Friday, January 23, 2009

The Inheritance

"I'm a nudie butt! I'm a nudie butt!"

Liv skips around in a circle, delightedly clapping her hands, her recently shed clothes scattered like confetti all around my living room. She enjoys being naked. I watch her dance, shake, and shimmy to some music only she can hear.

"Look at me, mom!" she squeals while shaking her tiny hiney and giggling. Show off.

I am in awe of her in these moments. I am in awe that this tiny creature of only 3 can do something that I, a woman with 30 years of living on her, can not. You see, she is able to love her own body, fully, completely, without question.

I try to reach back and find a memory. A memory of a time when I loved my body, too. I come up empty. It has been too long with this hatred. It has been too long with this wanting to crawl out of skin. It has been too many years with holding myself to impossible standards, of pinching an inch, of feeling ashamed of appetites.

It's so strange to admit this now, that I still feel this way about my own flesh after all this time, after all the platitudes of recovery I've spouted from my mouth. I am the ultimate hypocrite, I guess. I spent so many years in that horrible cycle of starvation, giving in to appetite, and finding solace in a toilet, with my mouth over its mouth in that twisted kiss. I remember weighing 85 pounds and thinking, "just a little bit more and then I'll be worthy to walk amongst the other humans. Only then, my words might matter." Why did I feel that my weight was inversely related to my inherent value as a person? The lower my weight became, the more my stock would rise. That is a sick, disheartening statistic.

I wish I could tell you I feel differently now. I wish I could say that when I put my anorexia away, all those insanities and idiosyncracies were put away with it. But that's just it. I put anorexia away because I was never able to destroy it. So it's still around...somewhere. It lingers in the proverbial attic of my mind collecting dust and yet, somehow, holding court over my actions. Anorexia breathes down my neck. Anorexia passes judgement. He asks, "Who the hell do you think you are?" I have a love/hate relationship with that bastard. He's the abusive boyfriend who punches me in the mouth and tells me I'm worthless, and yet I keep going back to him because we have amazing sex.

So, there are haunts inside of me everyday, hushed whispers of denigrating remarks, pangs of broken-hearted regrets - over something so small as a slize of pizza. You'd be surprised at how small the end of the world can be. But then again, maybe you wouldn't. I'm not alone. I'm not the only one. I would do anything to hear a woman say, " I love my body". To say this thing and actually mean it. But this I have never heard. Oh, I know of a few women who claim to love their body. However, this love comes at a price. This price being a punishing fitness regimen and a regular diet of self-denial. To say you love your body, yourself, after so much self-imposed suffering is a crock of shit, if you ask me. That type of love is conditional. And I don't believe that "conditional love" is actually love. I would never tell my daughter that I would only love her if she was good at dance, or got good grades in Math, or had perfect skin. I love my daughter no matter what, fully, completely, passionately. And for once in my god damned life, even for just one amazing, freeing second, I want to love myself that same way too.

In some ways I feel like it's an expectation in our feminine culture to aspire to deny appetite, to murder fleshly desire, and to publicly degrade our physical form. Sometimes when I'm in a group of women having dinner, there is just no way around it. We must lament our sins, denounce our intake. We must talk in repentant tones about that food we'd just ingested. And there are some moments when I want to scream, at myself and everyone else, "You ate a piece of chocolate cake! You didn't murder a baby!"

But this is our legacy ladies. This is the tradition that has been passed down to us. And it totally blows. I know I want the world to be different, I want me to be different. Maybe it's too late for the women of our generation. This self-loathing is just too entrenched in our psyches, too much a part of our identity for it to be unraveled and undone. But I have to believe that there is a chance for our girls, for our sweet darling little girls. I, for one, want Liv to always know that she is perfect just the way she is.

I look at her dancing, wide-eyed with glee at the amazing power of her tiny, perfect body. I wonder how much longer she has left to feel that way. When will her dancing stop? When will she shrink into herself, trying to hide something in shame that isn't even wrong in the first place?

For the sake of these girls, let us come together and say, "This day I will love my body". Because maybe if we say it enough, we will start to believe it. Maybe if we say it enough, it will start to be true.

I am including with this a poem I wrote when I was in the throes of anorexia. I normally don't share poetry, because most people find it a snoozefest. I think there are maybe 3 people on the planet who actually enjoying reading poetry and I'm one of them. But I've included it because I think it's a valid perspective. At that point in my life, my poetry was the only voice I had. And when I wrote this it was during a rare moment of awareness and clarity about a feminine culture gone terribly wrong. It is not the best poem I've ever written, but it's real.

