My Body and Self-Love

By Lily Strailey

L_LStrailey_MyBody1.JPG

This is weirdly super-duper personal so please be kind ☺ hehehe!

I have always had a complicated relationship with my body and have struggled with separating who am I from what my body is. What I mean by that is I don't know how far to draw the line between myself (spirit, ideas, personality) and my body (dangling limbs, soft flesh, brown irises). And what I mean by that is a question: am I my body or am I something else entirely? I have never been a religious person but I do believe in souls and spirits and often think about what or who we would be if we transcended our physical forms. I do believe that our bodies affect who we are as people, or at least this is true for me. It is strange to be made up of such interconnected yet completely separate entities- the mind and body are vastly different yet rely on each other to function. I have always been more connected to the mental aspect of being a human rather than the physical, I prefer art and music and books and movies and conversations to sports or exercise which is strange because the only times I feel completely at home within myself are when I am swimming or dancing.

Gosh(!!!), I love to swim, to feel the smoothness of the water on my skin, to float and sink and kick and blow little bubbles of air out through my nose and up to the water's surface. To float on my back in the ocean, eyelids squeezed shut, waves lapping at my skin, my body gently rocking in rhythm with the tide's endless tug of war.  And suddenly I open my eyes and the shoreline looks different, my insides feel different and everything takes on new meaning.  I live for the disorienting beauty of moments like that. Moments when my whole world changes but I can't exactly explain why. Moments when my body and brain fuse. I love the way water looks and the sound of the world turning above me as I glide underneath the water's glassy surface. In these moments, I feel strong and healthy and radiant and beautiful and I feel butterflies in my stomach. And dancing, I could spend my whole life dancing. In all of my daydreams I am dancing, spinning on top of desks at school or in the aisles of buses, stamping my feet alone in my bedroom to the beat of wood creaking beneath my toes. I am always picturing places to dance and the perfect soundtrack, I am always thinking about the feeling of my shoes on fluid feet. In another life, all I do is dance and my daydreams are flashes of myself in that alternate universe. She is endless commotion and I am endless commotion and we are dancing, dancing until our feet collapse from underneath our bodies, our lungs working overtime, gasping, breathless, beautiful. 

Whether swimming or dancing or sitting or standing or sleeping, my body loves me. It is constantly allowing me to continue living. We take for granted how easily our lungs expand and our hearts beat. How our bodies are keeping us alive without us having to think about it. I have never told my heart to beat, I have just felt it race and thump and patter. I have never asked my lungs to fill with air, they do without me having to because on a biological level we were born that way but on a deeper level, I want to believe that my lungs function because they love me, they want to keep me alive. I have learned to love my body back however, accepting and loving my physical form was not always easy for me.

I became friends with the wrong girl around fifth and sixth grade. Her words had a power over me, not because I looked up to her but because I was terrified that everyone agreed with her. She commented on my weight and size in the most roundabout ways but always negatively- I was always too big, too much. I internalized her words, their message always churning in my stomach, my mind. I would get dressed in the morning and mentally berate myself while gazing into the mirror for taking up too much space, for filling out my clothes in all the wrong ways, for attempting to dress my "unworthy" body in the clothes I wanted to wear. I remember walking into a class late and feeling my peer’s eyes on my body and I swear my skin burst into flames, fueled with embarrassment and shame. I remember thinking that my shirt was too clingy and my pants too saggy. In reality, the stares most likely sprang from my lateness and had nothing to do with my t-shirt (which funnily enough, I still own and wear to this day). In some of my classes I barely uttered a word because I was too embarrassed to call attention to myself and therefore to my body. After months of suffering from a negative body image I finally admitted the girl’s comments to my mom and sister over dinner at a restaurant. I sat there sobbing as the eyes of people chatting and chewing sat upon me. I sobbed for myself, for my body, for the ocean of self-doubt that flowed through me, I recalled her comments and choked them out. Her words lay on the table, sandwiched between food scraps and salt shakers and I felt like I could breathe normally again. From that night on, I have loved myself. Not always fully or completely or perfectly. Not overnight, not that instant. I love gradually, I love with difficulty, I love with good days and bad days and days that fall into all sorts of in between. But I love and that is all that matters. 

My life changed when I learned self-love. I changed my hairstyle and bought new clothing and spoke up and out and claimed the space I took up. Women and girls are often told to be small, delicate, flowery. We are raised to blow over in a strong wind, to fit in the palm of a hand. I am not okay with that, sometimes I think of my body as a statement that I am proud of filling up space. I am okay with taking up seats and stretches of land. I am okay with filling the air, my voice bubbling and crackling and fizzing, claiming silences and pauses. I am okay with voicing my opinions and ideas and thoughts, they are mine to share. They are mine to overshare. They are mine to scream and shout and yell and babble and whisper and vocalize in any way possible. By loving my body, I am able to fully love the person who lives inside it. 

I will not type this and ignore the days of self-doubt and worry and self... like. Some days I am jealous of slimmer bodies, longer legs, skinnier arms. Some days I do not want to get dressed because I do not like the way any of my clothes fit. But the majority of my days, the overwhelming majority of my days, I like the way I look and the way my hair swishes on my back and the feeling of fabric against my skin and I like the person I am- inside and out. 

Recently, my body was attacked again, publicly and by a large group of people. In that moment of shame and sadness, as their words echoed all around me, I felt my skin trying to crawl it’s way off my body, felt my eyes prick with hot tears and felt my stomach churning. The moment was dizzying and confusing and aching painful. It shot me back to the place I was in middle school, ashamed of myself and the body I call home. After the incident, I came home and cried for three hours, shaking and sniffling and sobbing. The wonderful women in my life really rallied around me and loved me when I couldn’t love myself. I did not even want to look in the mirror for days afterwards. But I am learning to move on from the honestly terrible incident and in moving on I have become myself to an even higher degree. I have started wearing glitter all over my cheeks and eyes and star stickers on the corner of my eyes. I have embraced myself as the shiny being that I am!!! I am so happy with myself and proud of the strength I have displayed by simply loving myself. I am too joyous a human to let words control my life- I will not live in shame and fear of my body simply because other people think negatively of it. I am not living my life for anyone but myself. 

Body image issues are sometimes brushed aside as vain or vapid but it is so incredibly hard to function when you cannot look in the mirror or glimpse yourself in the reflection of a window without picking yourself apart. People may believe that it is narcissistic to verbally compliment yourself (saying things like "I feel so pretty today" or "My hair looks amazing") but I believe we need more self-compliments, we need to shout that we are beautiful from rooftops and open windows, from across oceans and telephone wires, into the ears of all who surround us but most importantly, into our own ears. We need to hear it and think it and feel it and believe it because it is true- we are all so achingly beautiful and lucky just to be alive, lucky to be here. Everybody and every body is beautiful. As a society, we need to stop framing each other in such negative light and instead look to compliment each other. We need to treat everyone as a three dimensional being- a person with thoughts and feelings, hopes and dreams, insecurities and anxieties. We need to be kinder not only to each other but also to ourselves. BASICALLY, LOVE YOURSELVES HARRITON, YOU PRETTY PRETTY THINGS!