*Sensitive topic: body image*
More than ever, I am realizing that 2020 is a time of change. Due to the pandemic and the lockdowns all over the world, conversations about body image have stirred up again. No wonder as some have gained weight staying at home and some picked up a full blown 2 hour home workout routine. I also see more posts about body positivity and the fat liberation movement on my timeline than ever before. Over the last few months I had a lot of time to think about what loving my body meant to me and my relationship with myself. My relationship with my body has been a turbulent one from a very early age on. Talking to other women, I realized that I wasn’t alone in this. Almost every woman I talked to had tried to lose weight at some point in her childhood or early adolescence; whether this was through dieting or working out, whether they admitted it to themselves or not.
When I was about 7 years old my parents began working a lot. I had started elementary school so they thought why not work full time and hire a nanny from now on. The nanny my parents hired was a woman in her 40s who didn’t care much for children and didn’t know how to cook. I still remember that she would cook plain rice and hard-boiled eggs served with soy sauce for most lunches. It wasn’t long until my parents noticed how eating 4 eggs a day everyday had an influence on my body as I had gained a lot of weight in a very short time. My parents then switched into a daycare center where there were other kids and no hard-boiled eggs anymore. Being surrounded by other kids I noticed that my body looked bigger than most of the other children’s. For the first time in my life I saw my body in comparison to others, and that’s where my body image journey truly started. Back then it was just something I noticed but didn’t put any mind to because well, it was a time when fat wasn’t bad and thin wasn’t good, it just was.
A little later at eleven years old, I dived into the world of beauty and all-things-girly as I religiously bought a bi-monthly edition of a local girl’s magazine. In 30 brightly-coloured pages I learned about essential things like ‘What colours boys like most on girls’ and ‘Top things to do to make him fall in love with you forever.’ Of course they were also oh-so-consistent with the message they put out to their young readership with headlines like ‘3 ways to celebrate your body type’ followed by ‘10 step guide on how to lose weight overnight.’ Even though I laughed when I looked through my collection of around 50 of these magazines when I came home for Christmas last year, it was a manifestation of a rather sad reality. I internalized these harmful ideas at a very young age. I didn’t just flick through these magazines, I ate up every idea they presented to me, I swallowed them whole, internalizing them with my childish naivety. I was hungry to know what it meant to be beautiful, to be desired by boys, to make myself as presentable as possible to this world. When the magazine came out with a workout plan to lose weight in 2 weeks, I also did that and got hooked on it. After the 2 weeks I noticed a change in my body and continued on doing the workout for 10 more weeks. I was curious to see what it would be like to be thinner so I worked out 7 days a week for 45 minutes on the yoga mat I ‘borrowed’ from my older sister. I assumed it would be a good feeling of course, since that is what had been advertised to me, and I did not get disappointed. The other, bigger girls at school told me they loved how my body looked and had changed. They were envious and I liked that they were. After the third month I became tired of doing the same workouts and did them less regularly until I completely dropped them a few weeks later.
Even though I loved the positive attention I got for becoming thinner, I was deeply ashamed of what I had done years later when I was 16 and educated myself on feminism and body positivity. I fed into the patriarchal capitalist ploy that as a woman you should take up as little space as physically possible. Discussions around female bodies have changed a bit nowadays though. Due to Kardashian-esque celebrity culture ‘thick’ has become desirable but what we perceive as ‘thick’ is very often still highly specific and, may I say, non-inclusive of most body types. Even though ‘thick’ is good in 2020, every woman knows that by ‘thick’ we mean ‘slim thick’ and not ‘thick thick.’ All we talk about is that everybody wants to be skinny but can we also name that no one wants to be fat? Although I never restricted myself with a diet, I lied to myself thinking: ‘I’m not doing this to be skinnier, I’m doing it to be healthy.’ I was eleven. What eleven year old is seriously thinking about their health? Maybe some girls were doing it out of health reasons but I was 100% doing it to lose the egg-weight I gained at seven years old. And who could blame me? I was a child who was highly impressionable by her surroundings.
Looking back at this at twenty two years old, I realize the pervasive fatphobia and body shaming ingrained deeply into our society. Girls learn from a very young age what ‘beautiful’ means and more importantly that THEY have to be beautiful. It is deeply saddening to me that my generation of women grew up in a society that told us our beauty is all that matters but in the same breath tells us that our bodies are never enough. I still struggle with my body image, and like many women, I still have a very complicated relationship to my body. I am still uncomfortable at the thought of my body changing and I don’t know if I will ever truly accept all parts of my body. It is not easy to talk about a topic that is so personal yet so highly politicized and commercialised. But I’m in a place where I don’t want to push away conversations about my own body image anymore. It’s a start and I know that there is a lot more to come.