In my time, I have seen
what I should look like
glossy leaflets of magazines drip their bland faced waifs
through windshields of television and movie screens,
I see half women wither,
their dull stalks bent towards fame and fortune.
Through word of mouth in my junior high locker room
I learned the value of being flat-bellied
Bombarded with ideal body size
What to eat and not
How to effectively fast while avoiding
those pesky heart attacks.
And instructions for life:
How to vomit in a public bathroom
quiet as a mouse.
What a plethora of tricks!
Trick the eye,
Trick the boys,
Trick the self.
And when mom pushes her aging bag
of cosmeticsat your 13 year old face
what she is really saying is
You are not good enough the way that you are
When she clicks her tongue
at your second helping of mashed potatoes
You are reminded that the perfect 4 lb body
that could fit in a shoebox
has ballooned to 100 pounds of unmanageable blubber
The tuft of baby black hair
Dulled to a dirty blonde of reproachable strings.
Is it any wonder that a girl can't reach this gate unscathed?
That she cannot pass into womanhood without that bag of self loathing
so customary of her breed?
A moment will arrive when you will realize
Even the thin women suffer
The knobs of their knees swell up
But what they see is their thighs
the size of hot air balloons
And they will grab
The innocent flesh of the inner thigh
And say, "see how fat I am?"
They will turn against the belly
Slender fingers clasping a meager roll
saying, "I can pinch an inch"
And so it goes
Even the beautiful women
happen upon mirrors
and imagine monstrous proportions
Conspicuous distortions
rupturing beneath taut skin.
They will sob delicately in the shower
A cascade of scalding water
Making the skin red
"The only warm place on earth"
They will insist.

Yes, it's amateur. Yes, I realize that these ideas I've written are not revolutionary. It's been done before. It's been done more thoroughly by smarter people. It's been done better by superior writers (read this blog I've linked. It will make you want to make out with yourself in a big way). But I'm compelled to add my burgeoning voice to these awesome voices of discontent, to the voices of the women who are sick to death of a society telling us we're not fucking goddesses. Because if you really stop and think about it, that's what we are. Some of us can make humans for Christ's sake. And we all have the power to make men beg because Hello! We have vaginas. Do not ever under-estimate the power of the pussy. And on top of that we have brilliant minds and nurturing spirits and emotional strength and superhuman abilities to make kick ass casseroles, bathe children, and change kitty litter all at the same damn time. Every woman I know is either an extraordinary mother, daughter, and/or wife. You guys rock. Don't let a fucking number on a scale tell you otherwise. I will try and do the same.

I say with all my heart, my breath, my soul, that this blatant self-hatred has got to go. It's damaging to the collective spirit of women and it keeps us from fully realizing our potential. Who knows what we could accomplish without this heavy brick of self-loathing knotted tightly around our necks? Can we make some change today? Do it with me! I can not do it alone.


  1. I cannot believe I didn't know you were here. The poem? Lovely.

  2. Gwen, I need you to meet my sister-in-law. She is amazing! I look at her the way you look at Liv. Pure amazement. She is pregnant right now, but her non pregnant weight is about 195-205. Average height. She is beautiful. She will wear a bikini to the beach and she is so confident that you just know she loves her body. I really have never met anyone like her. I look at how I covered myself up and puked my food up and I was 115 pounds!!! It makes me sick! I always tell her that I wish I could be like her. I threw away that mirror because I had to ... it haunted me. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that there is at least one woman out there that wasn't affected by whatever it was that got us.

  3. Chris/Formerly Fun - I'm honored and thrilled to have such an amazing writer read and comment (positively) on my blog. I linked one of your blogs in my post - I hope that's okay. I was moved and comforted by what you wrote.

    Brandi - I have to meet this friend of yours Brandi. I guess I shouldn't have opined that no one loves their body, there are some women out there that do apparently. I just don't know any of these women. And I know a lot of women. I can't believe the torturous things I have done to myself over the years. I weep for that girl. I know what you mean about the mirror. I hate full length ones. How sad is it that the sight of our own reflection incites such self-loathing? That goes deeper than the physical, I think. It just has to. Thanks for reading and commenting.