On the way to our first period class, my friend and I stopped at the local deli to buy our lunches.
We each grabbed a SlimFast milkshake from the refrigerator and a packet of diet pills from the counter. We counted our money to hand to the cashier, returned our backpacks to our shoulders, and hurried to school.
At 15 years old, we were working hard. We wanted straight A’s, so we were disciplined students. We wanted to be thin, so we disciplined our bodies.
The desire to be thin was consuming. We idolized thinness and worshipped the bodies of women on magazine covers. We admired the way their pelvic bones protruded from above their waistbands, how their slender shoulders emerged from their dress straps, the way their bellies ran flat and smooth like wooden boards.
We craved thin bodies and so we starved ourselves. As the saying goes, “no pain no gain,” and hunger pains became indicators of achievement. A day spent enduring hunger meant progress toward thinness.
Our hunger was our sacrifice in hopes of gaining entry into the holy realm of feminine desirability.
Learning to battle my body and endure hunger was my initiation into womanhood. It was the vocabulary of my conversations, the glue of new friendships, the fabric of belonging to this new tribe.
But this mindset shifted as I neared turning 30.
Emerging from the vulnerable transition through young adulthood, I began to think differently. I gradually realized that the presentation of what we felt to be true—might actually be false.
I realized I could reject ideas that felt this way, and that I could rewrite new truths. Determining what was true and false was my choice. In fact, it was imperative.
The first idea I rejected was that food was my enemy.
After years of normalizing hunger, my cells begged to be nourished completely. I found myself drawn to farms and gardens, immersing my fingers in soil, and inhaling the scent of ripe tomatoes. I found truth in growing, preparing, and sharing whole foods.
The next truth to go was that my body should shrink.
For my 29th birthday, I attended a wellness festival in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. There were hundreds of vendors teaching their philosophies and methods for preparing food, exercising, meditating, and creating art.
I learned about holistic physical fitness from a woman with broad shoulders and strong legs. She led us exuberantly through sprints, stretches, and self-massage, playfully inhabiting and caring for her body. Rather than seeking to discipline its wildness, she ventured to explore it.
This was a complete energetic reversal. Half of my life, I realized, had been spent aspiring to shrink. Now with fierce clarity, I felt a desire to grow. I began experimenting with a variety of physical practices. I found great release studying martial arts through kicking, punching, and shouting with force.
For the first time in over a decade, I was focused on expanding.
Completing my exit from my 20s, I steadily rewrote my truths surrounding the female body. I rewrote beauty, peeling it away from deprivation and smallness. I corrected the falsity I had learned that decreasing my presence would increase my value.
It is outdated to glorify one body type. Instead, let us find beauty in bodies well-loved, well-rested, and well-nourished. Let us learn to use the body as a space to experiment with limits, and imagine new possibilities. Where the body goes, the heart and mind will follow, and vice versa.
Everyone has the right to take up space.
Author: Lianna G. Ruben
Image: Norman Rockwell
Editor: Jen Schwartz
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman