Every day in my role as Executive Editor at a women’s website, I receive pitches about “learning to love” various parts of one’s body. There are women who want to write about learning to love their thighs, their freckles, and that spot where the thigh meets the butt. Some women have learned to love their thutts.
I know what these women mean. Because we are conditioned to hate our bodies, our quest to become actualized healthy adult women naturally involves years of deprogramming ourselves of the messages we've internalized about our bodies. We call this "learning to love" ourselves, which includes our body parts that we have wasted years hating.
But here's the thing — I don’t love my body, and I don't think I should have to. Both loving your body and hating your body involve putting much more thought into each individual cross-section of your human suit than one should rightfully need to.
I was a fat kid. I’ve now heard enough women worry about “ruining their bodies” with childbirth to feel kind of lucky that my shit was wrecked to begin with. It’s the body equivalent of wearing your oldest grubbiest clothes out to play. If you splash mud all over yourself or gain a few new stretchmarks or whatever, you can just kind of be like “Oh, this old thing?” and move along.
Obesity, much like pregnancy, seems to make people think they have every right to comment on your body. A homeless man once came up to me and gave me an encouraging speech about how he was sure I’d lose the weight when I was ready. Strangers felt qualified to give me life advice, just because I was fat.
People sometimes yelled insults and/or threw full sodas at me from car windows. Despite the fact that I wore a size 28 at my largest, my passive-aggressive size 6 college roommate would constantly offer to let me borrow her clothes, I think just to hear me say out loud that I could never fit into them. All of this was painful.
So I dieted, and I started going to the gym for the first time in my life, and I lost weight, 100 pounds of it. And then, over the next decade of my life, I gained and lost and gained and lost and never loved my body at any size.
I've written before about lying in the bathtub and crying at the sight of my naked body, shortly after losing 100 pounds. When I turned onto my side, all of my loose skin shifted downward, hanging and gathering on one side of my body in Picasso-like disproportion.
At 20 years old, my belly looked like that of a mother of 10, with a horseshoe of flab that hung over my belly button, and another that drooped over my pubic bone. Stretchmarks criss-crossed my torso, back and chest. When I leaned forward, the skin on my breasts wrinkled, sagged and hung. I was a size 8, the thinnest I'd ever be.
While I had once been delighted just to wear a size with a single digit for the first time in my life, I started to obsess over my body's imperfections. Sure, it was smaller, but now I felt part of a competition I'd been previously excluded from.
At a size 28, I'd seen everyone under a certain size as "thin," but now I saw all the varying degrees of thin, all the additional imperfections there were to obsess over. I compared myself to both the Photoshopped models in magazines and the average-sized women I knew.
There is no finish line to this race. Because as fast as we’re learning to accept ourselves, they’re inventing new things to hate.
Every day in my role as Executive Editor at a women’s website, I also receive emails alerting me to new things about my body to feel bad about.
They give them catchy names, the plastic surgeons and PR companies sending these emails, designed to lodge themselves into your brain and echo endlessly every time you shamefacedly undress.
Like “bra strap lipo.” That’s the new procedure Dr. Mitchell Chasin assures us will take care of the “dreaded” lump of skin that peeks out when a woman’s bra cuts into the fat on her back. “(Yuck)!” the press releases adds for good measure.
There are doctors willing to help you out with your “toe-besity” problem, by reshaping and removing fat from your toes. A “Throatox” shot, made from the GROUND-UP SKIN OF HUMAN CADAVERS, will restore a scratchy, aging voice. Umbilicoplasty can give you a more “youthful-looking belly button.”
With all due respect to the late, great Nora Ephron, feeling bad about your neck seems downright quaint compared to what we younger generation of women are encouraged to feel bad about.
We feel bad about our back fat, our FUPAS, the length of our labia, and the relative bumpiness of our nipples. We feel bad about our buttholes. I doubt my grandmother ever even thought about her butthole in a sexual context. We're encouraged to wax ours.
If I am being totally honest, I don't love my loose skin, or my flabby midsection, or my stretchmarks. I may have used the language before, this "learning to love" narrative, but even though I've tried, all I've ever truly achieved in this extremely hostile environment is learning to tolerate my body, learning to think about it a little less, learning to stop wasting my time actively hating it.
I have never looked at myself naked, smiled warmly, and felt love radiating toward my FUPA or my butthole. I have felt grateful that my body is healthy and whole, but love? It's not even in the same room as my FUPA.
There are parts of my body I like well enough, some I simply tolerate and others that I will never come to terms with. For me, while I refuse to be ashamed of having it, there’s just nothing to love about back fat.
"I actually genuinely do," she says, "BUT what I take issue with is the idea that everyone should, or needs to do so in order to have a 'healthy' body image, or that struggling with it makes you a failure. Even before my book was published, I was uncomfortable with that subtitle, but I went along with it because that was the language everyone seemed to want to hear."
If you do feel this way, if you look at your body and feel genuine love, then good for you. That is unequivocally wonderful.
But for many of us, the best we can hope for is to forget about our bodies, to escape the incessant internal narrative of self-loathing that accompanies so many adolescences and young adulthoods.
Maybe it's just semantics.
But I think the language is important, because sometimes I wonder how much more women would accomplish if we didn’t spend a decade “learning to love” ourselves.
Do you think most straight men are thinking about whether or not they love themselves? Can you imagine one waking up in his disgusting mid-20s bachelor pad, scratching his sweat-encrusted balls and thinking to himself, “Do I love my taint? My hips? My thighs? DO I LOVE MY BODY YET?”
The gold standard of equality, I think, should be to be as oblivious to our bodies as most of men I see walking around shirtless in the summer, shamelessly exposing firm, bloated beer bellies.
Society doesn't make this easy. That same shirtless man will turn around and body shame an overweight woman, seemingly making no connection to his own non-magazine-approved physique.
Today, for the first time, I really don't think about my body much. But maybe this is undermined by the fact I am currently thinner than I have been in years.
Because when I am thinner -- not terribly thin, just thin enough to fall on the socially acceptable side of female body size, to be able to shop at the straight size stores -- I have to think about my body less. I don't have to muster the strength and courage required to survive as a fat person in a world set up to punish fat people. I gain the privilege of not thinking so much about my body. It's admittedly much easier to do when no one is throwing a soda at you out a car window.
Not everyone has this option. If you're a certain size and can't or don't want to change that size, you are forced to go out into the world, where you are constantly reminded that your fatness is an affront to others. You are forced to live in fear of having your fatness pointed out to you, lobbed into an otherwise pleasant day like a Molotov cocktail. You are forced to do the work of learning to accept yourself at a size that others may tell you is unacceptable.
And the work is just that -- work. As is waging a constant battle with your own shape. Although the former is admirable work, they both take up lots of energy, energy we'd ideally be able to use other places. And you can do this work, for years, to the very best of your ability, and still not love your body.
Given how many women of all sizes are taught to actively hate their bodies, maybe the pressure to explicitly LOVE your body is setting up yet another impossible standard for women. Because I've tried. And I don't hate my body anymore, but I don't love it either. And I can't be the only one out there who finds loving my own body to be an unattainable goal.
I think we should know that "Love your body!" is not a command, that not having any strong feelings about your body is an accomplishment within itself, is the way things should be in an ideal world. (And that even hating your body, struggling to feel differently in a world where the messages about the importance of having a specific kind of female form come hard and fast practically from birth, is understandable, and not your fault.)
For myself, I don’t want to learn to love my body anymore. What I want, more than anything, is to stop caring about my body at all. I've already wasted way too much time on it.