I was editing a series of stories with a writer friend when I stopped, put down the story, and commented, “I’ve never felt this way.” I was referring to a line the writer had written about herself that said, “I looked hot.” I stopped on that sentence because I had read something similar from another story by another author, and remember thinking the same thing then, “I’ve never felt hot.” But these two writers described times when they felt beautiful, fierce, confident, and comfortable in their own skin.
I couldn’t relate.
How would it feel to walk into a room and own my beauty?
I wanted to feel “hot.”
As it was, I felt too skinny, like anorexic skinny. A mindset like this develops after a lifetime of people point out how skinny one is, slurring the “i” as if to stretch its skinniness like a green Gumby doll. Remember him? You could pull his stretchy arms and legs and body to an unnatural thinness. That’s how skinny that “i” sounded to me. Skeeeeeny. People’s freedom to voice their opinions about my body (this would include perfect strangers) always seemed code for, “There’s something wrong with you.” I didn’t care how grateful my mom told me I should be. I felt humiliated. I didn’t tell people what I thought about their bodies? Why did they think they could tell me? I remember a preteen photo of me where my legs looked like chop sticks with knobby knees. I threw that picture away. But I still remember it. Vividly.
My sweet grandmother tried once to fatten me up when I was a kid. I couldn’t possibly eat all the food she piled on my plate, so for days, I dumped half my meals behind her refrigerator. The excess food of course didn’t go away. I was in the back bedroom when she screamed my name. She finally discovered the source of her bug infestation. Needless to say, she never tried fattening me up again.
Body image can be frustrating, regardless of body type. More recently a friend shared an opposite situation. She had been overweight and jokingly (I think) blamed it on her husband because he was so loving and accepting of her––inside and out, that she always thought she looked “hot.” Yes, she used this same descriptive. Her doctor informed her she was overweight when she had to get her knee replaced. I love this friend’s essence and agree with her husband. She’s hot, as in beautiful, fierce, confident, and comfortable in her own skin. She now understands that even though she might feel hot, her extra pounds were affecting her health.
Other physical factors, besides weight, can also affect our body image, things like height, breast and bootie size, how our hair looks, and whether or not we wear glasses or braces or have a handicap. I recall an incident in my 40s when someone took the liberty to tell me what she thought about my hair. And it wasn’t good. I shopped at a particular clothing store and always asked for a particular salesperson because she was great at helping me get in and out quickly. I mostly dislike shopping, so I welcome assistance that minimizes my effort. But one day my saleslady asked, “Have you ever thought about coloring your hair?” I had made an intentional decision to go natural. My silver hair was and is me. I know she was trying to be helpful, but her comment frustrated me. I welcomed her opinion about my clothes, not my hair (I was in a clothing store after all). I guess she felt comfortable enough to advise me on my total look. I never shopped there again.
Much has been written about body image. As we face the holidays again, and close yet another year, I think it’s an appropriate time to reflect on “self,” to breathe deeply, and to embrace who we are and who we are becoming. I have an exciting lineup of “Body Shop” blogs through the end of the year that includes some guest bloggers. Also up are 2020 Embodiment class offerings that might be of interest. I hope you stick around. It’s going to be hot, hot, hot.
Mark your calendars (registration information coming very soon) for Embodiment Classes: self-discovery via exposition
Our bodies carry with them a collection of stories that reveal our unique selves. Whether it is a memory of a haircut gone wrong, a finger wearing a ring from a loved one, or breasts that survived cancer, our bodies encapsulate a lifetime of memories. By using one-word body prompts, participants will be guided through the writing of 3-4 short stories to begin a forever memoir collection.
Date: January 16, 23, 30, February 6, 6-7:30 pm
Location: The Hub, New Smyrna Beach, Florida
Cost: $60 for four classes or $18 per class, no additional materials needed
Date: February 16, 23, March 1, 8, 1:30-3:30 pm
Location: Canterbury Retreat and Conference Center, Oviedo, Florida
Cost: $185 by December 31; $200 by January 31; $225 by February 14
I’ll be co-teaching with Sandra Stanford, LMHC with Charis Counseling Center, and adding a therapy-through-writing component.