Me at age 3/4, feeling positive.
Recently, I was running through a local park. I was doing interval training, so at some point I stopped to walk for my rest period. A random man came up to me.
Man: What happened to your arms?
Man: Not nothing. What happened?
Me: I don’t really want to talk about it.
Man: Is it something cultural?
Man: Then what?
[sports watch beeps]
Me: I have to run.
Later on, I ran past him. He shouted “Keep going, you look so nice!”
Sleeveless: A Note on Body Positivity
Running in the same park the other day gave me some time to think about what “body positivity” means.
Over the years, I have seriously struggled with my body image. It’s not something I tend to talk about much, because I find it difficult. There are whole years of my life during which I severely restricted my eating, hitting my lowest point around 2011. After that, I thought I had capital-R Recovered from that part of my life, but even in the years that followed it was something I found really difficult.
One thing that makes it especially hard is the excess of positive reinforcement around losing weight. This can come from the most well-meaning sources. But I try never to say “thanks” when somebody tells me I have lost weight, because I don’t think it’s something I should be grateful for.
A lot of people have difficulties with their body image/ self-esteem. It can be a motivator for self-harm. I remember feeling at times that my body deserved punishment for not living up to the impossibly high standards I had set for it. I remember feeling guilt for not loving my body, because all things considered, it is something I should be- and am- really grateful for.
The other day, running in the park, I felt as though I was starting to embrace my body just that tiny bit more. It was a hot day, so I was wearing short sleeves. Leggings, because they are comfortable to run in. I was running, not only to lose weight (I cannot pretend it isn’t a motivator), but because I really, really enjoy it.
So yes, creeps in the park will continue to creep around parks. And I will likely continue to have trouble accepting my body, scars and shape, for quite some time. But I celebrate those moments before I catch myself, where I am running freely, where I am comfortable in my skin. I celebrate the confidence that is slowly, so slowly, starting to take hold.
Because I still struggle with it heavily, I can’t pretend I have any great advice for someone else struggling with their body image. The only thing I can say is this: have hope. Have hope that you’ll experience a moment like I did, where you sit comfortably in your body, even for a second. Have hope that those moments become more frequent. Thank your body for what it can do, but don’t guilt yourself for not feeling more grateful. Do the things that make you feel good about yourself.