Photograph from Every Body Yoga by Jessamyn Stanley (Workman Publishing). Copyright (c) 2017. Photographs by Christine Hewitt.
Like so many teen girls, I had an eating disorder. It was called “food phobia”—I literally feared food. I didn’t acknowledge it as anorexia (which it was) for a long time because I wasn’t really trying to lose weight. I thought anorexia was some sort of extreme diet for people who just really wanted to be thin. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I wanted to be thin—everyone did. But the thing I really wanted was control. Thin women have more power in society—that’s a message girls get really early in this world, true as it may or may not be.
What I didn’t understand, but felt on a deep level, was that eating is a vulnerable act. It means taking in the outside world and making it a part of me. Eating would make my body more solid, more present, more visible to the men in the streets that were looking at me. I didn’t want to lose weight. I wanted to erase my body.
The relationship I now have with my body and the food I put into it is hard-won. I live in a world that wants me to believe that my body does not belong to me, is not under my control, and will never be good enough no matter what I do. Eating food, practicing yoga, moving my body, feeling my feelings, caring for myself, resting when I’m tired, going out in public—sometimes these feel like radical acts. They are radical acts.
The big lie women are told is that if we get small enough, we will be happy and healthy and someone will love us. “Show us your bones, they say,” writes Lindy West in her book Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, “if only you were nothing but bones.” Fat women are told they are betraying their true, inner “thin” selves by daring to live in unacceptable bodies. Thin women are told that they are unacceptable, too— not thin enough (or sometimes, too thin), and if they make the mistake of gaining any weight, they will no longer be worthy of whatever scraps of love they clutch in their anxious hands. We are told there are women out there who are thin enough, voluptuous enough, good enough. None of us has ever been one.
This lie keeps us anxious, silent, hating our own bodies, and fearing each other. We punish ourselves at the threshold of the boundary between our bodies and the world: our mouths.
Women like author Lindy West, yoga teacher Jessamyn Stanley, (with a book out this month Every Body Yoga), and Instagram sensation Valerie Sagun (@biggalyoga) brave the comments section to rescue us all from this lie. These women insist that yes, they are happy, they are strong, they are sexy, they are loveable, they are fat, and they are human. How strange it is that we are trained away from seeing other people—even ourselves—as human beings, worthy of love, each one of us.
Some of us are using our big mouths to fight the lie that our weight is connected to our worth. We fight by telling our stories. We fight by caring for our bodies, no matter what they look like today and how they might continue to change all our lives. We fight when we learn that the relationship between body and self is the first, the most fundamental, the place where love will always be possible, even if it wasn’t always there. We fight by eating when we are hungry.