When I think about how many hours I used to dedicate to punishing myself for eating something ‘off-limits’ or missing a workout, or whining about how fat my arms are, or fixating on a number on a scale, or any other number of weight-loss trappings/clichés in pursuit of a body type that was completely, hilariously unattainable, I get angry. (If I sound like an asshole, it’s because I was — to myself.)
I also used to count a lot of calories.
In my early 20s, I’d meticulously document the caloric content of every apple (50), lemon Greek yogurt (110), oatmeal packet (110 but 145 with almond milk) and McDonald’s cheeseburger (300) I ate with Bridget Jones-like intensity.
(My not-so-secret shame: McDonald’s cheeseburgers are my favourite food and have been since way back, when they used to come in Styrofoam boxes. I do not feel socially, ethically or morally responsible about admitting this fact, but you can pry those waxy yellow wrappers out of my cold, dead hands.)
These four items didn’t compose the totality of my diet, of course, because I am an adult and, as such, I drink a daily smoothie packed full of spinach and smugness — but I’d get low-level anxiety if I ate something I couldn’t put a number on. (And lo, I never, ever lost weight.)
Then, in 2012, I got hired as an editor at a local food magazine. Yes, I, confirmed McDonald’s cheeseburger addict, began getting paid to wax poetic about textural nuances and use terms like “mouthfeel” unironically. And just like that, my calorie ledger was shot to shit.
Suddenly, everything I was eating was rich, decadent and often Bechamel-smothered. In the name of work, I would eat lavish, multi-course meals at pricey restaurants. Or architectural creations at trendy bistros. Or piles of golden fries from greasy spoon diners.
My body didn’t change — IMAGINE THAT — but, eventually, my attitude did. I realized the only thing I was achieving by depriving and restricting myself — which is what all the good little girls are taught to do so that they take up less space — was making myself miserable. I was missing out on the pleasure that is found in food. Good food. Beautifully prepared food. Delicious, craving-inspiring, joy-giving food.
Flash forward to January 2014.
I’m a few months into a new gig at the biggest daily newspaper in my city, and I’ve pitched a story on body positivity — something of a two-handed fuck you to both the tyrannical diet industry and the tired New Year’s Resolution trend pieces it spawns. I have my world rocked by two of the badass feminist babes I interview: Virgie Tovar, who I’ve quoted in many subsequent pieces for this blog and Jodie Layne, a woman who has become a valuable IRL friend.
On Thursday, a few hours before I’m supposed to meet up with her for summery ladydrinks, Jodie posts a selfie. She has taken it at Winnipeg’s amazing Women’s Health Clinic which, in collaboration with local artist Kal Barteski, is hosting #HeartEveryBody, an amazing art installation/social-media campaign/street-level selfie studio at its Graham Avenue location. Jodie’s beautiful, radiant self is surrounded by body-pos slogans, lovingly rendered in Barteski’s instantly recognizable script. “This body is a good body.”
Posted with Jodie’s photo were these words:
I cried a few tears maybe, remembering what it was like to actively hate my body. I would never speak to someone I loved about their body the way that I spoke to myself. I don’t wake up loving it every day, but I don’t wake up hating it either. It’s been so liberating and given me so much more free time to do dope shit than worry about how I look. I wear crop tops and sleeveless shirts and short skirts that I wouldn’t let myself wear when I weighed less than I do now. I waste less time judging and comparing people’s bodies. I recognize my parts for what they are: the tools and vessels that carry me through this life. I can’t care for something I don’t value. Silencing voices that tell me I’m less worthy because I don’t look like they want me to, like they profit off of me wanting to is hard work every damn day; but it’s some of the most important work I’ve ever done.
CO-FUCKING-SIGNED, girlfriend. It is hard work — ongoing work — but it is liberating work. As I edge closer to 30, I’m learning to not only accept my body, but love it, too. And I’m reaping so many rewards. Because, as Jodie says, you can’t care for something you don’t value.
This is how I care for my body: I do step classes because they make my body feel good, not because they make my body smaller. I fuel myself with good, nutritious food that I am fortunate to have access to because I, too, have dope shit to do — and because I am a fuzzy-headed, hangry hellbeast when my blood sugar drops.
I no longer have food that’s ‘off limits’ (unless it’s something terrible, like mushrooms). I eat when I am hungry. I stop eating when I am full(ish). I’ve stopped counting calories. I understand that health and fitness come in all shapes and sizes — not just on an intellectual level, but in practice, as well. I EXERCISE MY RIGHT TO BARE ARMS AND THEN MAKE DAD JOKES ABOUT IT ON THE INTERNET.
Well, those are the good days, at least. As for the bad? I have work to do. But I’ve come a long way.
When I was in Grade 12, I remember calling my best friend, crying, devastated because I looked “exactly like Ursula from The Little Mermaid” in my strapless grad dress and tearfully confessing that I was actively worried I would waste “the best years of my life” — JESUS CHRIST, CHILD — being chubby.
I wish I could go back in time and tell that sweet, lovable moron that being chubby isn’t a tragedy. A real tragedy is wasting ANY years of your life hating your body.
This selfie is for you, Jodie.
What do I love about my body? I have a rather elegant neck. And I have what Douglas Coupland would call a compelling face, as most big-eyed women do.