My body is my problem. I was born in Argentina and spent the first 30 years of my life there. I was brought up in a society that pays a lot of attention to external appearance. In many Latin countries there is great pressure for women to be and remain attractive throughout their lives according to the prevailing beauty standards. Growing up I couldn’t escape patriarchy: I assimilated that as long as I was pretty I had higher chances of “catching a man” and, with some effort on my part, keep him and prevent him from leaving me.
Additionally, for some reason, everyone in my home town feels entitled to have an opinion about other people’s bodies and to say so out loud. At a fairly young age I started to hear comments about my body. I discovered that my feet were too wide and therefore inelegant, that my ankles and bottom were too big and that I had ugly hands. Later, it was pointed out that I was overweight and had a belly, and on more than one occasion my eating habits and the amounts and type of food I ate were openly questioned.
The size, shape and texture of my body is no one’s business but mine.
I was mortified throughout my adolescence and young adulthood by things I couldn’t easily change about my body. Unlike others, I was lucky enough not to develop a serious eating disorder but the body and weight issue have been omnipresent ever since. I’ve been watching what I eat for as long as I can remember, I’ve tried every crazy diet there is. I thought that when I reached that damn number I had in my head, I could finally relax and enjoy my life. I was obsessed with 90s models (the “heroin chic” look was in) and secretly hoped that one day I would magically wake up looking like Christy Turlington: slim, tall and gorgeous. In case you were wondering, that never happened.
I learned early on that my body was a source of shame. In addition to the feeling that I was not enough, there were religious beliefs and a sense of guilt.
I was an extremely miserable and insecure teenager. I was always dissatisfied with my looks. These deeply internalised messages affected the way I behaved and interacted with my partners and peers. I haven’t worn a short skirt or shorts in three decades. I struggled with depression and anxiety in my twenties and it wasn’t until years later that I could identify the roots of my emotional instability in some of those early memories. My appearance determined my value: if I looked good, I was invincible, but if I had gained weight or had a bad acne outbreak, I was worthless. As a result, I abused my body in unspeakable ways.
In the light of this, I find it very curious that other facets of my being were never as important as my appearance. My integrity, whether I was kind, generous or compassionate, whether I was funny, intelligent, skilled or pursued other interests were never as applauded as much as my dress, make-up or hairstyle at a social gathering.
In my relentless, self-critical mindset from that painful time of my life, I judged others the same way they judged me. I directly and indirectly hurt other people’s feelings on more than one occasion.
After many years of therapy and internal work, I look at my hands now and feel so grateful that I have them, ugly or not they allow me to do fantastic things. I’m glad I have wide feet and ankles as I won’t be knocked down so easily. In the age of the Kardashian’s, my butt is considerably small compared to theirs and at this point I honestly couldn’t care less. I still have a delicate relationship with food and eating behaviours.
Yes, I do enjoy some beauty-enhancing rituals. I’m thankful that I’m generally a healthy middle-age woman. What I am most proud of is the beautiful little family that I started and the amazing friends I have made as an adult and over the past few years. I have a husband who supports me and loves me for who I am regardless of how much I weigh.
Body changes during pregnancy and after childbirth can trigger or bring to the surface unresolved body acceptance issues. Becoming a parent also makes us review family dynamics and scenarios.
I look at my 6-year old son and think, why would anyone say anything hurtful about this small, innocent, perfect little creature? What for? While it now may seem obvious that it is not wise to gratuitously criticise children and their bodies, as parents we also have a responsibility to watch the words we use to treat ourselves, what we say about our appearance and our behaviour in this regard, and to set boundaries if someone else makes a negative comment in this sense.
Today I can’t help but think to myself, who might I have become if it weren’t for all that self-deprecation? What else might I have achieved? How much further could I have gotten?
This is not a ground-breaking analysis of the narrative that preceded the current body positivity movement, but a way of deconstructing and understanding what has brought me to this point.
I am by no means the only person who has experienced body shaming, but I hope that, knowing what words and actions can do in this regard, we can rectify the path for the generations to come.