What stories does your body want to tell? #3
When I was 14, in boarding school, a band of boys made a point to make bad jokes about our weight every time two friends and I walked past them. They would chant “9.9 on the Richter scale! 9.9 on the Richter scale!” each time we entered the room — suggesting of course that we were so large we caused catastrophic earthquakes that peaked the Richter scale.
They said other things too, I don’t remember it all. It all meant the same thing — I was fat and this was wrong, this wasn’t good, this was a joke, this deserved comment and denigration.
So I started to eat less. I allowed myself to be so, so hungry. I made sure I always ate less than anyone else at the dining table. Then I ate half of that. And then less, and then less. I started to fear even drinking water because that was something going into me and that would make me fat. When I felt hungry — that dull but sharp churning in the stomach — it meant I was doing something right, it meant I was punishing my body for being so fat, so disagreeable.
Eventually, I was sent to therapy for an eating disorder. I hate that it’s called a disorder; that there is something wrong with you. I was here precisely because the people around me, my peers, were already telling me that something was wrong with me and the 14-year-old me was just trying to fix that. There was something so much larger and wider and beyond me that needed to be fixed.
Fast-forward 20 years, a few weeks before I was due to start my PhD on precisely this subject of bodies and beauty, one of the boys who had chanted me into despair and starvation messaged me to say, “Hey! I’m in the same city as you. Shall we meet up?” I didn’t feel angry towards him; just a kind of benign indifference now, and a sadness that he — like so many others who body-shame — would have had absolutely no idea how absolutely devastating his shaming comments were; how terribly miserable it is to have an eating disorder, to wake up every morning and actively, totally hate your body. And because your body is you (in some ways), you also hate your/self.
I wondered instead at the kind of world we live in now where it is perfectly okay — in fact, encouraged — for young people to police and impose their judgements, no matter how seemingly harmless or childish or jokey, on each other’s bodies. I wondered if it would make any difference at all for him to know the effect his comments actually had in the end; if he’d feel sorry; if he’d feel anything at all. I wondered at this weird space where, in the end, all this would probably still be my ‘fault’ anyway — that I was being too sensitive, that I couldn’t take a joke, that I *was* chubby so it was kind of true anyway.
So I’m posting this photo today because I like my butt. It’s the one part of my body I have always liked, that has gotten me plenty of attention and compliments from people of all genders, including myself. It’s one part of me that has helped me learn to start liking other parts of me, all parts, eventually the whole.
Also, in taking this photo, directing its pose, framing its focus, and then choosing to post it, I’ve realised — finally, slowly — that I have always been the only one, really, who has any say over this body.