I was sitting in a therapy session a few years ago when she asked me the simplest question.
“Who are you?”
“A daughter, a friend, a student, a sister…” I plainly spoke what I knew to be true. She rephrased her question.
“Do you know who you are?”
I sat there, staring blankly for 10 minutes. I had no concept of self. Which makes it easy to understand why I had no sense of self-esteem, self-love, or self-identity. Everything about me had been carefully constructed in relation to others. I knew absolutely nothing about myself. I suddenly felt my mind connect to my body again, it had been about 10 years since it had been.
Maybe I should explain.
There’s something that happens when you’re in the midst of being sexually assaulted. At some point you realize that this person is bigger than you, stronger than you, and no one can hear you scream. This isn’t like the movies where you can escape just before the bad thing happens or someone comes and rescues you. This is happening. No one’s coming for you. You can fight but this is happening, right now, and there’s nothing you can do. You just…let go. To stay present would probably kill you. You find some switch in your brain and suddenly, you’re disconnected. If you’re lucky, your brain will file away the trauma in a vault that you won’t be able to access for years, maybe your entire lifetime. But your body, your body remembers everything.
I never knew why food was so comforting to me or why I would sneak to the kitchen in the middle of the night to pilfer sweets or anything I could get my hands on. I would eat until I was full but still there was an emptiness that I could not fill. There was a hunger but because I wasn’t in tune, I confused the pangs in my stomach with the ones in my heart. Frustrated, I would brave school to hear the endless taunts and jabs about my size. It wasn’t everyday but I lived in constant anxiety until the next one. I started to believe what I was being told. It’s not hearing, “You’re fat!” yelled at you in your high school physics class, in front of your teacher, that hurts. It’s what’s underneath the insult. You just told me that I was different and because I am different I deserve to be yelled at, to be laughed at, to be ridiculed, and to have who I am taunted and confused with what I am.
More importantly, you told a young woman who already felt she had no ownership or claim to her body, that something was wrong with it and that it must change in order to appease those in possession of penises. So I did just that. I would try to radically and unrealistically usurp my bad habits by replacing them with obsessions fueled by shame. It never worked. It never will because change doesn’t happen like that.
Consciously, I was aware that what was being done to me was wrong. But my brain filed those insults in a vault that I could access and the pain of them reverberated in my jean size. Hurt, feed, suffer, repeat. The abuse my attacker started, I continued.
Years pass and my insecurities are still there. I fantasize about the day when I’m skinny, when the earth will bloom, the heavens will open, and everything will be perfect.
“When I’m skinny, I’ll be able to dance”, I’d tell myself.
“When I’m skinny, I’ll be beautiful.”
“When I’m skinny, I’ll be able to get back on stage.”
“When I’m skinny, I’ll be loved.”
“When I’m skinny, I’ll be…better.”
See how that starts to sound like some Scientology introduction meeting? I was sipping the koolaide someone else gave me without considering the source.
None of those desires require the condition of a different size. If you saw me at my sister’s wedding, you would know I’m a dancing machine. I out jumped, out wobbled, and outlasted a lot of people half my size.
I am beautiful. It took me nearly 24 years to be able to say that confidently, but girl, have you seen my smile? Have you heard me crack an obscure joke? Have you witnessed the outpouring of love I give people?! Have you seen my dress game? I serve Southern elegance everyday. Pffft, you don’t want none.
It wasn’t until I came to college that I realized that my body is desirable. Sure, I’m not everyone’s type but I learned that I was for a lot of people and not just in a weird, underground, kinky, fetishized way (Craigslist, you know what I’m talking about). I wasn’t some lower rung on a ladder for a man’s quest for ascendancy and power. I will not except that. I’m no less of a powerful human being because I have more mass than someone else. How atrocious is it to impose the belief that a woman’s size warrants her worth? What a tragically sexist thing to be threatened and afraid of a woman commanding more space than you. But let me not get into that.
For years I was disconnected from my body, I hid inside of it, I abused it, I abhorred it. I cringed at it. But then one day, it suddenly occurred to me that my attacker and bullies were off in the world not thinking of me and I had allowed them to live rent free in my head for ten years. TEN FUCKING YEARS. A whole decade of my life dedicated to modifying my identity in relation to someone else. For people who didn’t even matter! Of course I had no clue who I was. Do you have any idea how terrifying and liberating it is to realize that the story you’ve written about yourself isn’t even yours? Y’all don’t want me to preach!
But I will. There’s no greater disservice to your life, legacy, and the time you have left than to convince yourself that things cannot change until you’ve grabbed the golden fleece. You know why? Because often times, just like the fleece, the thing you’ve deluded yourself into believing is your salvation is just a myth. Baby, if you want to change your life, change your life. Want to write a book? Draft it up, draft it up, watch them words pour out. Want to move to LA? Start saving. Want to go back to school. Hit that google flex.
Sure, I think we all should strive to be our healthiest selves but you can’t get to the other side without first accepting where you are. I love who I am and the body that covers it at what ever size it may be, big or small. I don’t believe in bashing other body types because everyone has something they’re insecure about. Instead of wasting time on what we’ve been conditioned to despise, let’s learn to love all of who we are. It’s your body, no one else can lay claim to it. Shouldn’t you be the one to love it the way it deserves to be loved?
It’s not the shell that indicates the quality of the pearl. It’s the damn pearl. And believe me honey when I tell you I may be round…but I am lustrous.