written by: Alysse Doty, founding member of The Motherhood Bozeman
Oy....this is a tough subject for me. Yes, I did just have a baby 7 months ago, but I would be lying if I said this is the first time I have struggled with my reflection in the mirror.
I was 9 years old the first time I remember someone commenting on my body. One of my older-brother's friends was over at our house, and I'm pretty sure I was pestering them for attention, and he turned to me and said "You're fat." I felt like he had punched me in my young guts…. I’m a 36-year old woman, and I can still hear him, I still feel the shame that this teenage boy made me so painfully in-tune with. From that day forward, it seemed my weight was all I heard or thought about.
Although I now know she was only doing what she thought was best, and she was trying to protect me from pain, my mother became obsessed with my awkward little prepubescent form. She bought me Slimfast shakes (barf), enrolled me in weight watchers and nutri-system, and commented on any piece of food she saw me put in my mouth... I was 10-years old..I didn't feel like I was a fat kid, but all I knew was that my form was wrong, and because of it I was not as loveable. So began my road to self-hatred.
I went from being a straight-A student, to purposefully not doing my homework, or turning in any assignments. I started overcompensating by trying to be the funny kid, though I'm pretty sure I just came off as annoying. My insecurity consumed me. I would come home from school dances sobbing my eyes out because no one had asked me to dance, sleepover invitations were non-existant, and I knew this was all because I WAS FAT! By 6th grade I started having my first thoughts of suicide. I knew no boy would ever be able to love my hideous form. No one would ever want to be friends with such an ugly little monster. I couldn't take it anymore.
Thank god I was too fearful of pain, or I may not have made it. Hating one's physical form is a terrible kind of suffering. I trudged through middle school, then high school, I actually became funny, so that helped. I even had a high school boyfriend for a while. I left for college and immediately lost 30 lbs. I attribute it to being away from the stress of my mother's weight-obsession, or perhaps it was my new-found starvation techniques I picked up hoping to befriend my stunning southern debutante roommate.
Even though the weight came off, the self-hatred grew. The only thing I wanted in the whole wide world was a boyfriend. I knew no man could ever possibly be ok with my body, so I would wow them with my super-cool personality, consume tons of alcohol, and sleep with them in hopes of them seeing how great I actually was..... For those considering this option, don't....... It turns out, that has never worked, not even once.
I failed out of college (turns out you have to go to class to get a grade) with an impressive 0.0 GPA, and moved back home. I started using drugs, alcohol and promiscuity as my preferred pain suppressant methods, and began hanging with an extremely dicey crowd. Subsisting (almost exclusively) on cigarettes and gin, I was down to a size 2, though my self-hatred had grown to a size 36XXXXL. Then, one fateful night, I was out with some girlfriends, while visiting an unknown town, and I was roofied and gang raped.....I don't remember much, but the flashes that I do remember are the things nightmares are made of.
Though, this is BY FAR, the most horrific thing that has ever happened to me, it may have saved my life. Of course, I told no one, but I was so fucked up by this trauma that I completely retreated from the social world. I began writing, singing, and playing guitar every single day. I got a nice safe and quiet job at a bookshop. I got a scholarship to study music at my local community college, and I poured myself into my studies.
It turns out that I have a gift for music, most especially singing. It was the first time in my life I felt like I was really good at something. I graduated from community college, and got accepted into, arguably, the world's best music school. I spent the next 3 years kicking ass at school. As I grew more confident in myself, I began teaching myself self-care (huge thatnks to SELF magazine.) I began to feel that I had power over my life, that I was not a victim of my body. I taught myself how to cook healthy food, bought a few at-home workout dvd's, and discovered yoga. I graduated, moved to the west coast, and began working at a vegan restaurant.
My practices grew to daily yoga and meditation. I devoured every book I could find on healthy and clean eating. I was thin and strong, but I still felt so ashamed of my body. New Year's Day 2010, I was writing down my yearly goals, and just when I was getting to the predictable place where I was going to write "I will weight 1xx lbs..." I paused..... instead I wrote "I am will love my body every day of this year." It seemed the most impossible goal I had ever written, but I was so determined to take this on. So, for the next 365-days, every morning, I would strip down and stand butt-naked in front of the mirror, and I wouldn't leave until I felt love for my body. THIS WAS SO HARD... at first. Slowly I got into it. I started dancing and flexing, showing off my yoga moves to myself. I became in AWE of my incredible form, the way my muscles moved together, the curve of my very feminine shape, even my tiny little boobs, I LOVED MY BODY!
Wouldn't you know, every part of my life expanded in love. I had the most incredible friends I could have ever prayed for, I was getting to sing and play my music all over the place, and I was overflowing with more joy and self-love than I could have ever imagined. I was unrecognizable from the abussed girl of just 8-years prior.
Fast forward 7 more years, and I am witnessing myself, standing in front of the mirror, 7-months postpartum, and a dark, mean and familiar voice has crept in. I don't recognize this soft stomach, these new thighs, and these wrinkles that have begun to gather around my smile. I can feel the lure of diminishment. I feel the familiar ache of disgust bubbling up, and it scares the shit out of me. I don't want to be that girl again, I can't, but it feels so hard right now! The thought of, not only, accepting my body exactly as it is, but loving it?!?! But I HAVE to! It is more important than ever to FIGHT for my self-love. I have the eyes of my husband and my son watching me. How could I ever let them know the terrible thoughts I've begun to have? I'm scared I'll never be able to love the way I look ever again... that sounds like a TERRIBLE way to live. Perhaps this is why I haven't taken the time to write down my goals for the new year, because I needed to have a come-to-Jesus about the way I've been thinking of myself. I know what I have to do, I'm scared, but I'm going to do it anyway, and I'm going to start today. This evening, after I put my son down for the night, I'm going to disrobe in front of our full length mirror, and beneath the glow of unflattering overhead lighting, I am going to love my body.