I Am Constantly Relearning How to Love my Body

I Am Constantly Relearning How to Love my Body

by Kari Castor

I have always been embarrassed by the curve of my belly. When I was 16 and surrounded by slim and athletic Nordic girls, I could convince myself to appreciate the variant swerve of my hips and breasts, but I hated the gentle protuberance of my belly and trained myself to suck it in at all times. At 36, it’s a mostly-unconscious habit, this belly-sucking. I suck in on a date, during sex, hanging out with friends, sitting alone in my office at work. It feels strange to stop doing it, to release those muscles from their usual state of flex. I do it in front of a mirror occasionally, letting my belly loose so I can gaze in annoyance at it, this one stupid piece of my body that I can never quite make peace with.

I am constantly relearning how to love my body.

At 18, I lost, rather than gained, the freshman fifteen thanks to some magical combination of youth, dorm food, and lots of walking. It was the only year of my adult life in which I have not been categorized as “overweight” or “obese” according to BMI charts. At 19, I went on the pill and gained it all back and then some.

My hair is beginning to go gray. I dye it pink and purple and blue, but I’m strangely pleased by the grays when they appear, growing out from the roots.

There is a wrinkle that cuts vertically through my left cheek like a seam.

When I smile widely, my whole face creases up like a pug. I struggle to like photos taken of me when I’m smiling widely, but I usually forget when someone else is taking a photo and do the whole smile anyway.

Sometimes I take selfies and I post them on the internet. I wonder if people will think I’m vain, but then I think that liking my appearance enough to be vain is itself a kind of victory.

I am constantly relearning how to love my body.

I lost some weight a few years ago. My coworkers all complimented me: “You’re looking great! What’s your secret?” I probably made them uncomfortable when I replied, “Oh, mostly just stress.” I could have been more specific. I could have said, “I am too full of anger and fear and sadness and pain and resentment to have any room for food.” I could have said, “I am miserable a lot of the time right now and it’s a really effective appetite suppressant.” When you are not skinny and you lose weight, no one cares if you’re ok. It is simply better to weigh less than to weigh more, so if you are losing weight, that’s good. So says society. What does it matter if you’re desperately unhappy? Congrats on the weight loss!

The gentle convexity of my unsucked tummy is as good an indicator as any that my mental health is better now than it was a few years ago. I should probably like it better for that, but instead I am annoyed by it. I went through all that hell and I don’t even get to keep the consolation prize of a slightly flatter midsection?

I am constantly relearning how to love my body.

My body can climb faux rock walls. It could probably climb real ones, too, I just haven’t done any outdoor climbing yet. My goal this year is to strengthen it, to climb more difficult walls.

My body can hike mile after mile, carrying on its back everything it needs to survive alone for several days.

My body cracks and creaks. My shoulders pop strangely and I can’t extend my right arm fully straight above my head. My knees ache when I sit cross-legged, but I sit that way anyway because I like to, so my knees ache all the time.

I like my thighs, but when I sit down wearing shorts, I cringe at the way they spread across the seat. I like my breasts, but when I picture myself, I imagine them less deflated. I still don’t like my belly.

I have discovered that tattoos function as a way for me to reclaim this body that sometimes baffles me. If I cover it in beautiful art, I have no choice but to love it.

Maybe I should tattoo my stomach.

I am constantly relearning how to love my body.

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