*Editor’s Note: This piece is part of a series—lucky you. Head to the author’s profile to continue reading. Read chapter one here.
“Don’t hide no emotions, wear ’em on my sleeve, all my feelings Gucci.” ~ Lizzo
I distinctly remember the first day I felt “too big.”
It was a spring morning in eighth grade, and I had just walked over to my best friend’s house to get a ride to school. She lived down the street and her mother worked at the middle school, and so would drive us to school each morning in their baby blue station wagon.
My gal pal made her exit from the house like a model walking down a runway, wearing low rise jeans and a crop top that matched the color of her family’s station wagon. Her stomach was flat and shapely. She looked stunning and I had never seen her wear anything like this before. I looked down at whatever baggy shirt and shorts I must have been wearing at the time and suddenly felt very aware of myself. My body. What would it look like in those low-rise jeans and crop-top?
I would never wear clothes the same after this morning.
What I had not realized until this day was that my stomach was not flat and shapely like my girlfriend’s was. It was pudgy and round. And while her pants hung off her hips, my pants were snug and barely buttonable. It was the first time I noticed my body’s growing fullness.
As a budding 13-year-old with an online boyfriend (what can I say? It was 1997 and the internet was up-and-coming), my body image came into question again after I sent him a “day in the life” video.
He was my first boyfriend, a boy from Wyoming whom I had met online in some random teen chat room. We wrote letters back and forth to each other and eventually started investing in calling cards. We had a fun connection and during the summer between eighth and ninth grade; my girlfriend helped me make this video to send him.
We had a lot of fun with it, being both crazy and creative young girls, and the video soon became a project to satisfy our own outlets. In one scene, we danced crazily to a Spice Girls music video that happened to be on VH1. I was wearing her leopard print skirt and one of her cute crop tops. I was trying to feel sexy and pretty. I was far from perfect but felt confident enough to include this silliness in the final cut.
While I cannot remember how he received the video in its entirety, I do remember his response to this particular scene. At some point in our many phone conversations, I must have told him I had a “six-pack”—certainly not knowing what this meant—because after he watched the video, he made a remark that I didn’t have a six-pack, I had a “cake.” He said this while laughing. He also remarked that all of his friends thought my friend was “hot.”
I felt humiliated. His perception of me in that little leopard skirt perfectly validated all of the fresh insecurities that had recently been growing around my body. If before they were tiny sprouts and microgreens, now they were ready to be transplanted into the earth, well on their way to becoming a vegetable garden.
I also understood at this point what a six-pack was and wasn’t. I had never heard bodies described like this before and would move forward from this moment seeing a vanilla frosted cake where my tummy should be every time I looked in the mirror. Cake is sweet, yes, but clearly not a six-pack.
The new awareness of my changing body, coupled with being told I looked like a spongy dessert by the first boy I had real feelings for, was a shock to the system.
My voice grew quieter as a critical, inner voice grew louder. I had growing anxiety about the fact that my boobs weren’t as big as other girls’, yet my pants fit tight and the stick-like figure I grew up with up until this point was gone. I wanted to be straight-shaped with skinny legs and a flat stomach. But instead I was lumpy with a flat chest. I felt swollen and too big, especially around my bottom half.
At the heart of it, I felt like I took up too much space and did not deserve to.
I desperately needed to feel smaller and so I began seeking out clothes the next size up and then higher and higher and higher so that pants would loosely hang from my hips too. I longed to shrink inside of them so no one could see me.
From there the story just kept unfolding, marked by a long adolescence and young adulthood of feeling unwelcome in my own skin.
Nowadays, as a woman who fluctuates between being underweight and “average,” I still feel too big in clothes. It’s difficult to hide my Beyoncé-esque bottom half. Sometimes, I sneak a peek at my ass in the mirror and turn an even shade of red at just how wide it is. Damn, girl.
I’ve spent the majority of my years living on planet Earth feeling like this.
What I am learning is that the ways we choose to occupy our body has a direct relation to the ways we occupy space. My refusal to claim my body as my own led to a deeper rejection of who I am at my core. The way I reject its curves is directly linked to the ways I have rejected my femininity, my power to state clearly what I want, to take up space, and to share what I genuinely have to offer.
And so when I decided to embark on this journey through the wild expanse of my soul, the first invitation I received was to explore the way I move through the world. Of course, how could I possibly wander the infinite space of my soul if I rejected the vehicle that had been holding it?
As I traverse this part of my soul, I come face-to-face with the shame I have wrapped around my body. She reveals to me a garden that she has loyally tended for years, generations even. It is overgrown with lamb’s quarters and bindweed. They hungrily consume the space and leave no room for anything else to grow.
I relate with the sad, uneasy feeling emanating through the weeds—it is in their roots, pulled through the soil, deep and intense like Shame herself. As I surrender to the gloom of this garden, collapsing onto its earth, Shame gently asks me to see her and says that she was only trying to protect me.
I think about all the times I felt exposed. I feel the embarrassment I cloaked my body in and the way I felt when anyone told me I was beautiful like I was being duped and suddenly could not trust them.
Guilt, her sister, is also there and asks me to forgive her, says she was doing her best and trying her hardest to love me. I think about all the times when I didn’t show up for myself and others because I was afraid to be seen. I remember the risks I didn’t take for fear of failure, or maybe even success.
I feel deep regret for things I would have done differently as a young person. I would not have tied my happiness down in relationships with boys, would have moved my body more, and spent more time discovering my passions in life and sharing them.
Grief, their great grandmother, then envelopes all of us. Her presence feels overwhelming and scoops up the energies of both Shame and Guilt. I am overtaken with her deep well of sadness, which feels holy and purifying. She invites me to feel her, reminds me that she lives in the most tender part of my heart and exists there for me.
Most of all, she just holds me.
I think about my transition from childhood to adolescence and the way I abandoned myself at the first signs of change. I remember the way I used to play, dance, and sing so freely. I feel the way I shut down when I no longer felt at home in my body. I am overtaken by her and feel an unraveling taking place.
Shame, Guilt, and Grief—all three invite me to set down my heavy armor, which I believed to be necessary at some point, but has now served its purpose, and to expand after years of contraction.
To throw away all the pants that are three sizes too big.
To allow my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual nature to move freely about.
To take up space and extend myself to the world I live in.
To uproot Shame’s garden.
I accept this invitation and gently clear out the heavy, overgrown garden, thanking it every step of the way in true KonMari style. The soil gives way for new life and I use the remains for compost to plant new seeds of self-love, acceptance, and curiosity. I give each seed a lot of space and ask it to be brave.
A new garden takes its place and hosts a variety of large, blossoming flowers that encourage me to unapologetically inhabit my body. To fill it. To unabashedly take up space with it. It’s a new feeling, but I open to it.
Giant sunflowers, chunky birds of paradise, and bountiful proteas invite me to acknowledge that I am allowed to be here, and in fact, I am designed to be here. Right here, in this space, right now—with absolutely everything I have to offer.
We all are.
And the more I welcome my physical spaciousness, the more I welcome the other ways I take up space:
with my words,
my big feelings,
and just my wild, real, loving self.
As I continue to explore the wildness of my soul, I experience its spaciousness. I not only traverse and touch and explore it—I claim it.
Like a pioneer on her first moon expedition, I gaze out into its vast and boundless nature (held in physical form by my glorious booty) and marvel at the riches it holds. I stake a claim on all of its wild, cratered glory with every intention to share it.