My reflection gazed back at me from the full-length mirror on my bathroom door. I frowned and tilted my head to one side, considering. If I'd had time to buy a new swimsuit before my vacation, I probably wouldn't have picked out this two-year-old blue-and-green bikini, its elastic on its very last legs. My hips and belly formed rounded arcs over the bottom, while my thighs pressed idly against each other, waiting none too patiently for me to pass judgment.
Finally, I shrugged and reached for my shorts. "Meh," I said, getting dressed. "It fits."
After spending the past three years in recovery from anorexia, this is the climax of my body image journey. This is my Everest. This is as good as it gets.
Because I don't love my body. And honestly, I don't particularly want to.
Body love is a way of life for some people. It can be incredibly empowering to claim love for your body, especially when society is telling you to hate it at every turn. There are many banner-waving members of the Body Love Revolution, and I take my hat off to all of them. I respect them. Of course I do -- I work with a group of amazing activists dismantling body hate.
Many incredible people love their bodies. I'm just not one of them.
Even early on in my recovery journey, I decided positive body affirmations weren't for me. They felt insincere, forced. Pick a body part you hate and come up with a reason you love it! Folks, I can't even pretend to like Coldplay in mixed company. If I don't like a thing, saying "I like this thing!" every morning won't change that. This is real life, not a choose-your-own-adventure novel.
Still, even if I could flip a switch and fall madly, deeply, head-over-heels in body love with myself, I wouldn't do it.
Because from where I stand, body love has been compartmentalized and commodified, packaged and separated, until it offers me nothing.
"Body love" is the latest catchphrase picked up by lingerie companies and big-box retailers, cosmetics companies and diet cereal. Just like they did with thinness and sex appeal, these companies promise yet another invisible, impossible-to-verify product -- this time, self-love -- that we can own if we only smile and do what we're told.
Don't love your body? Don't wake up and feel butterflies in your stomach as you consider your earlobes? Buy our shampoo. Wear our bras. Put on our swimsuits. Because you are the owner of an absolutely perfect body -- if you buy what we're selling you. Ideologically and literally.
I'll grant you this: I'd much rather have companies sell me "you are beautiful" than "you are a sex object" or "you are insufficient and unlovable and imperfect." I'd rather see un-Photoshopped models than the $20 billion diet industry's fever dream. But at the cellular level, I don't always see the difference. There's an unattainable ideal to strive for in either case: the thigh gap, or a radiating, sunbeam-drenched sense of our own beauty.
And there's still that sense that even if body-love companies aren't trying to shrink my waistline, they're still trying to shrink my wallet.
Hello, capitalism. I did miss you.
Even leaving corporations aside, there's an awkward feeling of commodification around the need to love our bodies as bodies. "Your body's a temple," they say -- thus separating it from my being, turning it into a house for my soul, something I carry around, or something that carries me.
Every time I'm told to love my body for what it can do, I cringe at the erasure inherent in these phrases. Would my legs be less lovable if they were unable to walk or run? Would my hips be less adorable if they weren't ever going to be "child-bearing"? Are only cis, able, privileged bodies worthy bodies? Too much of the body-love movement seems to think so.
Every time I'm told to see my body as a collection of beautiful parts ("Love your thighs!" "Aren't your curves beautiful!"), I feel myself take another step away from my body. I peer at my legs across a vague, foggy distance, trying to decide if they are worthy of love objectively, separate from myself. This thing I'm supposed to "love" becomes more objectified the more I break it down.
Sometimes I wonder, looking at this possession of mine, this body, how different body love really is from a stranger shouting "nice tits!" at me on the train.
I am not interested in treating my body like a temple. I'm not interested in "dressing for my body" to play up my favorite parts. I will wear my same cotton-poly-blend sweaters until they unravel on my shoulders, and then I will probably buy more, one in every color.
I will glow with happiness when someone tells me a conversation we had helped them make it through a rough night, or when they compliment how I responded to criticism of my work in a client meeting.
And I will probably continue to cringe if anyone tells me I am beautiful. Not because, like in years past, I am intrinsically incapable of believing them. But because they're giving me a compliment I give a grand total of zero fucks about.
I don't love my body.
It's not a beautiful object.
In the words of Erin McKean, "Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked 'female.'"
My exterior does not define me. I'm not an object that gains value by being cherished.
Because when I pulled on that same bikini in public and hit the beach last week, I was not a person with a body, loved or hated or otherwise. I was a person on vacation, swimming in the warm, clear, salty water, watching tiny silver fish flicker around me. I was laughing, smiling, making terrible puns about sea turtles. (You can make a surprising number of puns about sea turtles.)
I don't know how I looked. I didn't think about my body once.
And I can't remember the last time I've felt so free.
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