Saturday, April 25, 2015
There are so many reasons why I should hate this photo, but I don't.
I participated in a photo shoot for an event called the #suitupcampaign. It is the hope of the woman organizing it to have a more varied representation of body types in swim suits, which would in turn invite other women to feel comfortable "suiting up" for summer if they saw bodies that looked like theirs. I was asked to submit a picture of my suit and so I set out to take a couple selfies. As I was going through them and I started to notice something; I looked beautiful.
As a fat, white, cisgender, femme-presenting, often mis-identified queer woman who is currently partnered with a cisgender man, I have received many messages about my body over the course of my life. From a very young age my body was labeled as fat. I understood the resounding message that my worth was directly tied to in how much space I was supposed to take up in the world. I understood that it was always open season on my body - from family, friends, doctors and even strangers. Sometimes couched in love, sometimes in fear and other times what just felt like hatred - it always felt destructive and hurtful.
I was a happy active child. I rode bikes, played hard in the huge empty fields that littered our rural community. I played soccer, volleyball, basketball, softball and was on the swim team. I was in Girl Scouts, Job's Daughters, University of Oregon Children's Choir, local theater and played in the school band. I got leads in plays and sang solos. I got good grades, had lots of friends and was in a loving family, yet from a very early age I clearly understood that all of that was not good enough. It did not matter if I traveled to the moon and back in a spaceship I created myself, my body was not good enough. I was not good enough.
I have some of the sweetest memories of growing up. I lived in a neighborhood filled with children my age. I spent hours outside riding my bike, building forts, climbing the local butte and swimming in rivers. I forged relationships that are still intact nearly 40 years later. Thinking back now, my body was so strong and healthy. It made it possible for so many adventures to happen.
I remember hearing, "you have such a pretty face, now if you just lost "the weight.""In my mind I can still see the stark white walls, awful florescent lights and the "clink" of the scales in the Weight Watchers office. I remember going to the hospital and listening to a talk about a medically monitored liquid diet my help my 10 year old body shrink to the "appropriate size." I remember the pediatrician that had my parents take a "before" picture of me. There I stood sheepishly with my hands in front of my slightly rounded belly, eyes not making contact with the photographer and feeling ashamed on our pool deck in my navy blue Speedo. This was the very same suit I lived in every day while swimming lap after lap with my team mates, winning ribbons for my athleticism and developing a life long love of swimming. That picture followed me all the way to college, tucked into my medical record, where I hope it was eventually shredded with my medical records long after I left school. All this to say the message that my body wasn't good enough, therefore I wasn't good enough was loud and clear. These feelings of shame, embarrassment, unworthiness and ugliness stuck around for a very long time and interfered with me feeling truly comfortable in my skin.
Yet, I was out there living. I was participating. I was smart and successful. I was outgoing and adventurous. I was good at making friends and keeping them. So good that some of the people I love the most in the world have been my friends since early childhood. I was never told I couldn't do something, in fact it was just the opposite. My family expected so much from me. They encouraged me to shine, to be whatever I wanted. Yet somehow the constant message that my body was not good enough, not pretty enough, not worthy of being loved by someone also existed in my psyche as long as I can remember.
Perhaps that is why now as a clinical therapist, I love dialectics in behavioral therapy so much. I know that often two seemingly opposite ideas can exist. I know know that I am fat and I am beautiful. One does not prevent the other from existing. It wasn't an easy journey to where I am today. I have many more stories of struggling with my own self-worth, however as I scrolled through these pictures of myself clad in nothing but a bathing suit and a smile, I just saw beauty.