Having a female body is exhausting, and today I feel really tired of being a brown woman.
Of being constantly policed, censored, judged, bullied and excluded – and that’s just what I do to myself.
I’m not talking about what other people out there in the world and on the internet say and think and do to my body, I’m talking about what I do.
Even though I am aware of the way society controls the images that are sent to me, leaving me with the feeling that I will never be good enough or beautiful enough, I have internalised the messages so deeply that I can’t help but believe that my body is somehow wrong as it is.
Even though I grew up with a mother who is very open about bodies and nudity- teaching me to look in the mirror and say out loud what I love about myself, I find it really hard to look at my naked body with anything like joy or kindness.
Even though I practice and preach yoga and meditation and self-love and body positivity, I find it almost impossible to inhabit my body unconditionally, without editing it or wishing parts of it away.
Even though I’ve always considered myself to be a kind person, I bully my body with my words and actions, punishing it for being only what it is.
Even though I’ve been lucky and never been diagnosed with an eating disorder, I can’t help but see my body as a bulging collection of flaws and imperfections, and food as a way to punish or reward myself based on how near or far I feel from an imagined ideal to which I will never live up.
Even though I am aware that I am privileged and genetically lucky, that I am slender and able-bodied, I struggled not take these things for granted, and treat my body with cruelty and ingratitude.
Even though I want to be valued as writer, a creative and an intellectual, I sometimes place more value on my physical attributes than on the brain my body houses.
Even though I am a vegan for ethical and environmental reasons, I wonder if I would be so enthusiastic about observing a vegan diet if it had lead me to gain instead of lose weight.
Even though I know that everybody is uniquely beautiful and different, I can’t help but compare myself (usually unfavourably) to every woman I encounter.
Even though I know am healthy and strong and young and beautiful, my inner monologue treats my body as if it were and inconvenience at best.
Even though years of therapy has given me a range of tools and skills to deal with my emotions, when I felt sad this afternoon, I sliced up a whole loaf of bread, slathered it in jam, and ate and ate until I couldn’t feel anything but full.
Even as I write this, I’m thinking that I had a lot to eat at breakfast and maybe I should just have some fruit for lunch and then go for a run instead of working on the essay I have due next week. If go running, it won’t be because of the tangible mental and physical benefits it may bring me, it will be to punish myself for eating my fill this morning after a ninety-minute yoga practice. My academic work, therefore, is directly suffering as a consequence of this toxic message that my body is not good enough as it is, and I know that I am not alone.
Or is it just me?
I could go on and on in this way, and I wonder if every woman feels this way, and what they do to resist it. I wonder if men feel this way, too; the ones I have spoken to about it don’t seem to understand what I’m on about.
And then, I feel like a hypocrite and a fraud because I truly believe in the practice of self-love and compassion and presence and acceptance and non-judgement, but I spend so much time judging myself and finding myself wanting. And then I start to judge and hate myself for being a hypocrite, and then to judge myself for judging myself, and so on, adding brick upon brick to the wall that stands between me and self-love.
Only occasionally, maybe when I’m practising yoga or meditation or when I am dancing or writing or eating or having sex or sleeping, am I able to drop judgement and just enjoy being me in this body and this moment.
The rest of the time, most of the time, there’s a war going on in my mind.
I have been in conflict with my body, and I am done. I’m waving the white flag and hugging it out, and I promise to try to not suck in when I look in the mirror.
I’m not sure how I am going to unpack all of this toxicity that has been built up in and around my body, but to start with, I am not feeding any cruel, untrue, judgemental thoughts about my body. When one comes, I notice it, and allow it to stay as long as it wants, but I try not fuel the fire. It’s really hard, but sometimes I can go several hours in a row without any thoughts coming because it turns out if I don’t pay them any attention, they don’t really come so much. The toxic thoughts are reducing from a constant flood into a trickle.
I have also found myself wanting to wear less revealing clothing, as though I don’t need the reassurance of external admiration of my body. At the same time, I have found myself wanting to dress up more and wear more makeup and adorn myself with jewellery, and dance and practice more yoga and meditation and celebrate being alive in my body, and I hope this continues.
It feels like my body and I are healing together, and if I keep at it and try to unlearn the lessons I was tricked into learning, maybe we can save out relationship.