Tuesday, January 24, 2006

SPT {Personal History - 3}

My life in a green tin box--

All my life I've struggled with my body image and my self-esteem. I was always the overweight kid who was completely uncomfortable in her own skin. I had two tiny sisters and a gorgeous mother, leaving me feeling like the odd-man-out, the ugly duckling. In high school the pressure to be thin (because thin was acceptable) became too great. I wanted the dates to prom and homecoming. I wanted the attention from the boys. I wanted the popularity. So I began a strict diet only allowing myself 600 calories a day (200 per meal). The weight melted away but my health deteriorated. As soon as I came to my senses and stopped the starvation I realized I didn't know how to eat anymore--I only knew starving or binging. A body, and a spirit, that has been deprived for so long doesn't know what to do with freedom. The weight came back on as quickly as it had left. Now I was not only overweight again but I was haunted by a "success" that I had held and then watched slip away. I did some terrible things to my body as high school gave way to college. I abused diet pills. I abused laxatives. I forced myself to throw up after large binges. I cut myself in places where people wouldn't notice. So much self-hatred.

I entered counseling at about this time and began to find healing. I started to address my childhood wounds, my need for control, my longing for perfection, my faulty thinking. But as one final self-punishment I married a man who was as concerned about my weight as I was. He wasn't a husband--he was a trainer and a dietician. He made sure my weight issues were resolved. And I let him. His love and acceptance were withheld every time I failed. Pizza for lunch? No affection for days. Miss a workout? Hounded by reminders of how fat I was. I hated our divorce but in many, many ways it was the most freeing thing that ever happened to me. My final excuse for staying wrapped in self-degradation walked out the door and I had a choice to make--start accepting myself or continue this vicious cycle of self-loathing and self-punishment. I chose healing. And slowly it started to happen. Not overnight by any means. But little by little I came to appreciate myself.

My pregnancy was a time of great healing. It was the first time I could remember viewing my body as something more than a lump of flesh to control and transform. It was so much more. It was sacred and holy and life-giving. And it was also the first time since early childhood that I allowed myself to eat whatever I wanted...without punishing myself for it later. I'll admit I struggle with post-pregnancy body issues. I haven't lost the last 10-15 pounds. There are times I cringe at my thighs and my belly. I miss my favorite jeans...that I still can't fit into and may never fit into again. But I refuse to beat myself up for the way life changes, for the way my body has shifted and adjusted and aged, for the new priorities that have seized my life, and especially for the my fullness.

Perhaps you remember this post and my summer dedicated to self-love. Part of my healing process included facing the photos of my past. In most of these photos I remember loathing myself. I remember hating my body, my hair, my weight. I remember hiding behind others in order to not be seen. I remember sucking in as much as I could in an attempt to hide the truth. I remember wanting to disappear. I remember the wounds. I've gathered these photos and placed them in a green tin box on my home alter, an alter I created after reading about the idea in a book (it may have been The Artist Way.) These photos are there, on the alter, the place I kneel to pray and meditate, the place I go to cry and celebrate, the place I light a candle for the things I want to release and the things I want to embrace. They are there, laying on the alter, in order to find healing--healing for the girl who struggled for so long, and who still struggles. They are there to find the transformational power of self-love. They are there to absorb the blessing of acceptance.

So you see, I have a tender place in my heart for women who struggle with their bodies. My heart hurts for you. Your story is my story. Your struggle is my struggle. I've read many of your stories of awkwardness and struggle over this month's journey into our personal histories. I know what it's like to try and exist in a society that has such a narrow standard of beauty. Like many of you I'm trying to find a way to live in this world and in this body at the same time. And I'm beginning to believe this: If, in order for my spirit to know fullness it means my body must accept it fullness as well then it's worth the trade-off. I don't say this as an excuse to "let myself go." I want health just like the next person. I say this as a reminder of all the time and energy I've put towards hurting myself that can now be put towards a life of letting go and learning that the fullness is something I can come to embrace. My belly is a sign of my soft, roundedness. My thighs are a symbol of my strength. Maybe they are larger than society would like them to be but I'm choosing to believe that I have the right to take up space...as much space as my body and spirit want to take up.


Blogger acumamakiki said...

sister-girlfriend. your words do much for my heart. thank you for sharing this beautiful SPT.

6:59 PM  
Blogger ESB said...

i agree, this is really beautiful. you are on such an intense journey; it's fascinating to observe....

7:08 PM  
Anonymous beansprout said...

Wow! Very powerful and very timely post for me to read. Kind of feels like being punched in the stomach. You see, I have struggled with the self-loathing. I still am struggling. i have good days and I have bad ones. I train to the point of utter exhaustion and pain. I tell myself it is about being an athlete but the real truth is that it is a form of self-punishment. Thank you for being a model of self-acceptance and a reminder that healing is possible.

