Speaking Kindly to my Body


claire colvin -speaking kindly to my body-3

It’s hard to remember a time when I looked at my body with pride. I’m sure it was there in childhood. I could run and jump and skip. There was joy in play. But somewhere along the way I started to see my body as the enemy. Change seemed like an impossible task and often, I stopped trying. The truth is my body has not brought me a lot of joy. It has brought ridicule and failure and pain, but rarely joy. I try to forget I have a body most of the time. I think of myself in terms of my brain instead.

I’m smart and I read a lot. In the arena of intellect I’ve got a shot. Most, if not all, of the big victories in my life have been brain-related. I’ve always trusted my brain even though it betrays me frequently.

However, I have never trusted my body. We’re barely on speaking terms most of the time, so it’s a bit of a shock to realize after all these years of railing against her that my body and I are on the same team.

Some people learn this early on, especially if they are good at sports. But that was not the case for me. Whether it was lack of skill, or confidence, or practice, sports has always been a losing battle. I was the kid who couldn’t catch the ball, run quickly, or find the goal. Later on I discovered that I’m decent at sports involving balance, but they don’t teach horseback riding or sailing in public school in southern Ontario. I was often the kid who got picked last, so I stopped participating in sports as soon as I could. I think I probably stopped thinking about my body right around the same time.

I was bullied in school for a long time. The best defense was simply to disappear, so that’s what I did. With time, I got away from the bullies, and I rebuilt myself. But when I was ready to be seen, I discovered that my body had betrayed me again. I had gained a lot of weight and being heavy is the best disguise in the universe. No one sees you at all.

Yet another reason to rail against my body. Not only was it too tall and too much of this and not enough of that, but on top of everything was the weight, another failure to add to my tally. It is impossible to overstate how much time I spend thinking about my size. I am constantly trying to make myself smaller.

Over the years I’ve taken pilates classes, I’ve participated in the Sun Run seven times, I’ve tried gym memberships, daily walking, weight lifting, circuit training, swimming, Zumba, water aerobics. I volunteered for horse therapy where I spent an hour at a time jogging in six inches of sand leading a horse and rider around an arena. I stuck it out for an entire year of boot camp even after the instructor made us run up all eight blocks of Oxford street—a road that looks like the vertical streets in posters of San Francisco. I’ve changed the way I eat, how I eat and when I eat. And I’ve had some success over the years, but not the success I hoped for.

What I am finally beginning to realize, is that every time I’ve shown up, I’ve done so intending to beat myself into submission. It has always been about trying to lose something and never about what I wanted to build. Each workout was a battlefield where I showed up defensive and combative and wounded and tired. Who could succeed under conditions like that?

I’m so used to thinking of my body as being on the losing side that I haven’t even seen the times when I won. There have been at least two occasions where I started exercise classes with a bunch of beginners and I was the only one who stuck it out. I have never given myself credit for that.

Years ago I went to SheLovesSweating for Sisterhood event. I remember walking into that space with my Mom, expecting it to be awful. I showed up because it was a fundraiser for schoolgirls in Uganda and I was willing to fail so they could stand. I got to the end of the event and was completely shocked that my body held up. I didn’t quit. I didn’t fail. I even held a plank!

All this time I’ve been fighting against my body. It never occurred to me that we were in this together. I worried that if I didn’t dislike my body enough then I was saying that I was fine with things they way they are and I didn’t want to change. But I know better. Revolutions, even personal ones, don’t start with defeat; they start with hope and the belief that things can be different.

I am finally starting to see that even with all its faults, my body is much stronger than I’ve ever given it credit for. It is a good body. It is not junk, even though there have been seasons where I have treated it as if it were junk. Over the past few years I’ve gotten much better at speaking kindly to myself. Perhaps it finally time to start speaking to my body kindly as well.

Back in January I started again and two months in, the numbers are starting to move in the right direction. I have no idea if this time is going to be the one that sticks, but win or lose, I’m committed to speak kindly to my body. I am actively pursuing joy now, not 10 pounds from now or when that dress fits or when I can jog up six flights of stairs, but now. Right now. I’ve fought against my body for so long, but that stops here. I’m calling a truce. It’s time to lay down arms and finally start walking together.

