I have long struggled with body image – I haven’t always liked my body never mind love it. My continuous journey of accepting my body has been a long and continuous journey marked with battles, wars, casualties, and scars that I will carry with me for a lifetime. I wasn’t born to hate my body – in fact, I can remember being a young girl and loving my hair and the jeans I wore under my dress in the middle of a Manitoba winter. I recall moving my body because it felt good and I laughed for hours racing my friends down the street on a bike or on my own two feet. I miss that girl, the girl who didn’t know the social pressures to be one body type were on the horizon.
My mom was and is beautiful. Growing up, people called her Princess Diana because she looked so much like the iconic and beloved Di. She was tall, blonde, confident, and loving. My mom was my idol and I didn’t look anything like her. I had dark eyes and hair, my skin tanned easily – a genetic gift from my South American dad, and most of all, I was chubby. When I looked at my mom, she was the standard of beauty and people told her that all the time. I wanted to be her with her blonde hair and green eyes – like most little girls want to be like their mom.
The thing about being the daughter of a beautiful woman is that I was able to see behind the curtain. By all standards, my mom should have been reveling in her social status as a beautiful woman but instead, she was perpetually on a diet, exercised religiously to Jane Fonda and Richard Simons, she put herself down and called herself fat when her body weight fluctuated. She didn’t see herself as others saw her – she only saw ways in which she needed to improve.
My mom is the strongest woman I know – she’s brave, compassionate, and loving. She loved her daughters – and told us daily how amazing we are. I think, she didn’t realize that two little girls were watching her and not listening to what she was saying. We watched her dislike herself when we adored her. We watched her go on diet after diet while she told us we were perfect the way we are. We watched her jump around to Jane Fonda in hopes of getting rid of some body fat.
I don’t begrudge my mom for any of this – the pressure to fit a socially constructed ideal of beauty is a burden placed on all women. She was young and doing the best she could with what she had. The gift that she gave me was confidence in other aspects of myself – my intelligence, sense of humour, and ability to change the world.
I found feminism in the depth of my anger and self-hatred towards my body that would always be on the large size. I found a voice in feminist ideology that helped me challenge social norms that bombarded me with messages that I wasn’t good enough and in fact, messaging that told every single woman that she wasn’t good enough. If I felt fat and my lovely thin friend felt fat – then this feeling fat thing wasn’t something we came up with, it’s something that was given to us.
Do I love my body? I have my days, but mostly I work on appreciating all the things it allows me to do. When I get stuck in picking apart all the parts of my body that I dislike, it takes me away from joy and pleasure. I want to live a life full of laughter, enjoyment, love, connection, and pleasure.
Is it an easy path? No. Undoing a lifetime of indoctrination is a challenging path for all women. The small voice still shows up to tell me all the ways in which I’m not good enough. But I tell that asshole to take a hike and that his criticism isn’t needed.
I wish that my mom would have found her voice to push back on the messaging that made her dislike herself so much. I want every woman to find her voice to push back and tell that critical voice to take a hike – you are more than your body, you are heart and soul who happens to have a body. Let your inner self shine through – she’s a badass!