Every time I wake up
From a nap that’s too long
Or too short
From an entire night’s sleep
Or a split schedule rest
Before I dress myself
I stare at my abdomen
In the mirror atop my dresser
Trying to validate the extra pounds
That sit just above my underwear line
I hold my shirt up
Lift my arms
From various angles
Assessing the lines my body makes
From the splash in at my waistline
Back out again before my hips
I tug and squeeze at the soft spots
Imagining them taut, flat
Telling myself that I’m attractive
Regardless of my flaws
While still wishing my body
Looked different, was smaller
Sometimes, I go through this ritual before bed too
I have spent years of my life telling myself that one day I will be thin. By middle school, going shopping with my mother became a conflicted task. I loved new clothes whether or not I really needed them. Mostly, they gave me satisfaction in my body, in my physical image, but the reminder that I was always a size bigger than her scarred my image. I felt like a pretty girl whose head was just a little too small for her body.
Even then, I pulled at my upper arms in the mirror, often after a trip when I wanted a particular shirt or dress that wouldn’t fit comfortably around my biceps. I would get home and shut myself in my room and imagine how great I would look if I was as small around as I was without my arms down.
Just a few years ago, near the climax of my father’s illness, I expressed to him and a couple of his aunts my desire to get back in shape, how I’d like to lose twenty pounds. I’d gotten lost on a run in their neighborhood earlier in the day, which turned two miles into four and I was proud of my ability to still run so long. Somehow I turned the story into an expression of my lack of comfort with my body, I don’t understand how. My aunt, generally supporting my idea, replied, “That’s great, honey. Just remember that you’re never going to be a small person.” I knew my size came from his side, from her side, those genes in the family, that my stature or bone structure, my muscle mass and general build, would never change. Why, then, at age 26 was I still imagining a day that I would be compact, small, and fit? Why is it still a nagging problem that I am a big girl even though I’ve squashed the problem numerous times?
Rugby has taught me so much about my body. I am strong. Strong enough to tackle a girl that is nearly twice my size. Strong enough to run through someone the same size as me who is literally trying to pull me to the ground. Strong enough to drive multiple opponents off of the ball in a ruck, all in one movement. Even when I fail, my body and my teammates never give up on me.
My professional life has taught me so much about my body. I am capable of doing what is stereotyped to be a man’s job. I can change a hundred pound air conditioning compressor on a class B tanker truck in the snow on the side of the road. My shoulder muscles may hurt halfway through doing it, but they will not give up on me. I am strong enough to deliver eight thousand pounds of groceries, on a wheeler and down a ramp, out the back of a semi-trailer, faster and more efficient than most of my male colleagues.
I’ve been hard headed enough, even recently, to move nearly all of my belongings solo. I do it because I know I’m capable, and also because I am insecure. I don’t want to ask anyone for help out of the inconvenience it may cause them.
I’ve spent most of my twenties proving to myself that I’m capable of doing nearly anything a man can physically do, not just because I am strong but because I am insecure.
I am looking to validate my big, strong body, but why am I looking to validate something that I know is capable? When will I stop trying to prove to the rest of the world that my size is valid?
About a month ago, one of my best friends said, “I’m done with trying to have a hot body. I just want it to be strong and fit and healthy.” I’m taking that advice to heart.
I will stop assessing the fat on my stomach in the mirror every day. I am more fit than I have been in years and I will continue to get more fit, but not for the objective of losing weight or losing my belly. Two hundred pounds look good on me. It feels good on me too.
I am strong. I am capable. I am myself and I love myself. I will stop hating my body because it is part of me and I love it too.
Just as this struggle with image has always been part of my life, I know it will continue. This is a reminder that I can be better, and by being better to myself, I will be better to my community.