7:50 PM  
Blogger Deb R said...

Great post Michelle!! And YES to each of us having the right to take up as much space as we need. We aren't all meant to be the same. How boring that would be!

I've been thinking about these issues ever since I read what the SPT challenge theme is for February (yikes!) so I loved finding this post now.

PS...are you holding a lion cub in one of those photos???

8:08 PM  
Blogger liz elayne said...

thank you for sharing this with such honesty and grace. i will come back to this post to remind myself that i will get there, to this place of self-acceptance when it comes to my body. thank you. you speak right to my heart tonight.

10:34 PM  
Anonymous Kitty Kitty Peacock said...

I was in a mentally abusive relationship with a man who sounds very much like your ex-husband. I left, too. Here's to finding the strength to follow your heart and to having the courage to follow your spirit. I am very proud of you. Still struggling with my own issues, and am not talking, but perhaps one day.

10:54 PM  
Blogger telfair said...

How many women are going to see themselves in your post, and feel complete recognition and kinship with you? The majority of those who read it, probably.
I know I do.
You are a BEAUTIFUL woman inside & out and I am so happy to come to your blog and feel those "aha" moments of self-awareness that I get from your posts.

11:26 PM  
Blogger justine said...

again what a great read. I still have body issues, but as I get older I am learning to shift the focus from the outside to the inside.
I bought " The Artist's Way" the other night, and I am looking forward/scared to starting the 12 week program in the next week or so.
I have just added you to my favourite's, you rock!

11:27 PM  
Blogger sheela said...

Beautiful - your writing, sensitivity, insight, YOU. thank you...

sending you a hug...

1:18 AM  
Blogger Tongue in Cheek Antiques said...

Healing is freedom.
I am glad you have come out of that beautfully wrapped green tin box, life is here for you to celebrate, thanks for showing us the way!

1:54 AM  
Blogger firstborn studio said...

michelle...girl,you are a light on my sometimes pitch black path....i need you to know that your heartfelt words and feelings always come to me when i need them most(does that make sense?)i,too,struggle with body issues at 5'1&3.25 inches with big bones,i have compared myself to my two teeeny sisters and mom since the birth of my first baby 23 years ago after gaining 60 whopping pounds....yoyoyoyo...until a year and a half ago....i have lost 45 pounds and have changed my thinking somehow...but still struggle.anyway...now sad to say,i am watching my 15 year old daughter head down a path of low self esteem and eating disorders and am at a lose once again on how to "control" or help...but pray for divine guidance everyday...i wish i could express myself as beautifully and clearly as you do.
p.s.hella tight girl songs are on their way to you,sweet girl!

3:36 AM  
Blogger Trish said...

Wow! You let it all out, it took a lot of strength to share something so intimate. Thank you.

And I happen to think you look beautiful :O)

6:24 AM  
Anonymous yolie said...

There's nothing more beautiful and inspiring than self acceptance.
Love this post and the whole green box idea.

7:39 AM  
Blogger Glamorous Jo said...

Wow. Amazing story and amazing words that I'm sure most women need to hear. Thanks for sharing your hurts so that others can heal.

7:43 AM  
Blogger LiteraryGirl said...

Great post. I related very much to what you said about body image and it is always nice to know we are not alone...

8:17 AM  
Anonymous Linda said...

WoW! we all certainly do have our little stories to tell...thanks for sharing yours. I could relate. Sending you a cyber hug!.

9:01 AM  
Blogger mayseek life said...

i am struck mainly by the deep insights you are having at such a young age...good on you, for loving yourself into the questions and trying another way to live! how wonderful that at 32 you are comtemplating the big mysteries.
blessings to you

9:39 AM  
Blogger twistedsoda said...

Take up as much space as you need, always. Thank you for all that you write, from the heart and imbedding in my mind.

11:08 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

Thanks for sharing, your honesty is truly beautful, we have shared some of the same struggles and my heart goes out to you. I'm glad that you are finding healing. beautiful post.

11:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are amazing. Truly. Your strength of spirit that has carried you through so much, that has survived false critique---that has grown a rich and sweet life where you celebrate yourself and your life.

I read this post and I hope you know, deeply, that you are amazing.


12:42 PM  
Blogger melba said...

When I wrote on my blog...I hate her...What I was trying to say is that I hate the way I felt about myself at that time in my life. Which I think is ok. I think it is ok to look back on parts of our past and not like them...sometimes life sucks. I know it all makes us the people we are today, but I think what we all want is for our daughters (of the world) to grow up without going through all this negative body image stuff. Thank you for telling your story because when we talk about it openly WE can Change the Way We Feel and talk about ourselves... then there will be more positive examples in the world.

