By ERIN JAMIESON
Even as I write now, an image, engraved in me, a part of my history, many of our histories, remains.
Sophomore year of high school, five minutes until the next period. I am wearing American Eagle Jeans, and this will be the last time I wear jeans for two years. The bathroom stall is dingy like you’d expect it to be in a high school; the floor littered with toilet paper, a stub of a pencil, a crumbled worksheet that will never be completed.
In the privacy of the stall, I lift my shirt and look at my stomach. It is paler than the rest of me. “Pasty,” I think. The waist is tight or fitted, as jeans usually are, but I see now what I didn’t before – the way my stomach strains by the button, my shapeless midsection.
Is there where it all went, I wonder, and even then, maybe, I know that I am not thinking rationally. A week before, my family practice doctor told me that, since my last visit, I was up ten pounds. It is not the first time I have thought about my weight, but it is the culmination of shame that has built up over the year. The sense that something is wrong or disgusting about me, that I need to change to be loved. For me to love myself.
Never mind that the doctor weighed me that time with shoes on, that I am a growing fifteen, almost sixteen-year-old girl, that this is normal.
In the next several months, I will buy clothes that hide my body, study girls who are slimmer than me, happier than me. I will try to diet and fail. A year later, I will succeed in shedding that stomach “fat” and more. And still, it will not be enough.
Everyone seems to agree that body image is a global problem, for both women and men, but it’s usually enveloped in the general message that “everyone should love their body” and accept themselves the way they are.
While I commend the message of self-love and acceptance, I also think it needs to be refined. Some days we just don’t love our bodies. While the every body is beautiful campaigns have good intentions, I think we sometimes miss the point that we are worthy of love, regardless of our bodies. Not because of them.
I spent years trying to make peace with my stomach. I thought losing weight would help me to love it. When I became so thin my health started to suffer, I was told that when I gained weight, I would have a clearer perspective.
While years of fighting for my health did help me, it wasn’t primarily because my stomach grew or shrank, or because I learned to look in the mirror and love every inch of myself. It was because I instead started to focus on other things. My dreams of being a novelist. My school work. My family, who means so much to mean. My faith in God.
My stomach bothered me less and less, but that didn’t mean I was free of the hatred I’d had for my body for years. I still have difficult days, days where it is a body part I didn’t even think to focus on before. In the past, I spent time feeling guilty for the desire for different parts of my body to be different. I tried to suppress these thoughts, tried to convince myself that my body was the way it needed to be.
And some days that worked, and still works. But most of the time, that approach lasts a short time, and I keep that shame and disgust inside of me. It’s when I allow myself to feel those emotions, think those thoughts, and accept them that I can move on. I can accept that, like all men and women, I have days when my body is not what I want it to be. That there are things I wish were somehow different.
I also recognize that I, like most people, might not ever be one hundred percent happy with our bodies. It is okay not to always feel beautiful. It is only not okay when we bury ourselves in those emotions and let those thoughts fester into isolating shame.
Today, I will look in the mirror, and I will not force myself to love every part of my body. Instead, I will look into my eyes and see all the people and things in my life that have led me to where I am today. An imperfect life, maybe, but at least now I am no longer hiding in a bathroom stall.
And that is enough.
Erin Jamieson is an MFA candidate at Miami University. Her work has appeared in Flash Frontier, After the Pause, and Blue River Review. You can contact her at email@example.com.