Sunday, 11 November 2012

Comfortable Bodies

Since I have been an adult, my relationship with my  body has probably changed much more than my actual body has. I may have gained or lost a few kilos here or there, but not noticeably. What's far more noticeable - to me at least - is how vastly fluctuating my feelings about my body have been over the years, and how tied up with fatness those feelings always are. Rationally, I don't think being fat is a bad thing, but like most people I have internalised a lot of fat-hatred, especially self-directed fat-hatred, and much as I fight against it, I tend to equate fatness with badness and thinness with goodness, at least in myself.*

Recently, however - as in the last few years rather than few days or weeks - I think I've had a much healthier relationship with my body. I've been more comfortable with form-fitting clothes; I've been happier to expose my body to others (swimming costumes, sex, 'public' changing rooms etc); I've been less willing to denigrate my body either publicly or privately. I don't engage in fat-talk, about myself or anyone else. Happily, this is a self-perpetuating practice. I think these deliberate behaviours contribute to a general feeling of comfort and self-worth when it comes to body image. I don't feel better about myself because I'm thinner: I feel better about myself because I've realised that it's ok to not be thinner.

Importantly, for me at least, this 'feeling' is all that I have to tell me about my weight. Although I occasionally get into using scales, mostly I only know my numbers when I have to find them out in order to fill in medical forms. This means that I only have a vague feeling of being more substantial than usual, or less, rather than hard little numbers telling me that I'm heavier or lighter than I was the day before. I also get comments from other people, of course, but honestly I've realised that this tells me more about the commenters than it does about me. Someone who perpetually says to me "hey, have you lost weight?" is obviously much more preoccupied with weight than I am myself. I don't like it, but at least it gives me a chance to practice my response to these kinds of comments without engaging in or perpetuating fat-hate.

One of the things that has made me aware of this change in myself is a friend at work whose hugging style might at one time have made me quite uncomfortable. He tends to grip very tightly, sometimes approaching from behind and grabbing me around the middle to lift me up and crush my ribs, sometimes just gripping my middle tightly with his hands to scare me when I'm not expecting it.** This form of physical interaction is one that makes me very aware of my body. S can definitely feel every contour of whatever bit of me he's grasping, and other people who are around will be able to see any bits that spill out of his hands and squeeze outwards around his tightly clasped arms. And this actually doesn't bother me at all. I'm not embarrassed for anyone to know what my body looks like, because I'm not embarrassed about my body. It's a rare and delightful feeling, and makes me beautifully aware of how my relationship with my body has changed for the better over time. I can remember not liking to be hugged, because it would reveal my carefully-concealed fatness to the hugger. I don't feel like that anymore - hugging is my favourite thing! - and it's not because I'm carrying any less weight. It's because I'm carrying so much less care. Trans issues aside (and how I wish they were so easily put aside), my body is comfortable. I'm comfortable with it. And that's a comforting feeling.


* Incidentally, just last night I had a minor revelation when I realised why I was looking at an unknown fat person with something very like hatred: I think when I'm feeling bad about myself I judge most harshly in other people the things that I dislike about myself. It's not just a physical thing: when I'm feeling low I judge behaviours harshly when I can see that they are similar to behaviours that I myself embody. It's not a kind thing to do, and when I catch myself doing it I feel even worse, so that's something I'm going to have to work on.

** I realise this might sound invasive and frankly terrifying, but S is an old friend and his behaviour is consensual and enjoyable - it's a long-standing interaction between us and this would definitely not be ok from someone I didn't know or have that history with. Having said that, I now realise that S has been doing this for a long time and I haven't always been comfortable with it, but when he started I didn't have the confidence to assert my boundaries. And now that I do, that particular boundary isn't there any more. I wonder if that's significant?

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