By Colette Fitzpatrick
I sometimes get this horrible compulsion to keep talking even when I have long since bored myself, let alone everyone else. I get wrapped up and pedantic about details and context that I feel have to be included and, in doing so, completely lose the flow and momentum of a story. It’s as if I just can’t stop myself, much as I might want to, when this happens.
Similarly, I sometimes cannot seem to shut my mouth when it comes to my body and weight. Even as my mind screams at me to stop being so goddamn boring and self-indulgent (because, honestly, no one cares even a fraction as much about our bodies as we ourselves do) and even when I have specifically decided not to say a thought I just had about my body, it just comes out. Particularly if someone says I look slim or fit. I just have this automatic reaction and need to correct them instead of taking a damn compliment and moving on with things. I have to get into it. If my mother asks if I have lost weight, I will say that I don’t think so and immediately start complaining about not being able to shift my belly. If my dad says that my face looks thin, I just say that I probably look tired and start giving out about how I haven’t been on the ball lately.
This issue – this irritating, self-obsessed, boring fixation – is something that I’m acutely aware of and something that I am actively trying to change because, in so many other ways that matter, I have managed to unlearn a lot of bullshit and change how I think about my body. Until recently, in fact, I had not been an active or fit person since childhood; I didn’t play sports as a teenager, I never once used the gym that I had free access to in university, and I was allergic to the very idea of sweating. However, as of about eighteen months ago, I have been exercising regularly and I have been running a minimum of three times a week for just going on a year now. When I started out, it was largely motivated by how I looked at the time, having been in a sedentary office job for several years at that point, which had changed my body. I was unhappy with how I looked and I knew that putting off dealing with it until I was any older would only make things more difficult. I was afraid of a slippery slope and a lifetime of the legacy of so many of the older women in my life: a lifetime of fad dieting and yo-yoing, and obsession. I already have a troubled relationship with sleep, I couldn’t cope with the idea of feeling the same way about food, one of the greatest loves of my life.
So, I got to it. I started out slow. I made changes to my life, bit by bit. I made sure not to do anything drastic, anything that couldn’t be maintained. I did low intensity workouts, then I started jogging short distances, then I was running a few kilometers at a time, and now I’m at a middling pace for a runner and can run pretty long distances without much of a problem. I didn’t really change how I eat but I do try and eat more consistently healthy and nutritious meals. I lost weight and I was happy about that but I also became fitter and stronger. I started to realise that I wasn’t as anxious all of the time anymore. I revelled in being able to keep up with the fit people in my life and so many things being easier because I was stronger and had better control over my body. I became more in tune with things, became aware of the source of aches and pains, became conscious of parts of my body that were stronger, weaker, more or less flexible. I even developed muscle tone in my arms and little biceps just from running, which I am pretty proud of, despite the scoffing they have elicited from some people that I know.
Suddenly, it wasn’t just about how I looked. I wanted to feel strong, wanted to be strong, wanted to be healthy. It became about taking care of myself. It also made me feel proud of this thing that I was honing, carving out, and made me finally come to terms with the fact that I am just never going to be the naturally waifish indie girl of my dreams. It made me happier with the body that I do inhabit and grateful for how lucky I am to have a body that serves me so well. It completely changed how I look at myself.
Obviously, though, it did not wipe away all of the bullshit that I have absorbed throughout my life (or the fact that my model for feminine beauty was informed by a mid-nineties childhood in which the problematic, and problematically named, “heroin-chic” look prevailed in media), all of the messages about how a woman should look. I am often still very hard on myself. I do still frown a little at the last of my belly that just doesn’t seem to want to leave and smile on the days that it is almost flat.
However, that is my personal damage that I am working through and to get past and I shouldn’t inflict it on others. Because the more we comment on our own weight and our own bodies, the more we normalise criticism of bodies, the more comfortable we feel comparing ourselves and deeming ourselves lesser. Worse still, it leaves us feeling alright about passing judgement on other bodies, in general. We label this thing good and that thing bad and we feed into the endless obsession, stoke it, keep it alive. We pass that obsession on to the next generation and we hurt them. We make them feel bad for looking in the mirror and not seeing what has been deemed “good” and by inference, therefore, concluding that what they are must be “bad.”
A friend of mine is a nutritionist and she advocates for not talking about bodies and weight and people being fat or thin at all in front of your children. Fitness and health and making sure that you are taking care of yourself are important but we must be careful not to pass our issues onto those who come after us. I currently don’t have any kids to parent but I think this idea can be extrapolated and applied out further to everyone else in our lives, which is why I’m working on not talking about my body at all anymore. I won’t lie, I have already slipped a few times since I made this commitment to myself but I am breaking habits and that is hard to do. And it’s important that I keep trying because I’m sick of feeding the beast, feeding capitalist systems of marketing that make us feel not enough in order to sell us things.
So, no more ragging on my body in 2020. Less talking about it at all or even thinking about it, if possible. Instead, I’m gonna focus on nourishing it and keeping it strong in order to live a happy and healthy life. I’m going to try and break out of the cycle of all of us driving ourselves and those around us crazy in pursuit of an ever-shifting ideal that only serves to keep the less privileged (in genetics, time, money) unhappy. I’m going to do it for me and for all of us because, clearly, something needs to change.