by Jenn Johnson, Fattitude Guest Blogger
I learned at a young age how not to take up space. I remember sitting in my pajamas in the living room, watching TV after a bath, and my mom leaning over to whisper, “Close your legs.” I remember the torn look on her face when I asked if I could have peanut butter with my apple after dinner. She had allowed my older sister, a little bird of a girl, to have it, but for me… “Maybe not tonight.” I was growing too big for my clothes, too big for our small house, too big for our small town. It could be argued that her concern was for my health. But my health was not the stick against which my size was being measured. What mattered was the way I would appear to others. There was no consideration given to the fact that my body was not my sister’s body, that health looks like many things. I was growing too big for my mother’s small idea of what a girl should be. Girls should be diminutive and demure. We should be little mice, cute and small and skittering out of the way. “Mind you don’t get stepped on. And for goodness sake, close your legs.” And so I made myself small. I starved myself down to a loveable size. I became small enough to be put into a coat pocket, carried around like a toy soldier. But not that threatening. More innocuous. I was a paper clip, a receipt crumpled around a discarded piece of gum. I learned to pin my value to the way people reacted to me, and at the same time denied myself the pleasures I yearned for. “Yes, that’s better. No one wants a big girl. So lazy, sprawled about, taking up all that space.” The smaller I became, the more they praised my figure. And I beamed! But not too brightly. No need to call attention to myself.
And 20 years later, those impressions were still burned so deeply into my being that as I turned to look in the mirror after a long day out in the sunshine, exercising my strong and capable body, I saw those rolls of flesh around my middle, and I hated myself. I lay in bed that night unable to sleep, wanting to jump up and do sit ups, crunches, go for a run, anything to be rid of these dreadful, hateful, mortifying rolls. And that’s when I knew something had to change. I had worked so hard to love myself, but still found my body disgusting. So I packed that hatred up into an old suitcase, labeled it “no longer needed”, put it down, and walked away. But recovery is a process, not an event, and sometimes I find the suitcase is still in the room with me when I feel the waistband of my jeans just a little too snug, when I am inundated by images of flat bellies and stick-like arms everywhere I turn.
At first I had to fake the self-love, consciously replacing every negative thought with a positive one. I saw how “I am good” and “My body is a perfect body” felt in my mouth compared to “I am disgusting” and “I am a failure.” And for a while, the first two statements didn’t feel right. Negativity was familiar and safe. It was a childhood friend, a security blanket. These positive thoughts fit like a new pair of shoes that hadn’t been broken in yet. But they are starting to feel more comfortable. I have stopped averting my eyes when I walk past a mirror, stopped sucking in my belly when my love throws his arm around me in the night. I am converting the energy I used to waste trying to hide into the fuel for my unfolding. I am throwing open my arms, my heart, my legs. I am learning not to be ashamed. Not to be afraid. I have stopped worrying who will be offended by me taking up space. Stopped believing I am responsible for how others reacted to me. I am beginning to see my body as the body of the Goddess. The roundness of my belly reflecting the full moon, the softness of my limbs allowing me to embrace the things I love, to give comfort and warmth to the people I welcome into my heart. In all the ways I was hard, I am allowing myself to soften. In all the ways I was small, I am allowing myself to reach beyond what I thought were my limits. I am relearning my love for the tastes and textures and colors of the world around me. I am learning to sprawl out in every direction, to take up the space that is allowed to me, simply because I exist.
*This blog post is the opinion of a particular Fattitude intern or guest blogger – and does not necessarily reflect the position of Fattitude, Inc
Jenn Johnson lives in the desert in the interior of British Columbia, Canada. Her poetry and essays have appeared in The Island Tides Newspaper, Silver Apples Magazine, The Tincture Journal, and The Fractured Nuance. She is thrilled to be guest blogging for Fattitude.