*Content note: This piece deals with body-image issues, and mentions disordered eating.*
“Could you step on the scale, please?”
My reaction to that simple request, as always, is both visceral and invisible. Obediently I take off my shoes and step up. Meanwhile, the familiar crawling, itchy tug of dread – the preemptive prickles of shame – the leaden sinking knowledge of impending failure. Meanwhile, my Feminist Brain scolds me. “You are a liberated, feminist woman who believes in radical body acceptance. You have nothing to fear from a scale.”
This scale is digital, thank cat. So much faster than the analog ones with those little weights that you watch the nurse slide, judgment in the click of every little black marker she has to add. Digital, so it rips the band-aid off faster, blinking out a cold and unyielding 181.
“Don’t be upset,” Feminist Brain says. “Don’t freak out! Your worth is not a number, your body is beautiful and worthwhile at any weight, beauty standards are a construction of the patriarchy, don’t get upset about this.”
Meanwhile, my stomach twists and shrinks; my skin tightens; I avoid eye contact with the nurse as I step off the scale. Meanwhile, a lifetime of memories of my mother flash before my eyes – her shame and self-judgment around her own weight, her disappointment and fear as I followed in her footsteps, her well-meaning concern a reminder that this is the one test I always fail. Body hatred as a hereditary disease.
I head back out in the waiting room, settle down next to my kickass partner who tells me, with regular and truly gratifying sincerity, how beautiful and desirable I am. I lean into him and close my eyes and try not to think about all the chocolate I gave myself permission to eat over the past six months.
“Stop it,” Feminist Brain nags. “You are sitting in a doctor’s office. Other people in this waiting room are struggling to breathe, struggling to walk. You are young and you are healthy and who cares if you hate the way your arms look? They work, don’t they?”
I see the doctor, I go home, I eat lunch. I eat something hearty and delicious and healthy and filling and I watch TV the whole time to shut out the sick roiling guilt I feel for eating so much, for eating at all.
“You’re being ridiculous,” Feminist Brain snaps. “Just eat your damn lunch.”
I appreciate my Feminist Brain, really I do. A lot of days it’s the best friend a girl could have. It protects me, by telling me I have the right to say no to men who would violate my boundaries. It helps me to be a good friend, by shutting down the societal scripts of victim-blaming and slut-shaming to offer unwavering support. It helps me to be a better ally, by pushing me to see my own prejudice and ignorance and correct them. My Feminist Brain is a fierce warrior, full of righteous anger and armed with a giant stamp that says BULLSHIT in flaming block-letters.
But when the person attacking me is me, when the call is coming from inside the house, I end up the victim of some serious friendly fire. Yelling at myself for feeling what I feel, holding my emotions to some internal feminist standard, is not exactly helpful.
I’ve learned that when it comes down to it, I’m going to feel what I feel. So I can berate myself for feeling a certain way and try to shut it down – or I can accept the things I’m feeling, and try to hold them with love even as I whisper “Bullshit.”
So when the horrible body-hating thoughts come to me, my new strategy is to simply say – as gently as I can, “This isn’t true.” And then to reach past the thoughts to the scared girl behind them, and tell that girl: “I love you. It’s okay.”
The phantoms that rise up to choke me every time I step on a scale aren’t an enemy to be driven out, with fire and sword. They’re a scared little girl, convinced that she’s only worthy of love if she makes it below a certain number. They’re a tired and despairing mother, desperate to save her daughter from the shame that has plagued her whole life in the only way she knows how. My phantoms are already drowning in self-hatred – they don’t need my anger on top of that. They need to be loved.
So, hey. I love you, scared and body-hating thoughts. It’ll be okay. I love you, soft belly and round thighs and chubby arms and round face that add up to 181 pounds of alive. Thank you, body, for carrying me through this world and letting me experience the incredible love I’ve been privileged to give and receive.
And hey, you. You, reading this. I love you. It’s okay if your body doesn’t look or work the way you want it to. That doesn’t make you less of a person. And it’s okay if you still hate your body sometimes. That doesn’t make you a bad feminist, or ungrateful. It makes you human. I’m glad and grateful that we get to human together.