My trainer Jessica asked me to do a follow-up to my blog this week on “Just Enjoy Your Damn Food, Please,” with one on celebrating your body. I posted a comment on Facebook asking people how they celebrate their bodies to get some more thoughts. I don’t actually know if many people that posted think they are celebrating their bodies, but they do. Even the ones who are the most dissatisfied (according to their posts) are out there doing things, trying to get healthier. I see them posting about eating better, exercising and having fun all the time. Jessica said she used to deny herself cool new clothes until she got to her “skinny” weight. Now, she buys what she wants in a size that fits her.
I abused my body when I was younger. I had a boyfriend in high school who used to tell me I was fat at 115 pounds. Because I was young and naive, and I had a thing for this guy, I bought into it. I’d eat two granola bars a day for food. I’d starve myself trying to get thin. When I first started running in college, it was in an attempt to beat my body into submission to fit into whatever size I wanted to wear. There was no health concern, it was all about being thin. If my body could carry on a conversation with me, I think it would go something like this:
“Hey… Sharon … look at me. I need to talk to you.”
“I don’t want to look at you. Every time I look at you all I see is what I need to fix. I’d rather just ignore you until I get dressed.”
“Hmmmmmm… really? Do you remember that time in college when all you ate was 900 calories a day and exercised non-stop? You made me really thin – so thin I wasn’t really functioning, right?”
“Yes. You looked good. I wish I could have kept that up.”
“Well, do you realize that the lack of nutrition you were giving me caused me a lot of problems. Yet, I still kept trying to keep you upright, keep you studying for your degree and processing all of that alcohol and cigarette smoke you were consuming. Do you realize that I saw you through that?”
“Yeah… I guess I never thought of it that way.”
“Do you remember that bicycle ride in Arkansas where you got lost and didn’t get found until 11 PM? Do you realize that was me that kept you alive in the cold? Do you realize I was hungry and thirsty, and I didn’t say “just screw it”?”
“Oh, come on. It wasn’t that bad.”
“And all you worry about is me being thin?”
“Well, yeah. It’s important.”
“Okay… do you remember all of those nights of passion with the men you’ve loved? Especially that one guy…..”
“Hey!!! This is the internet. We don’t need any details. Momma is reading this.”
“Do you think you could even have enjoyed that without a body? And I wasn’t thin then. Do you have any idea how much work I have to do to have sex and create an orgasm?”
“I told you to watch it.”
“Oh, come on. Everybody has sex. Anyway, that was all ME.”
“Okay… that was pretty stellar. It might have been better if I had been thin and not worried so much about what I looked like.”
“BS … it would have been no different. When I work, I work like a charm… thin or not. Do you remember when you did that night dive with the manta rays in Hawaii?”
“Yes. That was a highlight of my life. You weren’t as thin as I would have liked then, either. I was running around in bikinis with my thighs hanging out and my belly bulging. But, it was still great!”
“See … I took you there. If you couldn’t swim, you would have never experienced that. Do you have any idea what it takes for me to swim? And all you want is for me to be thin? I can do all of these amazing things, bring you to these amazing heights of passion and joy, and all you want is for me to be thin? Not only that, you want me to be thin when you’re not even giving me the tools to be thin. It doesn’t make sense, and it makes me feel like a failure.”
“I never really considered that. That’s sort of like asking a computer to just be shiny. It’s a kind of shortsighted view of who you are and what you can do, right?”
“Yes … she gets it. Oh, and, by the way, I’m responsible for you being able to talk, write, think, sing, laugh, love, feel, dream, run, walk, sleep and almost everything else you do. I think you need to rethink that thin thing.”
About 7 or 8 years ago, I was taking a bath in my apartment in Memphis. I was still married, and I was having a really difficult emotional time. I always took a bath to relax. This particular time, I had a revelation. I’m not sure what caused it, but it was so profound that I remember it today as if it just happened. I looked at my legs floating in the water, and I felt really disconnected from them. But, for a change, I felt a very strong wash of compassion. I had always hated my short, stubby legs with big thighs and wished I had long, thin legs like a dancer. I realized in that moment that those legs had carried me through nights of alcohol and drug abuse. They had served me in every step of my life whether I was running from danger or running toward love. I thought about my body, and the abuse I’d dished out in my younger years with promiscuity, substance abuse, disordered eating and not enough rest or sleep. I felt very sad that I had disregarded my body. I would never treat another person that way, but I had treated the only body I will ever have with disdain. The abuse was one thing but the hatred and loathing was another. I felt a great deal of remorse and promised I’d be more compassionate in the future.
Last year, I went on a trip to Hawaii. It was a gift I gave to myself. I had never been on an expensive vacation as a single woman, and I thought it was time I enjoyed myself even if I didn’t have a husband. We went on a night dive to see the Manta Rays. These gigantic rays have a 9 foot wing span. They eat plankton, and the plankton follows light. Scuba divers get on the floor of the ocean, and shine their lights to the surface. Snorkelers lay on the surface of the water and shine their lights down. The plankton appears, and the rays come quickly to eat it. They don’t have teeth, so they swim around with their mouths open to catch the plankton in their mouth. It looks like a dance as they weave and circle through the water to dine.
I was on top of the water. One of these gigantic creatures came right up to me and circled past my belly. It flipped and flipped right next to me as if we were engaged in some exotic dance ritual. It took my breath away. It was so close I could feel it moving past my skin. I looked down into the water and as far as I could see into the ocean depth were other rays performing the same dance. It looked like a sci-fi musical with choreographed dancers flipping, flying and spinning across the stage while the stage lights illuminated their movements. It was the most fabulous thing I’ve ever seen. I will never forget it. My body took me there. There are not many people on this planet who have seen the Manta rays. It takes a journey, a dive into the moonlit ocean, an outfitter, and a willing sea. I got to see that. Without a healthy body that could move physically, process fear and jump out of a boat, I would have missed it. That’s just so much better than just being thin. Why can’t I hold onto that?
Manta Ray Experience –Watch this video! Then, go do it in person with that fabulous body of yours… you don’t have to be thin!