1:33 PM  
Blogger Frankie said...

Oh Michelle, I'm in tears. I've struggled with my weight and my body all my life. It's one of the few things I've always been afraid to write about or talk about because I'm SO insanely self conscious about it all. You are so brave and amazing for posting this, for being so honest and open. Everything you've said here, particularly about your fullness being a reflection of your full spirit, gave me hope and inspiration far beyond what I'm capable of expressing to you here. THANK YOU, dear, kindred spirit for these words.

Also, I want to tell you, that long before you wrote this, every time you posted a picture here, the first thing I think is "oh my god, she's so beautiful." Honestly.

5:16 PM  
Blogger --erica said...

Yes! beautiful! You know.. it's like mom always said.. "Beauty is on the inside" The older I get, the more I'm understanding this.

Thank you for posting. This is something so many of us have struggled with for years.

5:56 PM  
Blogger gkgirl said...

it is amazing
to hear people's stories...
things you never knew
or could have imagined
or would have imagined
gleaned from well worded
i'm so glad you told yours.

7:08 PM  
Blogger mati rose said...

you are beautiful. thank you.

8:03 PM  
Blogger Wenda said...

Thanks for showing me that I had, at one time, been able to get into your comments. Prompted me to remember that I had figured out an alternative route to clicking or double clicking on the comments link. So tonight I'm right clicking and choosing open. A little slower, but well worth the time spent if it means I can get in here and let you know how much I love how you write and what you write about.

8:44 PM  
Blogger Michelle Fry said...

I love your SPT and admire you for posting about body image. I strugle with this too and I'm thin as anything. It is always something though you know. If you are thin, you wish you weren't quite so thin here or there. If you are heavy, you think you'd be happy if you were thin. I'm trying to love my body for how much it gives to me, for holding my spirit so well. I heard a corny line in a song the other day but really love it. It was "Don't fear your body or what other people think of it. It is the best piece of machinery you will every own."

9:00 PM  
Anonymous lela said...

i've finally had a chance to sit down and read this...
you are such a beautiful person! thank you so much for sharing all this.

9:53 AM  
Blogger yaya said...

Why should we idolise the skinny and thin, the beautiful and the pretty? Why can't we idolise the smart and the funny, the talented and the exotic, the different and the varied? I dieted my life away for nearly 17 years - now I just want to live. You are a truly amazing person and I hope that we can learn from our past and live wonderful and free futures. We deserve it...Yasmin

1:58 PM  
Anonymous alex said...

I am late in reading this but it touched me deeply. In the past two years I have gained weight out of my control. In high school I struggled to control my weight and thought I was fat even when I was not. I was not successful and was jealous of the success of the overally skinny girls around me. Still I will I had the control and yet at the same time know that self love is far more important. I don't fit into my favorite clothes anymore, but I have new favorites. I try to look at my body and see it for its beauty but instead I see the flabby cellulight thighs and rolls of flesh.

2:45 PM  
Blogger tara dawn said...

What can I possibly say that has not already been said by so many others? This truly is a beautiful post. What courage and strength you have to share your story! Thank you!
I am currently working on my doctorate in clinical psychology and my primary area of interest is the link between eating disorders and self-mutilation. I hope that your honesty with these issues inspires others to share their stories as well. I believe that part of the healing lies in the awareness that you are not alone and that there are so many others that truly do understand. What an inspiration you are! Your words, and YOU, are beautiful!!!

9:03 PM  
Blogger madreperla said...

thank you again for a wonderful post. I didn't have the time to read it until today. You state things in a way that I ( and everyone, it seems) feels so related. Do we all have the same issues with our body? why is that so?
I wish I could accept all my roundnessess post-pregnancies, and be happy with not having the body I had before. I wish I could even say that I'm getting there step by step, but no, I have a bad relation with my body and have constructed a whole body of work with these reflections.
As usual, thank you for INSPIRATION and as Baudelaire spoke about CORRESPONDENCES



4:28 AM  
Blogger Josephine said...

So glad I stumbled across your site, you are one of the more intuitive and softer voices out there. Quite a treasure.

Keep on keeping on, don't let this culture steal your beauty.


1:11 PM  
Blogger andrea said...

beautiful SPT... I have been on a perpetual diet since the tender age of ten. always struggling with my weight in some way, shape or form. I am amazed at how much I've grown but also the work that lies ahead of me.

thank you for sharing this.

1:58 PM  
Anonymous Marilyn said...

This is such a beautiful and POWERFUL post, Michelle. I don't know that I've ever met a single woman who doesn't have body issues (myself included). Acceptance is a daily struggle for all of us...good for you for making such big strides in that area.

8:27 PM  

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