To a Fault: Body Talk

Fault: Feel ashamed of my body

Describe an Experience: Please write a short story (approximately 2,000 characters) about a time in your life when this fault created a situation that had a negative impact on your life.
You mean there are people who aren’t?

I have been ashamed of my body since I was seven or eight and started worrying about my weight. There was a chart in one of my parent's medical books for tracking the height and weight percentiles for children, so I knew that I was fat compared to others my age. I spent the next three or four years tracking myself on that chart, always on the pudgy side, until magically I lost weight when I was eleven. But that was only the beginning.

Up and down, up and down. Sometimes I am able to lose weight, then the carb addiction kicks back in, and I pudge back out. I appreciate better now how I used carbs when I was a teenager, to dull the pain of feeling left out, but of course at the time all I knew was shame. The weight has come and gone (right now, wonderful to relate, it is gone!), but the shame remains.

Because, of course, the weight can always come back.

Milo has made me think a lot about fat shaming these past several months. My sister shamed me constantly when we were in high school and college. She admits as much now, that she and some of her girlfriends purposefully shamed other women their age. It was a form of power, to be able to feel herself more beautiful--because skinnier--than me.

And I believed her. I still believe her more often than not, even when I am looking at photographs of myself from five or ten years ago and can see objectively that I was not as hideous as I believed myself then. But no matter how good I feel, I hate having my photograph taken. Photographs, I tell myself, never lie. And what they show me is someone who is fat--and ugly.

I am curious now that I can see how much I struggle with feeling ashamed of my body, even though (thanks to Milo!) I have managed to lose what I call my “book baby” weight. (I am thinner now than I have been since I finished my last book and lost over thirty pounds.) It isn’t about being fat. It is about being ashamed of my body at any size.
Alternative Outcome: Write a short paragraph about what you might have done differently in that situation, to minimize the effect of this fault.
Fat shaming works. I agree now with Milo on this. But my self-shaming with the growth chart did not help, nor did my sister's shaming me when we were teenagers or young adults.

Milo’s shaming works because it is about wanting women and men to look their best and being worried about the effects of obesity on their health. Milo's shaming says, in effect: “I care.” My sister's shaming said: “I'm better than you are because I am skinnier than you are.” The growth chart said: “Other children are better than you are because they are able to keep their weight under control.”

Milo’s shaming says: “I've lost weight by keeping to a better diet, so can you.” My sister's shaming said: “It doesn’t matter what you do, I will always be prettier than you.” The growth chart said: “Other children don’t have this problem, why do you?” (I wonder what those charts look like now.)

I am amazed at how other women do not seem conscious of their bodies in the way that I do. Perhaps they are, and I just don’t notice it. But even when, as now, I am (relatively) thin, I realize I don't feel comfortable or proud of my body. What I feel is relief at not having to be actively ashamed.

It is inconceivable to me that I might feel beautiful. The thought alone terrifies me. People might notice me. Worse, people might notice my body. Is it any wonder I have never been cat-called in my life? If I have, I have no memory of it. Why on earth would any man cat-call me?

My sister belly dances. I fence. My sister loves dressing up and going to parties. I dread it. My sister is always au courant with the latest beauty routine. I have my hair trimmed once or twice a year. My sister loves having men look at her in “that way.” I would rather disappear into the ground.

And yet, it is not as if I have never felt beautiful in my life. I quite like the way I look in some of those old photographs. Even better than my sister sometimes. And I almost even liked what I saw in the mirror this morning.
Guidelines for General Improvement: Now that you’ve thought about how you might have behaved differently in that particular situation, please think about this fault in more general terms. How could you work on improving this fault in general, so that such situations do not repeat themselves?
This not about “body positivity” or convincing myself that it is okay to be fat. It is about convincing myself that it is okay to be thin.

Milo did that for me, almost. (Like all his fans, I am anxious for him to be back on tour; we need his energy to stay positive against the dark!) Which makes me think that my struggle with my weight is as much a struggle with having fun as it is a struggle with my sense of beauty. I feel beautiful when I am happy. When I am not happy, I eat.

I know, hardly news. There’s a reason they call it “comfort food.” But it isn’t comforting. And it isn’t food. It is a drug for staving off the shame.

I have long had the thought that people who are thin and fit can never be truly naked, even if dressed in their underwear and plastered on billboards over Manhattan. Are they proud of their bodies because they are fit and thin? Or are they fit and thin because they are proud of their bodies?

When I was two, my father came home with a puppy he had found. I used to run round the yard with her more or less naked, crying, “Puppy! Puppy! Puppy!” (Whence her name.) I had some underpants that were frilly on the bottom, and I used to pretend that I was an ostrich, like the one who had bit my finger when we went to the zoo. This is pretty much the last time I remember not being ashamed at being a body. At being enfleshed.

It's interesting. Many people say they dread speaking in public. I love it. Sure, I get nervous, but I enjoy nothing--nothing--more than being in front of a class and having the discussion going well. It is why I enjoy watching Milo do his talks so much. He shares the same joy.

You'd think I be nervous. But when the discussion is going well, I have no sense of people looking at me. I am wrapped in my words, become the argument I am making, my body irrelevant to the magic of making sense, moving hearts and minds to new understanding.

I had the same feeling when I was two, running around in my underwear playing with my dog.
I have never made the link before between my need to talk and my feelings of body-shame. No wonder I wanted to get a dog when I got writer's block. Maybe if I get another one, I will write that best-seller!

--From Jordan Peterson's Self-Authoring: Faults program.

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