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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