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And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
~ “Late Fragment” by Raymond Carver
For decades, I loathed my body.
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment it started—my girlhood slide from embodiment to war.
It’s a stale story, familiar to many: the collection of small scraps of harsh words and the looming, omnipresent messages that swirled into a giant mass of you’re not good enough.
Your butt’s too big. Your boobs are too small. You should be taller, smaller, curvier, more muscular, and you shouldn’t stick your chin out. For years, I believed these lies. I believed the boy in history class who wrote me a note saying I was flat-chested. I believed the magazines, the models, the mothers and grandmothers. Mostly, I believed the mirror. I clutched these slivers of evidence, held them in a dark corner, and let them rain down on me constantly.
And I plotted my escape: I’d change the way I ate and exercise more. I’d cut out carbs or fats, dairy or bread. I’d run or do aerobics, lift weights or pedal the exercise bike to nowhere.
Then, inevitably, I’d fall into food. After the brief sliver of comfort, the cycle would begin again.
Eat, loathe, plot, and obsess. Rinse and repeat. This was my heartbeat, my faithful orbit, for years.
I also can’t nail down the moment the loathing ebbed. I don’t have the perfectly curated recipe to move from self-loathing to self-love—it sidled up to me.
Over time, my inner voices have softened and sweetened. Maybe it was the years of 12-step programs I attended for my food issues or the countless therapy sessions. Maybe it’s getting older, the message we change, we change, we change sinking its seething wisdom into my blood and bones. Or maybe it was becoming a mother, witnessing the life-giving power of my own body, the strength and force and creation. It was having a daughter, and wanting to spare her the pain of hating her own skin.
Whatever magic returned me to myself, I’m so grateful.
I still have slips, moments when I scowl at the mirror. But most days, my inner voice is soft and motherly. I take in the wild silver hairs that sprout from the crown of my head. The fine lines etched around my mouth, between my eyebrows, that gentle loosening of my neck.
How can I do anything but melt toward myself? Toward this body that has sparked and cradled and birthed and fed my two beautiful babies? That tastes and holds and hikes, that loves and lets go? This body that I’ve come to love and protect like a beloved child. This body that will grow older and die. How can I not meet my own impermanence with a wide and aching tenderness?
I refuse to collect any more years of regret. I refuse to not soak in my own beauty.
Life is hard enough without railing against our own skin—we are here to soften toward ourselves and to each other. We are here to learn that real life and love occur in the imperfections, in the cracks and messiness.
Sometimes I think of my younger self. Her skin so smooth and supple. She didn’t know how lovely she was. And I wish I could whisper this to her:
You are like a tree, growing into yourself. You’ll keep stretching; your perspective will shiver and shift. You are rough bark and leafy tendrils, you are beautiful because you exist—because just for now, you are here. Your life won’t start when you carve yourself into some smaller shape: it starts now, and now, and now.