Sarah | Portland, OR
Images by Amy McMullen
"There can be a love for this body just like I love the people in my life. Not because they’re perfect or there aren’t things I would love to see change, but because they have exquisitely unique places and purposes in this world and in my life. Appreciation and acceptance, it turns out, are different than being satisfied or content to remain the same. I am blown away but what my body has brought me through."
"What my old body story was, and how it felt:
My old body story is one where a strong mind and heart are betrayed by complete disconnect with a soft and mushy body. It is a story in which the body does not reflect the person inside. I have believed that my body signifies weakness and laziness though I have never felt like either. It is a story about embarrassment and not measuring up and knowing that people draw conclusions based on my ponytail and old lady jeans and the other things I wear like shame and fear. In my old story, the only person who loved my body is my 2 year old. In my old story, all the other characters (including me) saw it as a source of weakness, a reason for pity. Underneath my layers of fat are fantastic muscles, big bones, and physical and spiritual strength that I always felt were masked by dimpled dented flesh and growing rolls and ingrown hairs in white stretched skin that has morphed shapes and sizes so often that it no longer knows its bounds. In my old story- grown out of ancestry and misguided expectations and missed opportunities and listening to the wrong voices, my body was a sad reflection of the inner struggle I have fought so many times to care for my self. It was the answer to my question of whether or not I find myself worthy of care. It is a tale of a young woman trapped in old lady clothes who only ever a few times felt the freedom of self-expression through clothing. In the story I told myself, my heart was going to give anyway, and so it- along with my lungs and other organ- was tortured in self-loathing or apathy. My body cried out for the times I’ve stormed life and hiked my way healthy but when it feels out of reach it just cries for ice cream and says what the fuck you’re fat already. What’s the point? Though I wear an average size, I have more rolls and cellulite than all the plus size models and I could never pull off supposedly flattering poses for a decent picture because there are grotesque folds of fat in any selected frame. In my old story, my husband’s “favorite” parts of my body are the only places there isn’t fat. My collarbone. Oh how people so subtly make known their disgust in softness. The story was one with a body that has intimately known sizes from 8-16 and has never felt good enough or even acceptable and thus never known intimately a million other experiences that might bring this body to light. This story imprisoned and suffocated me. It hid the pride I have for the things I have done and am doing in my life.
What I want my body story to be, and how it feels:
This is a body that has conquered and carried me through trauma. This is a body that has fiercely brought life and loss into the world. I can carry my 30-pound son and our gear up to the tops of mountains. I can play steamroller on the trampoline and jump until he is exhausted and not run out of stamina. I can backpack and beat my fear of rickety ladders or sharp cliffs in order to come face to face with eagles in beaches and rain forests. These flabby legs can carry me across downed trees over the tops of raging waters and the heart that has been pumping for a fat body only beats faster because the adrenaline is also necessary to cross. The muscles in my arms may not show when I flex, but they can run 3 acres as a single parent when my husband is gone. They chop the wood, tend the garden, move furniture, haul the garbage, run the power tools and support the toddler on my knee as we ride the mower through fields and thickets. The soft belly is a place of comfort for my child. It is his beginning and the marks across it tell the story of making room in my body and my life for joy. The breasts I smash into submission are a pillow to my partner and son and a testament to beating odds and special needs and the connection between a mother and child that grows love and health. The extra layer I’m getting at my underwear line will have to go. It is new and telling me that no matter the pounds or size, it is a level of unhealthy I’ve not had or am ok with having. But it is already starting to dissipate as I introduce my son to the awesome terrible music of my dancing youth. When we sing “beat it” at the top of our lungs, my new story allows me to laugh while I’m secretly talking to those new squishy layers. To see him sing “gonna make you sweat” and shake his booty must be part of a story in which I don’t keep from dancing because of what might shake inappropriately or be seen. It is only by loving this body that I can get to know and befriend and support it. To ask it what it needs and to apologize for not listening. Appreciate it for beating death and bringing life and letting me know what it is to conquer. I didn’t conquer things in spite of this body. I conquered them with this body. My new story does not include being happy with how it is. It includes respecting that I’ve been too busy navigating heartaches and triumphs to work on it like I want to. It includes adding this triumph of self-love and care to the list.
What shifts I experienced as a result of the project:
I feel I made an important distinction between being satisfied with my body and loving it. I don’t want to be satisfied with being unhealthy. But I always felt there was nothing in between satisfied and miserable. There is. There can be a love for this body just like I love the people in my life. Not because they’re perfect or there aren’t things I would love to see change, but because they have exquisitely unique places and purposes in this world and in my life. Appreciation and acceptance, it turns out, are different than being satisfied or content to remain the same. I am blown away but what my body has brought me through. I want to hear its whispers about what it needs and what hurts and what helps and respect it just like I do my loved ones. I want to walk my talk about self-care and love all of me, not just my insides. I want to say- and mean- that I am beautiful and not just mean inner beauty. The shift is in seeing the actual flesh as beautiful. Not just the container of good stuff, but also part of the good stuff."
Images of Sarah by Amy McMullen.