want to write about my body, but not yet. Not right now, when I feel too inside of it, so close I can smell the soap on my thighs, fresh out of the bath, and feel my stomach fluttering up against my nightgown when I exhale. I want to write about my body once I am able to separate myself from it, once I can finally see it from above, cool and distant, like a mathematical equation sketched out on a piece of paper.
I’m stuck inside my body and in between the thoughts I have about it. The loudest of them are coated in something ancient, a sense of shame so thick and familiar I could scrape it up with my fingernails. Shame fills my mouth with a volcanic tang. It covers me like ash. It tells me I’m alone and that no one else will understand. It whispers into my ear, You’re not ready for everyone to know about this part of you, because once they do, it’s all they will remember about you. And how cliché, to be a woman remembered for how she feels about her body. How dull.
Part of me is convinced that to be a woman is to live in fear of being reduced to the smallest, meanest thought I’ve ever had about myself, and that’s why I tried to make my body smaller instead. I tried to beat the world to the punch, but I played right into its trap. My body found its way back. My mind is still catching up.
Insecurity is a funny thing. So many of the doubts I thought would disappear by the time I was the age I am now are still there, only more familiar. I’m learning, slowly, how to measure my response to them. I’ve heard that as you get older, you care less about these types of things, but I’m not sure that’s true. I think you just learn how to soften the shape of caring, to give it smoother edges so when it bumps into you, it doesn’t break the skin.
I soften the shape of caring by writing. The act of putting words on a page is a pumice stone for all the things that make me feel most vulnerable. That’s why I want to write about my body. I’ve danced around it, I’ve dropped hints, but I haven’t told the full truth: that I’ve had a suffocating relationship with food and body image since I was a teenager, and that I’m still fighting my way up for air.
Therapy has helped considerably. I’m actively trying to take care of myself instead of actively not. I’m physically healthy. I’m happy most of the time. I’m employed. I’m in love. I’m a functioning member of society. I’m fine! Still, being fine now doesn’t ease the weight of all the times I wasn’t.
Weight. As someone who derives a special pleasure from the act of getting dressed, my fluctuating body has always felt like the worst kind of betrayal — one of my own making. I’ve been five different pant sizes over the last seven years, but the size of my shame has been constant.
I’m also tired. I’m tired of letting my smallest, meanest thought loom disproportionately large, like a speck of dust caught in my eye. I’ve tried dozens of things to remove it: diets, podcasts, books, hypnotism, affirmations, outpatient treatment, group therapy, individual therapy, prayer. The only thing I haven’t tried is writing about it.
So you see, even though it makes me uncomfortable, even though I’ve gone to great lengths to hide what I’ve put it through, I need to write about my body, right now. Right now, when I feel too inside of it, so close I’m forced to confront the disproportion of the speck head-on. I need to write about my body before I can wrap up its story in a nice, neat bow, because in this particular case, a non-ending is the happiest kind. It means the work I’m doing and the shame I’m scraping don’t define me. It means the road is boundless. It means there is so much more of life, and of me, ahead.
I’m realizing, slowly, that my feelings about my body are the least interesting part of the path that I’m on. They’re merely a symptom, a sign that some kind of reckoning is taking place, a way of coping with a variety of pain that is familiar instead of opening myself up to the uniquely daunting agony of facing exactly what it is I need to feel whole.
That’s the thing about having something caught in your eye: As excruciating as it is and as big as it feels, when you do finally manage to take it out, you’ll marvel at how infinitesimal it was all along.
Illustrations by Ashley Jihye.