Summer Body: Thoughts On Body, Food, Our Relationship With It All
I met my body the first time, the first real time, when I touched it a couple of inches under water in the bathtub. My inability to swim hasn’t stopped me from deeply appreciating water and the way it calms. Even now I love sitting by the bit of water New York is surrounded by and feeling a bit freer when I do.
My association of water with freedom is probably why I let myself go there one afternoon in a bathtub. I saw it for what it was — the one place I will always live in no matter the season or the day.
Accepting the fact that my body was the reason my mind had a home and that the thoughts that lived in it were able to breathe themselves into existence was, and continues to be, really complicated. I’ve spent my life valuing my mind as a much higher commodity. It helped me survive. I don’t say that with any exaggeration implied — my ability to handle logistics and navigate feelings helped me live after my mom died.
And when you credit a single thing like that with your reason to be, it’s easy to trip into idolizing it and demonizing everything that isn’t as strong or malleable by your definition.
So for a long time my relationship with my body was one I either neglected or demonized, depending on the day.
That sentence invokes an intentionality that I did not have — nothing about it was conscious, but that sometimes makes it even worse. I operated from a space where my own will wasn’t even a factor in decisions that ultimately impacted my body in a very real way. Looking back it’s my best reminder that bad habits are rarely formed with intentionality, we don’t step into them one act at a time wanting to form the bad habit.
Instead, slipping into bad habits is like going down a water slide and ending up in the deep end of a pool we don’t know how to swim in. I found my way deep into disordered eating and unintentional neglect of my own body whenever I decided that I was going to prove my mom wrong. My mom’s relationship with my body and eating habits was probably more layered than I remember, but the bit I do remember are scenes of pushing extremes for wanting me to be different.
Her intentions were probably great, but I internalized it as needing to defend my self-worth and my acceptance of myself.
The lines were so blurred for so long that it wasn’t until 10 months ago that I started loosening my grip on my fight with someone who has been gone for years.
There wasn’t a single moment that led to a larger shift and there also wasn’t a large shift. I’ve gained weight slowly. I’ve expanded my palate intentionally. I made myself an appointment to get allergy tested for food because sometimes hard facts are the best defense against anxiety.
Ultimately, though I credit learning to forgive slowly with giving me the space to start to ask myself questions that could have tangible actions associated with them.
“Did I want to gain weight?” “Did I want my body to look different?” “Did I want to feel different in my body?” “Did I want to notice my body more than just when I was having sex? And did I want sex to feel better because it wouldn’t be the only time I noticed my body?”
Then came the questions around food — “Did I want to eat more? Different? Expand my palate?”
The answers were pretty much all yeses and so then I realized I had decisions to make. I could keep using my body as a living fuck you to someone who didn’t mean to teach me bad habits or I could get to know it in a way that made sense for me.
Slowly. Intentionally. With effort.
I picked up First Bite by Bee Wilson for a client project but also because life aligns in funny ways. I used it to teach myself about where I was starting from when it came to my eating habits. During that season I learned that shame wasn’t going to propel me forward, but learning more about myself could.
I started going to yoga and hanging out with my body for an hour and 15 minutes on the regular. The time I spent in yoga helped me make it a habit to notice my body at other times. I learned to pick up on where it holds tension, what loosens it, the way it can curve when I feed it the right things.
Relationships with food and our bodies are so incredibly layered. Our understanding of eating disorders are so limited to the top few that mass culture talk about that so many people easily disassociate from them because they can’t identify with the way they are dramatized. You think, not me, that’s them.
I never identified with any of those simplified versions, but I found it easy to admit in therapy that my eating habits and the way I lived with my body veered from healthy and into disordered territory.
Acknowledging this wasn’t the solution to my problem, but it did turn into the first step in my process.