When I am four years old, my mother points to her apron belly, riddled with deep set stretchmarks, and says to me, this is what you did to my body.
When I am six, my nana begins taking me to her weekly Weight Watchers meetings. I trace pictures of horses while women weigh themselves in front of one another and lament how their bodies have betrayed them. She keeps her house stocked with 100-calorie snack packs and diet Crush orange soda.
When I am eleven, the girls in gym class slap their calves and compare how they jiggle. I pinch and pull my skin until taught. At home, I look at myself for hours, counting my ribs, poking my belly, watching my childhood skin spring back like a ball of dough.
When I am fourteen, my mother begs me to become a cheerleader. I get thrown in the air. I’m praised for being so small, so easy to lift. I run until I see stars. My mother teaches me to lean over the toilet bowl and push my middle finger down my throat.
At sixteen, I lie in bed scrolling through the internet, looking at posts of girls just like me who want to take scissors to their bodies and cut them into something new, a beautiful snowflake.
At nineteen, I’m bedridden for a week with ulcers from making myself throw up. This doesn’t stop me from doing it again, emptying myself into plastic bags because I’m too weak to go to the bathroom.
At twenty-three, I spend most of my days walking in circles around my coffee table. I walk for hours and hours and cuss out my cat when she gets in my way. My lover takes me to the movies, and I walk laps in the auditorium until the movie starts. I tell him I’m just getting my steps in.
At twenty-five, I’m thrown into a treatment center. The process is both fast and slow, and I wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for my lover, who sits quiet on the couch, unsure of how to cope with my routine panic attacks at dinner. I cry over a mini candy bar during group therapy and I google how to silently throw up so the doctors won’t hear me. I lie, and I hide the food I’m given, and I watch other girls come and go while I stay still and stubborn until I learn I can’t keep this up for the rest of my life.
At twenty-seven, I’m diagnosed with a disability that causes my heart rate to spike so high I black out. I faint in the shower, in the hallway, sitting on the couch. The treatment is exercise, but every time I try, I feel myself slipping backward—staring at myself in the mirror, pinching my stomach, adding up calories in my notes app. I go to the gym in my apartment and I lift weights and walk on the treadmill and ride the bike and it all feels like a chore. A punishment for having a body that can’t support me on its own.
At twenty-eight, I sign up for adult ice-skating classes. A birthday gift to my inner child who dreamed of figure skating. Before I ever thought of my body as a weapon. This is what I think of when I think of womanhood—how we are taught to hate the vessels we inhabit. And so I try what I can to remember a time when my mind and body weren’t in opposition.
Each time my blades hit the ice, I put my trust in my body, and my body puts its trust in me. Every fractured part of myself, the voice in my head telling me I’m too heavy, too old, too ugly to skate, to be loved, to exist, temporarily waves a white flag. When I put my skates away, these voices will come back; but they’ve gotten quieter lately. Every day I fight off twenty-four years of engrained hatred of my body, guilt for that hatred, and my inability to radically love myself the way the books and the podcasts tell me to.
But for half an hour every Monday night, I glide on smooth ice. I crush my blade into the ground. I learn to chassé, lifting my leg behind me. I picture myself as a child with nothing but neutrality for my body, exploring the ways in which I can move. For that half hour, everything is quiet.
Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Alex Berger