Claire Colvin
Claire is learning to call herself a feminist. She has been writing and editing professionally for more than a decade. In 2013, her National Novel Writing Month entry was a science fiction story about a broken world where everyone was required to be as similar as possible. Claire wishes she could fold the world like a map so the people she loves weren’t so far away. She lives on a small mountain near Vancouver and writes at clairecolvin.ca.
Claire Colvin
Claire Colvin

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  1. pastordt says:

    Yes, yes YES!! I hear all of this, may dear Claire. And I have lived all of it, too. And being kind to our bodies is deeply necessary — and extraordinarily difficult when we have forever been at odds. Thank you for being brave enough to write this hard truth so beautifully. And many blessings as you learn more and more about living at peace with ALL of who you are. Because all of you is beautiful.

  2. Megan Gahan says:

    I realllllly hope the experience of writing this piece of your story was as much a gift to yourself as it was to the SheLoves community. Claire, you have such value: body and mind and soul. So very proud of you, friend. <3

  3. Claire, this is so powerful! I’m not sure I’ve ever worked out with a posture of kindness toward my body. It’s always been because I’ve needed to prove I’m not just thin; I’m strong. (Or whatever reason at the time.) I’m learning to embrace my imperfect body but I never thought to be kind toward it. Thank you for helping me shift my perspective!

    • I tell my friends to be kind to themselves all the time but it’s so much harder to apply the same approach to myself, especially in this area. I got this picture in my head of a little kid standing with her arms folded across her body determined that she is not going to enjoy this thing she’s being forced to do. There is a much, much easier way.

  4. Robyn Rapske says:

    Lovely to read this. This statement especially: “All this time I’ve been fighting against my body. It never occurred to me that we were in this together.” Our bodies do so much for team Us. Mine’s kept me breathing, enjoying the views, tasting foods, laughing late into the night, hugging a friend, teaching me about my limits, the list can go on! But we can be tricked into not seeing the good, only seeing the things we disagree with. I think we should daily write a list of all that our bodies did for us to realize how much we benefit from the hard work of this body.
    Great writing.

    • Thank you and also YES to everything you said here. My body can do some incredible things. My niece’s body cannot hear unassisted, but her brain learned to use cochlear implants and she hears a different way. That’s incredible. At the risk of getting an old song stuck in our heads, we are surrounded by “ordinary miracles”. I want to notice them more often.

  5. O, Claire. This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing so truthfully. I’ve been on the body rollercoaster for years. It started when an older cousin molested me. Suddenly, my body wasn’t safe anymore. It was a liability that left me feeling vulnerable. I spent years between the extremes of either trying to make myself invisible or just filling my body endlessly with food to help fill the deep void. I spent years living disembodied. I think the switch occurred for me after giving birth to Ezra. In the thick of labour, I thought I was going to die. I don’t mean that in an exaggerated, flaky way. I mean, that the pain was so mind-bending that my whole life flashed before my eyes. I thought that my vulnerable, tainted, wimpy, liability of a body wasn’t going to survive it. I’m amazed that the strength to bring Ezra earthside surged from within. And when I realized that … I didn’t die in the process? Well, that shifted my perception. My body, she was amazing. I feel sad for the years I spent disconnected, uncomfortable and ill-at-ease with my soul. I spoke Shalom over my body after Ezra. He was flesh-of-my-flesh. And if *he* was divine, then *I* was divine. It was all suddenly clear as day.
    Walking with you dear sister,
    P.S. Have you read Roxanne Gay’s “Hunger”? It’s amazing!
    P.P.S. Your writing is so powerful, friend. You’ve really tapped into your voice. Your words are an exquisite gift to me. I’m truly better for it.

    • Hunger is one of the most stunning books I’ve read in a long time…

    • Ok so first of all I just went to Amazon.ca and placed an order for Hunger. Secondly, “I spent years living disembodied.” sounds like the first line of a book I desperately want to read.

      Thank you for your words here Tina. It means a lot. I love, love, love that Ezra lead you back to yourself. I cannot imagine how terrifying that journey must have been but I love that his divinity is incontrovertible. He is your proof of what you are made of. What a powerful metaphor to have running through the house. I need a Seattle road trip one of these days. I miss you my friend. ❤️

  6. Yes to all of this.
    Healthy and strong are the adjectives we forget about in our pursuit of things that don’t last.

    • Yes to healthy and strong! Or even healthier and stronger. The journey is all we have, I don’t want to miss it because I was focussed on the finish line.

  7. I’m with you, my friend. I’ve called a truce and I am leaning in to joy and play and wearing my swimsuit. 😉

    • Yay for swimsuits! I hope you strut down the beach like it’s your own personal runway. A couple of years ago I bought the most outrageous swimsuit of my life. It was a giraffe-print tankini that cost more than I had ever spent on a swimming cozzie. I felt fantastic every time I wore it. (I was heart broken when it finally wore out.) I wonder if I could find a new one in zebra print?

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