When I was a brooding college student, I noticed a series of pins on girls’ book bags around campus that assertively said, “I love my body.”
I thought that was the boldest bravest thing I had ever seen during my tenure at the University of Virginia. While I would like to say it was the protests against the war in Iraq or the genocide in Sudan, it was this pin — however, small and subtle, saying something that I thought, at the time, was outrageous. I could not help but think — no this can’t be true; this is false advertising at its best. Women, however, small, large, tall, or short have some twisted relationship with their body. No one loves her body, right? It’s in our nature, written into our DNA before we emerge for the womb to find something wrong with our appearance — at least, before someone else does.
Having gone to boarding school, I knew how to identify my fair share of eating disorders, and having had one myself, I knew the symptoms well: the self-loathing, the denial, and the constant dissatisfaction, and self-hatred that still haunts me to this day.
So when I saw this petite girl, shoulders back, head high, walking to class with, “I love my body,” delicately pinned to her book bag, I thought, “You lucky bitch.” I could not fathom loving my body, no matter if I was at my so-called “perfect weight.” Maybe it was because she was already slender — God, or whoever had granted her an amazing figure where she could eat whatever she wanted and never have to worry. Of course, she could rock the “I love body,” pin and look good doing it to boot.
Looking back, I see how ridiculous my reaction was — in fact, I feel that way about most of my collegiate era reactions, but that is another story. Seeing that pin provoked something inside of me — call it rage or resentment, or a combination of both. I felt something shift in me — a desire to feel more empowered, rather than constantly lacking. But I did not know how.
Now, I am 33 with a husband who I love and who loves me and has given me the confidence I lacked for so long. Looking back, I see my idiocy and can’t help but feel sadness for my former self and wonder what was going on her mind. But it’s a causal effect of living (no, not in the patriarchy, boys) but in a society where your physical self is judged, noticed, relentlessly evaluated, and not just by men. For women, it’s a pissing contest. Vanity, thy name is woman ring a bell anyone?
I remember studying in Italy — studying food nonetheless, and speaking with an Italian friend who asked about the American girls and their rampant eating disorders.
“If an Italian girl gains weight, she just eats less pasta.” He said.
“She does not give up carbs altogether?” I asked dismayed by his answer.
“No, she just eats less of everything until she feels better.”
He said this to me so casually I almost spit out my coffee. All of that agony and denial and this — THIS — was the answer? Just eat a little less pasta!
But you know what, of course, it was. It could only be a simple solution — almost just as simple as that pin’s slogan, “I love my body.” No exclamation needed.
For some, it is not so simple and this I sympathize with greatly. Take Roxane Gay’s latest work, Hunger.
In an interview with the Rolling Stone Magazine, the author of Bad Feminist, told the magazine, “ Writing about the body is a very vulnerable thing. I just didn’t want to do it.”
I don’t blame her. Hunger, which marks a departure from her previous work, addresses Gay’s own complicated relationship with food. How food became a way to protect herself morphing into body armor. This came after a rape in high school and Gay, being traumatized by the incident, thought boys did not like fat girls and so she hid in her skin.
I love the honesty and candor with which Gay writes and how she openly discusses our imperfect way of dealing with trauma and our often, fraught painful relationship with food. Our hunger for nourishment, protection, and love all are intertwined with our messy imperfect lives. Nothing is clean and simple just like eating less pasta or loving your body.
It’s possible to try and unshackle oneself from the mirror — the constant probing and judgment. I love my body may have been reactionary, possibly an aspirational statement, but I truly hope that is a reality for some, possibly many.