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March 17, 2021

The Body As Home: A Letter To All Who Have Felt Displaced

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.

Home is not its brick and mortar. Home is the warmth within its walls. The memories that make it so. The comfort of peace and permanence. A place of belonging.

In the UK, Eating Disorder Awareness Week has coincided with the announcement of the end of a year-long national lockdown which, with an accompanying barrage of fatphobic weight loss memes, has thrown the country into a deep and collective sense of panic, anxiety and urgency-to shed all weight at all costs.

These memes suggest that to be seen in our bodies as they are right now ought to make us feel ashamed; that stepping back out into the world in a body that hasn’t dramatically shrunk by 21 June should terrify us, because it would mean allowing ourselves to be seen as apparently the most dreaded thing we could be in this world-fat.

For those battling Eating Disorders, those in recovery, those for whom weight loss has never been easy, those existing in marginalised, bigger bodies-they will see these jokes, unsurprisingly, as yet another confirmation of their belief that, despite all that they have to offer the world, they are worth nothing, if not thin.

They are the very confirmation that people needed in order to believe that the bullying voice in their head was right all along: that they are better off staying in the cunning familiarity of their Eating Disorder.

Because this is the place that feels safe. Or, at least, safer, than feeling all the things that fat apparently makes us-undesireable, unworthy, unloveable, unhealthy, less than.

This is what an Eating Disorder is. It is a catch-22; it is cyclical; it is endless. It is an illusion of safety and control, cleverly disguising what is actually a slow and scary loss of control.

It is a condition that, whilst keeping someone in a tunnel of darkness and shame, sells them the promise of light and ‘enoughness’ if they could only reach the end.

But when they get to the end, there is no light. There is just more tunnel. And for a lot of people, it takes years to escape.

So, let us stop making those tunnels feel longer and more lonesome, help each other into the light and make each other feel safe to merge back into the world together in all the wonderfully worthy shapes, sizes and weights that we are.

It is only then, that people who do not see beauty in their reflection may feel able to step out of the safety of their shadows and into the light; into visibility-to let themselves be seen in their wholeness and imperfection; as deep, complex, beautiful human beings who were born, live and will die, meaning so much more than the size of their thigh gaps, waists, hips or dips.

Eating disorders go far beyond being about one’s body. They reach fragile places deep beneath the skin they are in. They do not appear in only the ways in which they are stereotyped.

They are seriously debilitating mental illnesses that steal years from people’s lives. They are riddled with shame, secrecy and judgment and they destroy relationships, experiences and any and all sense of self.

But the problem is not the desire to lose weight. The problem is the false promises-of acceptance, adoration, intimacy, inclusion, comfort, connection, desirability, being loved and loveable-that we attach to the dainty, petite, flawless figure that weight loss brings.

The problem is the fear of being unworthy of, or incapable of experiencing, all of the above if we fail to achieve it. Whatever ‘it’ is.

But we know all too well-from our own experiences, and thanks to the brave activists who founded the body positivity and neutrality movement at a time when it was still incredibly shameful and stigmatising to talk about Eating Disorders-that this is untrue.

Thinness, alone, brings us none of these things. It breaks all of its promises.

Unconscious, internalised fatphobia-much like unconscious, internalised racism-requires us to look deeply and honestly within ourselves to confront our own biases, examine their origins and work to deconstruct and unlearn them, collectively.

Why are we so afraid of fatness? Where has this come from? Why is the diet and weight loss industry projected to reach a worth of $295.3 billion by 2027?

Because it does not work. It feeds off of our learned insecurities; it sells us a fake dream; it sets us a new ideal every few years; it profits off of us being perpetually convinced that our bodies are the ‘before’ in an eternally exhausting ‘before and after’ cycle.

We know all this. But still, why is it so hard?

There is an endless sea of toxic messaging we receive daily that subconsciously, constantly drills into our heads that we are never enough as we are in this present moment; that something always needs fixing.

It is everywhere, all the time, from the minute we wake to the moment we sleep.

And so, I am sorry to anyone fighting through recovery in a world that praises weight loss, shames weight gain and idolises unachievable ideals.

A world that, in glorifying restrictive behaviours, has simultaneously trapped you in a cycle of compulsive ones.

I am sorry that those very behaviours that you are trying to rid yourselves of are wrongly perceived to be acts of willpower and romanticised when, in reality, your Eating Disorder is more controlling, and has taken more from you, than anyone could possibly know.

To those who exist in marginalised bodies; who struggle with self-worth; who are on the rocky path of recovery; who feel overwhelmed by a world screaming self-love and affirmations at them, but can’t ever seem to love or affirm the person who looks back at them in the mirror;

To every one of us who even sometimes feels insecure in our own skin:

There are no magical words I can say to convince you of the love you deserve to experience from yourself. Mostly because I often have to work to find them myself.

But in the warm, enveloping, comforting words of Sonya Renee Taylor, I will share the one thing that I know to be absolute truth for us all:

“The Body Is Not An Apology”.

For all the years that we have been at war with our bodies, treated their beauty like battlegrounds and taken for granted their forgiving natures, we owe our bodies an apology.

But our bodies are never the apology. Our bodies are home.

We are not meant to be a size that we can only sustain through restriction. Let us be radically unapologetic about this vital truth.

Home does not require cyclical demolition and rebuild.

It requires safety, security, love. It is made to shelter, to create memories, to experience joy, to provide the comfort of peace and permanence.

Home is not its brick and mortar. Home is the warmth within its walls.

Home is the memories that make it so; a place of belonging.

So, on 21 June, every day before and for long after, let us remember that every one of us is worthy of walking out into the world; letting ourselves be seen, heard and held; feeling the full embrace of our loved ones; and experiencing the unparalleled joy of lockdown’s end in all its glory, whenever that might be, at whatever size, shape or weight that we are.

To experience moments of true connection like this with the people we love-that is what our bodies were made for and, at the end of this short life, all that our bodies will be remembered for.

You are not a constant self-improvement project.

You are more than a ‘before’ spending a lifetime to turn into your ‘after’.

You are your past, present and future, all at once. Today, as you are, in this moment, is the only thing that is truly real.

Tomorrows; will be’s, afters-they are never promised. Battling our bodies will paralyse us in a war that has no winner. Meanwhile, the months keep moving. 365 days will pass by, regardless.

So let us try to spend them in radical, unconditional love-with the people we cherish, the air we breathe and the complete uniqueness of our beings-not despite of, but along with, the vessels that they live in.

You are no before, no after. You are not an unfinished work.

You are now; you are whole; you are your full and final rendition at all times. In the poetic words of Aija Mayrock:

“You are that which exists once, in eternity”.

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