I Am Not My Body

I need to stop hating myself because I hate my thighs, my ass, my stomach, my flabby underarms, my hands. I need to stop telling myself that I’m “disgusting” when I see myself in a 3-way mirror. This is no longer okay.

Yesterday I was moved to tears by a snippet in a documentary film called “Life in A Day.” People from all over the world were asked to videotape themselves going about their lives on one particular day in 2010. In one section, the question “What do you fear?” was used as a prompt. Most kids feared ghosts and spiders, adults feared God and loneliness, but one extremely overweight woman in particular, completely in the nude, in stark sepia tones, standing, arms outstretched, said “This is me. This is what I fear.”

I became immobilized. It struck me as the saddest thing I had ever seen and heard. Maybe I misunderstood and she was worried that her body would turn on her at some point, kill her from the inside, but I’m pretty certain my interpretation was the right one.

My body issues are far-reaching and lifelong. When I try to put this in perspective as an adult, I truly realize that I’m not so bad, and according to all sorts of charts and statistics, I’m slightly below the size and weight of the average American woman, not by much, but enough to make me feel a little better (I’m also 5.5 inches TALLER than the average American woman.)

I’m not going to blather on about the media because God knows, that is a tired subject. I am so sick of seeing celebrities in their fucking bikinis with sunburst sidebars about how they lost the 30 lbs they gained during pregnancy in 6 weeks. Good for you. What an AWESOME human being you must be.

This isn’t to say that I don’t look at Beyonce’s legs and thighs and feel so envious, but I don’t bemoan HER for that or hate myself for it either. I think Christina Hendricks from “Mad Men” is exquisite and I have to say, that I have those curves and do feel lucky for them.

I guess I’m extraordinarily hypocritical when it comes to this subject because I haven’t worn a bathing suit bottom in years. My top ½, not so bad, but, the rest, not so good. I wear these swim shorts things and I’ve recently decided that I hate my knees. When I say things about my body to my husband, which is almost every day, I tell him that he doesn’t even need to respond, he doesn’t need to bother telling me how gorgeous and perfect I am. It won’t help until I believe it for myself.

I’ve loved how regular exercise made me look and feel. I dropped a nice amount of weight and I did in fact have more energy. I did love that for about a year I was wearing a size 10 when all I really wanted was to be a perfect size 12. Recently, I’ve cut down on carbs and it shows. I’m certainly not torturing myself and I do treat myself to whatever I want, whenever I want. I know I should start exercising again, but I can’t beat myself up for not doing so right now.

There are many things I’ve come to really like about my body: I adore my collarbone. I’ve figured out a way to pose in pictures that make my arms look defined. When I wear perfectly fitting things, my profile is pretty great. I look really good in a maxi dress. I love the color of my eyes, the size of my lips and my really soft skin. I have a freckle on the fleshy part of my hand below my left thumb that I find strangely sexy. I like that I’m tall, but wish I were one inch taller.

I have a 10-yr old daughter who I think is the most magnificent creature on Earth. I’ve spent a good part of her life just staring at her in awe. She is definitely on the tall trajectory and has grown a bit of a belly, but, when I ask her if she thinks she’s beautiful, she says yes. This isn’t vanity, it’s honesty and it’s remarkable. I’ve always told her that you don’t just come out and say “I’m pretty,” but that you wait until someone says it to you first. She gets this, but I love that she feels great about herself. When she has occasionally said to me “I’m fat” I totally lay into her and tell her that she’s perfect and I don’t want to hear her say that ever again. I wish someone would have said that to me at her age, instead of hiding food from me under the table linens in the hutch in our dining room.


  1. Your daughter is a "magnificent creature" because of who she is not how she looks; as are you. If you daughter suffered illness or injury that stripped her of her outward appearance would she be any less magnificent? Nope, not one little bit. How sad that countless numbers of men and women have been victimized by the material and immaterial aspects of our society, and by a underwhelming human nature to judge so quickly on the flimsy evidence of outward appearance.One of the best elements of the Middle Ages is the opportunity to confront these societal impositions and the liberation that can come from this insidious oppression.Find the inner magnificence you share with your daughter.

  2. I cannot begin to tell you what a pervasive issue this is with the women I see in my practice. I had a gorgeous model for a while who hated the way she looked!!! It is tough for me to work with this issue since I GET IT. I know what it is to feel sickened by the poochy stomach that may never go away. To know that I'm not fat, but I'm not thin enough either. Yeah, society, our parents, entertainment "news", blah, blah, blah… It has to end with us, inside and out.

  3. lovely self-actualization. Appreciation of what we have leads to happiness IMHO

  4. Wow Gayle what a wonderful blog. As a woman, I can totally relate. We are always able to find a negative feature and total focus on it; no matter what our shape and size. You are right we need to learn to accept our shapes and be happy for our inner beauty!

  5. Dan

    I don't think this feeling is exclusively the domain of women. For me, much of it has to do with my age. I remember Alec Baldwin telling a story on Letterman about when he first "broke the deuce" (passed 200 lbs): "I was jogging on the beach and fell to the ground in sheer exhaustion, when a few thin, well-muscled young men stood over me, as if they were thinking, 'Look at you, old man. You're everything I never want to be.'"He was exaggerating for comic effect, of course, but every time I watch the 20-somethings playing pickup basketball at my gym I sigh a heavy sigh and remember what I looked like back then….

  6. I love this, Gayle. Your writing is so honest, and something we can all relate to. I love that you've found a way to love your body (or at least, some days, accept it) rather than the self-loathing so many of us fall victim to. As always, thanks for sharing!

  7. I recently read an interesting article that said from the time a girl is very young, people compliment her on how she looks- her cute dress, her pretty hair, her sweet smile. I think the incredible self-consciousness of most women about how they look and the sense that we need to be validated for our appearance (and never believe those who validate us, like our husbands) is drilled into us from babyhood. But the more women who share from an honest perspective like this, the more we can start to change things. Thanks for a thoughtful post, Gayle!

  8. Reading this…it’s like I realized what a clusterfuck growing up in the 70s really was. Yes, were are the benefactors of Title IX, sure we were told we could do anything, and yes, that was great–but at the same time we still grew up with some unachievable ideal. We grew up in a time where mothers thought they were doing the right thing by putting us on diets or not complimenting us because it might go to our heads and honestly, why should they compliment us on our perky bums when they were complimenting us on our algebra grade? Why is it still so difficult, even knowing intellectually how unimportant it is?

  9. I have never in my life had a perky bum. My daughter, however, best bum and legs EVER.

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