I'm Chronically Ill And I Still Believe In Body Acceptance
The fat acceptance and body love movements have profoundly changed the way I relate to my body. I think they speak to the very nature of humanity – of what it is, and what it means, to be human.
Also, I’m not fat.
In fact, I’m on the slenderer side. Visually, I like my body pretty well, and it fits society’s (although not reality’s) version of “normal.” It’s not perfect -– stretch marks, cellulite, one breast smaller than the other — but, in a girl-next-door sort of way, my body is traditionally attractive.
But I hate it.
I’ve always hated it. It’s my worst enemy, equipped with numerous weapons like severe migraines and glandular failures. I won’t detail all my health problems for you (did you hear about my CONSTIPATION? Well it has REVERSED!), but I’m sick a lot.
There’s the pain, which is bad; the weariness, which is worse; and the oppressive sense of helplessness, which is worst of all. I can’t remember the last time I felt healthy and productive for a whole day, and I doubt that I ever will. It sounds fake, as if I were to wake up one day and find that I could fly. This body can’t fly, and I know it to the depth of my being.
You and me, body, we’re stuck like glue (anyone have some metaphysical turpentine?).
It’s intrinsic to the human condition that I am both a body and a soul –- synergistically, interdependently, collaboratively. But I feel much more like an embodied soul than an ensouled body. I don’t feel like my body is a part of the real me; it’s a plague, a curse, a hindrance to the Actual Bailey.
I feel very little ownership of it, as if I am possessing it against its will. Like I’m part of an alien race that decided to experience Earth, so they stole some Earth bodies and inhabited them oppressively. Well, I’m ready to go back to my home planet, but I’m stuck here in this suck-o body that doesn’t even want me or belong to my species.
Being stuck in a bad body isn’t just a factor in my life; it’s intrinsic to my life. I’ll be honest, I’ve thought about suicide a lot. It’s not that I don’t want to live anymore – I just don’t want to live in this body. Life, in fact, seems pretty awesome. I just feel like I can’t live it well.
When you’re a sickly person, it’s hard to make plans. If you call up friends, order a babysitter, buy tickets, or plan a trip, you feel a little guilty. Maybe you’ll go, maybe you won’t. Maybe a migraine will start, and you’ll leave early. Maybe you’re pushing yourself too far, and you’ll pay for it tomorrow. Maybe you should stay home and wash the dishes, since you couldn’t yesterday because you were sick.
Maybe, maybe, maybe. Nothing is ever certain except this: My body will strike again. Most likely, soon. If not soon, then it will wait until the worst possible moment later.
How can you be friends with a body like that?
Accept this wonky body? Are you crazy?
I started reading body-acceptance stuff for a simple reason: It was on xoJane, and I was bored. (See this and this, for example.) Inspired and intrigued, I hopped around the internet reading more and more fat-acceptance materials. Apparently, people all over the internet were loving their flawed and nonstandard bodies willy-nilly! I was hooked.
I know I can’t speak to the fat experience, because I haven’t experienced it. Despite how much I hate and struggle with my body, I also experience a ton of body privilege; it’s easy to find clothes that fit whether I feel healthy or not, and people are generally nice to you for being sick.
But I think body acceptance is a mindset that benefits any person who has a body. It’s based on a fact that holds true for anyone who has a physical existence. Your body is not what it looks like or what it can accomplish or how big it is or how society views it; your body is your life.
Without a body, I could not live. With a body, I do live. That’s powerful stuff.
My body’s not perfect. I don’t like the cellulite or the fatigue or the aches that are a part of it. But, I’m learning to be grateful for it. My body will never run marathons or win beauty pageants, and it might always be sick, but do you know what it does every day, quite effectively? It lives. I live.
I’ve decided to forgive my body for its flaws, just as I forgive my soul for its mistakes. I didn’t choose this condition, but neither did my body, and the cognitive dissonance behind my anger toward my body only gives me a headache (heh). If someone else was sick, I’d never give them a hard time! I’m a kind person, right?
And I’ve started to feel more comfortable with this body now that I treat it graciously, the way I treat people I love.
Your body, too, no matter what it looks like or how it feels, is also a champ (and a worthy friend). Are you alive right now? Since you’re reading this, we’ll go with ‘yes.’ Then your body is doing its job!
As a woman, it’s easy to believe that my body’s job is to be beautiful. As a modern citizen, it’s easy to believe that my body’s job is to be powerful. As a young person, it’s easy to believe that my body’s job is to party hard and work hard and handle both easily. These expectations become essential to my existence. If I’m not beautiful, if I’m not powerful, then I’m not a good human.
This self-criticism is not only painful but also tremendously wrong. My body’s job isn’t to meet anyone’s expectations — not even my own, really. Its job is to give my soul a way to live on this earth. My soul is here, and it likes the world, and that’s success. My body is a success. My body is successful.
Thanks, body, for being the conduit to a spectacularly human experience
The body also provides a basic link to the deeply physical nature of life. There’s a reason humans are not bodiless souls floating around (metaphorically) in a purely cerebral existence. We are intrinsically physical creatures, designed for lives full of physical joys and adventures and sensations that can only be experienced through the body. We have eyes to see, ears to hear, tongues to taste, and skin to feel the difference between silk and sandpaper and a summer breeze.
Without bodies to exist through, we would be trapped in our own minds forever. I don’t know about you, but my mind is sometimes a terrible place, and I’d much rather go to the beach.
And if anything is intrinsic to physical life, it’s sexuality. It’s a desire that reaches the depths of both the body and the soul. Sex has a tremendous unifying power. It not only unites one body with another body in a fantastic way, it also unites all the parts of the self into one magnificent creature whose corporate parts are marshaled together by the same force.
During sex, for a while, my body is an actual part of me — pursuing the same pleasures I want, enjoying the same delights I’m encountering, devouring the moment of existence that we are sharing — not as enemies, not even as partners, but as a single being: me. The me who is both physical and mental, who craves sex by nature and enjoys it vitally.
In those moments, I am one being. Neither my mind nor my body has disappeared; rather, the two have coalesced. Like straightening your eyes out after going cross-eyed to see double. Here I am, I sense. It’s ok being this.
Not every body can experience all of these things, and life is quite worthwhile without them. Still, they are there to be experienced, and they can only be experienced through a body. A soul cannot feel an orgasm or smell a pot roast or stroke the soft petal of a lily – yet, through the conduit of the body, it can adore these delectable revelations. The body is a two-fold marvel; it experiences direct satisfaction in physical things, and it channels them as opportunities for the spiritual satisfaction of the soul.
Chocolate cake is delicious whether you’re healthy or sick, and sex is fun whether you’re fat or thin. These things are enjoyable because they are physical, and we are physical creatures. We exist as physical creatures in a physical world solely because of our bodies, and for that, they deserve our acceptance and gratitude.