ll stop there because I know my family reads this blog – hi Aunt Pam!) and it is the proud owner of a pretty great immune system, lots of natural energy, and normal blood pressure. I have near-perfect eyesight, I have good hand-eye coordination (for the most part), and despite having a tendency to trip and fall often (because of basic clumsiness), I’ve never broken any bones and have endured only one surgery in my life which has left me (thankfully) without my poor, diseased gallbladder.
Even my tiny, kind of odd-looking feet (with what Sister #2 refers to as my “alien baby toes”), tired and plantar-factitious-ed as they are, have served me well. And surprisingly, as my former boss, Shelley used to remark, they have kept me upright all these years, despite the disproportion of their size to my ample breasts that seem to suggest that I should “tip over” because, ya know, physics.
The point is that, I’m grateful for my body, lumps and curves, and fat and all. I love it. And as much as I appreciate and have affection for and sometimes, am in true awe of my body, strangely, it is both separate from and of me, simultaneously. It’s a part of me, a part of my identity, to be certain, but it’s not me. I am not my body. I’m a fully realized person, with thoughts and feelings, and opinions and outlooks on things that have both nothing and everything to do with my body. Or more specifically, how my body is perceived by others. Who I am, everything that I am is neither defined nor negated by my body.
I think my attitude toward my body comes mostly from within me. I’m a confident, self-assured woman, and I tend not to get caught up in insecurities. That’s not to say that I don’t have them, that I don’t have moments when I feel angry at my body or it lets me down, or I’m even a little embarrassed by its parts. But, I’m mostly the former. And while most of that, as I said, comes from me, it definitely all starts with my mom.
Women, in particular, carry with them a certain legacy of self-talk when it comes to our bodies. It’s generational. And I think that so much of how we develop our relationships with our selves, and by extension, with our bodies, comes from what we absorb as children. I don’t think we, as adults, can ever underestimate the power of words and the ways in which we learn by example, and how children, especially, absorb everything they see and hear like little sponges. But it’s far more nuanced than telling little girls that they look beautiful (or not). It’s actually more about the way we talk to ourselves, and the things we say around little girls that sink in.
I’m not here to tell my mom’s story. If she wants me to tell it one day, I will. But, I will say that my mom came from a long line of women in her family who were obsessed with thinness and proffered harsh words when it came to how women should look.
My mom grew up that way and it inflicted a certain kind of damage on her, and she recognized it. She vowed that when she had children, and particularly daughters, she would break that cycle and not talk to her daughters about their bodies in that way. I don’t ever remember my mom giving me “big talks” about self-worth or body image or even specifically saying anything about weight or size, or beauty or anything related to that. But I also don’t ever recall my mom saying anything that made me feel any particular way about my body. In our house, we were taught that our minds and our hearts mattered most. We were raised to be good people, above all else, we were raised to have a good work ethic, to be good to people and to respect our family, to study hard and do our best in school, to pursue passions and to have something to say and contribute to the world.
I’m not saying my mom never told me I looked nice or commented that she liked my hair up off my face, or that “hey, that colour looks great on you!” Of course she did, because those are nice things to say. What I’m saying is, my mom engaged in conversations with me about what I thought about things, how I felt about things, about what I wanted to accomplish in my life, about my dreams and aspirations, not about clothes and fashion or weight or size or looks.
And I think it was simply the lack of those kinds of conversations, that kind of talk, during those crucial developmental years, that imprinted on me a sense of confidence and assuredness that my body was just my body and I had no feelings about it either way.
I know my mom tried really hard to engineer the conversation around bodies in our house, and she did an exceptional job when it came to her children. But there were moments when she fell victim to her own negative self-talk in front of us. She would make an off-handed, disparaging, often humorously self-deprecating (cause that’s how we Peterses roll) remark about her body. And, I guess by the time I was old enough to recognize it for what it was, I was also old enough (and had the self-possession) to call her out on it. And I still do that, even more now that I’m an adult.
It’s sort of this beautiful full-circle thing that happens. Just last month, I took my mom shopping for a dress for a family wedding. In the first store we went to, she tried on some dresses and came out, having not shown me any of them, and I could tell she was on the verge of defeat. None of them fit right and she didn’t feel good in them, and she was full of that dangerous, negative self-talk. I recognized it immediately because I’ve experienced it too. Yes, even confident women have moments of defeat and frustration. I stopped and turned to her in the middle of the store and looked her right in the eyes and I said, firmly, but lovingly and with a smile, “Mom, I’m shutting that shit down right now. We will not have any of that talk today. We’re going to find you something fantastic to wear, and you will feel beautiful and it will be fabulous, and clearly this isn’t the store where that’s going to happen.” So, we left that store, and went into another one where she tried on dress after dress, emerging from the dressing room each time with a brighter smile, standing a little taller, doing a few more twirls in the mirror and was visibly more comfortable and more herself. It was so wonderful to watch.
Suffice it to say, we left that store with not one, but TWO fabulous dresses that made my mom look and feel as truly beautiful and fantastic as she is. If that was a small thing I could do to thank her for helping to mold me into the kind of person who is grateful for my body, no matter its size or appearance, then, I’d do it a thousand more times just to see the way she looked at herself in that mirror.
I’m grateful for my body. I’m going on a Caribbean vacation in October, and I can’t wait! And I know that whether my body is 20 pounds lighter (or heavier) it will not change the smiles on my face as I experience the various adventures I have planned, or the enjoyment I’m going to feel being in paradise with my friends, or the taste of the food or the effect of the alcohol in my drinks, or the sunsets I will see, or the hot, Caribbean sun that will kiss my face. It won’t even change the thrill I’m going to feel when I go para-sailing for the first time. I’m just going to continue living my (fabulous, full, love-filled) life with this body I’ve got. I’m going to try my best to take care of it, but I’m also not going to punish myself for how it may look or be interpreted by others.
I guarantee that when people meet me, they come away having an impression of me that has nothing to do with my body. Because, after all, I am not my body. I’m me, I’m Ange, the sum of all my parts, physical and otherwise, and I have so many amazing things to offer, including, but not limited to my body.