I just finished reading an article online about a woman dying of cancer. The reality that she had cancer was not what intrigued me though. Nor was it the prospect of her passing on. While it’s certainly a fact that both are dreadful life dramas, what touched me most about her story was something quite unexpected. In her end-days she arrived at the realization that she was going to miss her fat body.
Fat. Her word not mine. Throughout her story, this woman lamented how she had allowed people – friends and strangers – to influence the way she regarded her physical appearance. So much so that she grew to dislike her body. What most captured my imagination is that during her final days, she insists to now be at peace with her physical self.
This woman’s life account is less about self-judgment than self-acceptance. She related how she learned to loath her body at a young age – very young. She detailed comments people made (and didn't make) that led her to the conclusion that because of her size she was worthless. Again, her words.
As she related her story, I reflected on mine. My own body. I am lean. Some say skinny. Too skinny. It has always been that way for me. Quite the opposite experience of the woman in the story who was dying. In fact, I hesitate to even try and draw comparisons of myself, my own physical size to hers. That's because in our society it’s true being skinny can be a source of ridicule. But the criticism skinny people like me receive pales compared to other body conditions and physical forms.
On top of that, I am male. And gender makes me far less a systematic target of ridicule in this largely misogynistic society.
With that fact glaringly in mind, I confess to having grown-up with my own largely unflattering perceptions of my physical self. They’re still hanging around too, I reckon. A good portion of this comes from internalized oppression regarding my physique. Growing up underweight in the eyes of others, pocked with acne and its resulting scars, plus “four eyes” to boot, I was sometimes the target of bullying. What’s worse, I became a perpetual bull’s eye in my own mind.
Those difficult teen years molded a foundation of distaste for my physicality that extended through college and into adulthood. Most of the actual or imaginary teasing and ridicule largely ended in my adolescent youth. Yet I sometimes find myself haunted by a preference to embody a physical form more attuned to what Hollywood and popular culture emphasize what a virile heterosexual man should look like.
But alas, try as I have, bulking up is quite literally just not in my DNA.
It all boils down to self-hatred. Brought on by the pressure to fit in. Brought on by the media stressing what is beautiful and what is not. Brought on by people who abhor their own bodies and then ridicule yours so they can feel better about themselves. There’s also the unsolicited peer pressure inflicted on me by those I respect and trust…
Still, my own sometimes painful journey pales in comparison to others, mostly women, whom society has and continues to target in all the worst ways. It’s a tragedy the time and energy we waste disapproving of our bodies, not appreciating them, until for some it’s almost time to leave them.
If only we could be gentler with ourselves. Easier said than done I’ll wager, if my own less than flattering thoughts about myself are any measurement.
Follow J.R. on Twitter @4humansbeing or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.