I sat down to write about body image and disordered eating and I ended up writing about my experience growing up female, queer, with breasts, in a patriarchal society. Typical.
You are not made up of parts. You are one whole person.
I don’t always hate my body. There are times, mainly when my clothes are off, mainly in the afterglow of really good queer sex, when I lie in bed, exposed but not feeling so, with someone else’s head resting on my chest, and I don’t feel anything but happy and contented in my body. Grateful. It is a marvelous thing, this cohesive organism that continues to do a thousand things on my behalf each minute, this body that is working for me even as I go about my life. There are times when my body is just my body.
That’s one of the reasons I am really big on sex positivity. If you do it at the right time (when you feel desiring of it) with the right person (someone with whom you feel completely safe and are totally attracted to) for the right reasons (because you want to), it can be so centering. It can recharge you. It can remind you just how amazing our bodies really are.
Then I put my clothes back on, and my clothes judge me.
Think about it. The clothes that we choose are chosen for us. A very limited set of choices are decided on by people and corporations who have a vested interest in making us feel ugly, fat, and insecure. For instance: why the fuck are they called skinny jeans?
I don’t want to be skinny. Not any more. I want to feel powerful. I want to feel at home in my body. I want to be able to move in just the ways I want to move. I want to feel competent and at home as I move within the world.
Those are my goals for my body and my mind. I wear skinny jeans because when I tried them on after years of wearing bootcut, I loved the sensation of walking without the cuffs of my pants getting tangled up in one another. Because I can zip my boots up over them and go, all day, with dry feet and a confident bearing. But I wish they weren’t called skinny jeans.
But for years. Oh, for years. For fifteen years of my life, at least. I so, so, so wanted to be skinny.
But what was “skinny?”
We all look back on photos of ourselves from ten years ago and go “my god, I was gorgeous.” It’s a universal human experience. Just like everybody else, I look back on my slender little legs and my tight little tummy at sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, and think, my god. Those tight high boobs. I’d give anything to have those back.
So how did I feel when I had them?
Horrendous, obviously. I felt like a hideous specimen of a human being. I wrote an essay once in which I described my body as “overripe fruit.” I complained of my “rounded belly,” my “hanging breasts.” I was 115 lbs. I couldn’t believe that anyone, ever, would find me desirable. And even the concept of being desirable was so damn fraught, you know?
I wanted to be sexy enough and popular enough that the boy I had a crush on would ask me out. But you couldn’t have even a smidgen of that without the pervy older men of the world coming, always, out of the woodwork. Being desirable came always with a litany of dangers, power differentials and situations we simply weren’t prepared to deal with as tweens and teenagers. Navigating the world as a young woman is a complicated and dangerous affair. It was easier, sometimes, to wear big sweatshirts, to put on weight, to try to be invisible. I had such a love/hate relationship with my need to feel desired and desirable. Mired in that ambivalence, I would lose weight, put it on again — go a week skipping meals, or spend two weeks bingeing. I tried to be bulimic but never mastered the throwing up part (even as a friend, ahem, encouraged me). I was skinny, but I didn’t know it, and I was deeply unhappy and afraid.
It takes YEARS to unpack the body shit we go through in our teens. It took a full decade for me to work out the kind of sexy I could be in control of, the kind of desirable I could be where I still had my agency. Because doing that work coincided with my coming out as queer, cis men are still linked — perhaps irrevocably — to the fear and unease I used to live with around my body. I don’t know if that will change. But that’s really neither here nor there.
The important thing is this: On my best days, I no longer want to be skinny. I want to feel confident and at home in my body. I want to feel as empowered in my clothes as I do lying there naked after sex. I want to be strong enough to smash through the bullshit that boxed me in for so much of my life. I want to get back to a place before or after shame. As a friend of mine reminded me the other day, our bodies are “the only thing we ever truly own.” I want to love mine, and I want it to love me back.