I still have my journals from grade school, and there is one entry that reminds me of how early body shame started for me. In grade school, for some kind of talent show, the girls in my class were making up a dance to a song, and we did a pyramid for part of the dance. When we were choreographing it, one of the girls said to me, “Katie, you have to be on the bottom. You are just too heavy.”
Let me be clear. This was grade school, kids are honest, and this was not said to be mean or to make fun of me at all. I was not that big, but I did not have a small frame. I am stocky and pear shaped.
That comment was yet another time when I was reminded, at a young age, that my body type is big and thus not a body type other people would want. As a teen, I saw that I did not look like the girls in magazines or on television. No one was short and stocky. Anyone who did look like me was the quirky sidekick or the geek whom everyone made fun of.
I have always had a hard time unlearning to be ashamed of my body type. I have not unlearned yet, but there are many ways that I have been working to love my body type. The journey has not been easy, though.
In high school, I started to wear clothes that I liked, which made me feel better, except for when people made fun of me or told my I could not wear the clothes because of my shape. As you can read in my post My Butt Epiphany, the journey to wearing what I want has not been easy. Every time I feel ashamed of my body and think I cannot wear something, I just try to be very intentional about continuing to wear what makes me happy. It is kind of a daily practice I do in order to combat body shame. It takes a long time and a lot of practice to reprogram those negative messages that become ingrained in our brains as part of our belief systems.
For me, the Internet and social media were wonderful for learning to love my body shape. I could read about and follow plus-sized models and follow fashion blogs written by people of all different sizes. I did not have to look at a magazine rack ever again. I could choose the images and messages I wanted to read. There are still people who look down upon my body shape, however, which is why I try never to read comments on blogs or threads on Facebook.
I am also learning to appreciate what my body type can do. My legs are strong, and I can lift a good amount in a front or back squat. I can also out squat and out sit-up my husband, which I think is pretty great. I like to lift heavy things, so I like that my body is built for me to do something I love. Learning about different types of sports has shown me that different body types excel at different things. I am learning to love my body by appreciating what it can do rather than focusing only on what it looks like.
One of the hardest things for me to do in learning to love my shape is limiting my contact with certain people. If I spend too much time with people who judge bodies as “good” or “bad,” my ability to love my body diminishes, so I tend to spend more time with positive people instead. I also choose the types of things I do with people. I probably won’t go clothes shopping or out to eat with someone who makes fun of other people and the way they dress or what their bodies look like. I might, instead, go see a movie with them. I don’t think you have to break off relationships. You just need some good boundaries around them.
I have to be very conscious about not correcting my husband every time he gives me a compliment. In the past, if he liked a skirt I was wearing, I would say that he was just being nice, or tell him that the skirt only looked good because it had pleats and covered up my fat stomach. I am also working at not asking him if something looks good on me. What is the purpose of that? Looking for approval of my body shape outside of myself just reinforces the idea that my body shape is only acceptable if someone else thinks so. If I think something looks good, then it looks good. If he likes something I wear, then he will tell me.
Overall, learning to love my body shape is a daily practice — a daily spiritual and mental health exercise. If I don’t keep up with these practices, then those feelings of shame for my body type grow. The more I take these small steps to remind myself over and over again that my body shape is perfect for me, the more I believe it.
Rev. Katie[Headline image: The photograph shows an older white woman wearing a large-brimmed straw hat and a white sleeveless top. She has her left arm bent next to her head, and she is smiling and looking into the distance.]