Yesterday someone told me that I am beautiful BUT I need to lose weight.
I realized a few things.
This is the same comment that as a teenager, sent me on a downward spiral of a quiet, secretive, self destructive quest to be thinner. I distinctly remember it being the very moment when I became hyper aware of my body, and it began with intense self-loathing.
So when I got that comment yesterday on my picture, I panicked. What if someone sees this comment and it triggers that self loathing I felt years ago? I spent so many years wanting to crawl out of my skin, starving myself, tying my stomach to near suffocation in hopes of waking up with a flat tummy, befriending the downstairs bathroom to regurgitate pizza and shame, and watching that self-loathing seep into other parts of my life. Oh man. I remain in awe at the resilience of my body. Although I was thankful now that I’m able to brush off such crass words, I never want anybody else to be subjected to that struggle.
If you ever receive a comment like this, I need you to remember a few things.
First, beauty and love handles can exist in the same universe, on the same person, without a catastrophic decent into the end of the world. You are beautiful AND heavy, AND curvy, AND fat or thin, or bony, or whatever else someone has used to disrespect your body. But MOST importantly, beauty is too reductive and one-dimensional to encapsulate your body’s magnificence. Your body is a powerful machine with perfectly orchestrated mechanisms that want nothing but to keep you alive. How magical is that? So forget beautiful, aim for badass instead. Aim, for awe, for overwhelming gratitude for the resilience of your body. My goodness what a miracle it is!
Secondly, remember when you are at the airport and they tell you to not take any stranger’s baggage? that’s how I treat negative comments. I imagine myself handing them back their emotional baggage for suspicious activity. “Ma’am, sir, I believe this is yours. I don’t want it. Thanks but no thanks”. Protect your space fiercely and unapologetically. A lot of people who make comment about your body often carry deep seated issues that they are projecting on to you, sometimes with no intention to be a bully to you. In fact I remember that the woman who told me as a teenager that I was gaining weight was heavier herself. and I remember her talking to me in a panic as if she was afraid I was going to turn into her. I didn’t understand that back then, and her words pierced my self-esteem like a thousand little poisoned daggers and they seeped into my skin to lay the foundation for years of feeling trapped in my skin. I’m older now, and I’ve learned to be kinder to my body and a lot of that comes from understanding that people often dump their own emotional burden onto you whether they mean well or not. So I always tell myself, “no, I won’t carry that for you. I’m on a journey to self compassion and I’m traveling light. Here is your baggage”.
Thirdly, immediately make an emotional self-assessment. What am I feeling? Is this hurting me? making me angry? Embarrassed? Let yourself feel all your feelings and let them pass through. But let them pass while adding compassion and forgiveness. Do not feel ashamed that negative comments are still getting to you. You can even try and put on a brave face for others, but never ever lie to yourself. Be honest with yourself and make room for those feelings, then carefully find your way back to love.
Fourthly, drown yourself in positivity. I am surrounded by people who are incredibly supportive and they never fail to remind me I am enough. But even if you don’t have someone, you gotta have your own back. Listen to good music. Take a long bath. Wear your favorite dress. Ask a friend to give you a compliment. Read fun facts about the incredible things the body can do. You have to be so on purpose with this self-love.
And Lastly, hold people responsible for the energy they bring into your space. Call them out, and let them know they need to understand the impact of their words. In an interview with Oprah on Super Soul Sunday, Dr. Maya Angelou spoke of how she did not tolerate negativity in her space. Whether it was jokes or comments that were racist, sexist, homophobic or anything else, she did not allow it. Oprah recalled a party she attended hosted by Dr. Angelou, and someone made a racist joke. She stopped the party and said “Ma’am, is this your purse? Did you come with someone? Please see yourself out”. While you may not want to take a step as drastic as this, do let people know as Maya Angelou said: “words are things. You must be careful, careful about calling people out of their names, using racial, sexual pejoratives. don’t do that. Words are things. They get on the walls. they get in your rugs, and on your clothes, and finally into you”. I do understand however that it is not always possible to to call someone out because it might result in further abuse so please if you cannot do this, just refer back to my second point. Imagine in your head that you have handed them back that comment. Do. Not. Keep. It. Do not let them seep into your clothes and under your skin.
You. Are. Enough.
Isabelle Masado writes about body compassion on her blog "The Dear Body Project". She knows all too well that the personal is the political, is the community. As such, there is no discussing body compassion without talking about the assault on black bodies, trans women, and people with disabilities. Her mantra is, "How can I live in a way that makes room for you too"? She writes to examine, to heal, to redeem.