I’ve struggled all my life with my body. Even before I knew what my body looked or felt like, I had inherited a wealth of body shame from my mother, who likely inherited hers from her own mother.
I remember early in my life, as early as the age of 6 perhaps? The trauma of having hair on my legs. I wouldn’t have known this was an issue at the age of 6 had it not been for the fact that the women around me all pointed it out with a forlorn tone, “Pobrisita, lo eredo de mi familia” translated as, “Poor thing, she inherited it from my family.”
These sentiments weren’t to abuse or put down. The women in my world meant it with great sympathy. Being light skinned with dark hair meant you can see the hair on your legs more, meaning that shaving would still leave behind dark follicle dots that could never be gotten rid of.
This is my earliest memory of where the internal war with my own body started. It might have been there from the very beginning, before I was even conceived, but for my memory, this was it.
And of course, like many women, this war was not just about having hair, it was about size, shape, color, and comparisons. We live in a world where dissatisfaction with who we are and what we look like is so woven into the fabric of our culture that it’s a given. I’ve never met a single human being, even the most enlightened of people, (and I know a few pretty evolved souls) that aren’t unhappy about some part of themselves physically. I won’t even get into being unhappy about who they are as people.
I have been unhappy with my hair, my freckles, my hips, my breasts, my belly, my stretch marks, my fluctuating weight, the boney process that sticks out a bit too much on my wrists, my chin… my thighs… I mean, I can keep going, but you get the picture.
I have dieted, fasted, cleansed, worked out, not worked out, taken diet pills that were sometimes illegal, prayed, meditated and tried hypnosis all to change my body in some way that would bring it closer to an image that had nothing to do with me or my life.
Not Something I Would Readily Admit
Interestingly and thankfully, I found feminism and feminist spirituality early in my life. I was around 22 when I stumbled onto a path that would be the ground work for liberation and continues to be so. However, though intellectually, I understood that this internal battle was a symptom of a feminine subjugation I was buying into, I couldn’t pull out of it. I couldn’t turn to myself with love and compassion and drop the battle and start the embracing of what and who I was.
I did, however, not talk about it. I had one girlfriend that I shared this with. We shared the same secret. She was the one that knew I was trying to loose weight, starve and be skinny. She was the one that I would drive across the border into Mexico with in order to score some Fen-Phen which had already been banned in the US because it was causing potentially fatal pulmonary hypertension and heart valve problems.
We shared this little shameful secret. Because liberated enlightened and spiritual feminist girls don’t care what they look like, right? We’re above all this internalized misogyny, right?
So I never talked about it. No matter what I weighed, I very rarely if ever uttered a dissatisfaction with what I looked like. If I did, I’d chide myself for days over it. It was important to me that I portray some image of being above it, being totally self embracing and being the fun loving accessible and curvy girlfriend.
I felt that if I was remotely unhappy with myself that I had no business being a feminist or spiritual or any of the things I was striving to be in the world.
My Relationship With Food
You can imagine that if I was feeling this way about my body, my relationship with food was a mess. I’d deprive, starve, binge, stuff and swallow every bit of food I ever had with some story in the back of my mind about what it might do to me in the end. Or worse, if I was in public, there was always anxiety about being judged for eating foods that made me fat. Do people look at you and judge you for what you’re eating if you’re overweight?
I can’t think of a single meal I might have had that didn’t come with a wealth of conflicted thoughts and beliefs with each bite.
I’m exhausted just writing about it all.
I’m not sure what changed this for me. In my younger years I was pretty cut and dry about how I thought I should be, how I thought the world should be. There was an almost hard militantism in my expectations even though I rarely met them.
Age, time, personal work and spiritual practice has lead me to a softening in many ways. You learn as you age, which I’m so grateful for. And though I can’t tell you exactly when it changed, I reached a point where compassion wasn’t something that eluded me all the time as it had until then.
I had gained enough distance between my conscious awareness and my continuous reaction to the world around me to watch from the outside the internal battle that was raging at all times within me.
It was also around the time that I was becoming acutely aware of the fact that there will be no eradicating violence in the world if we do not first eradicate it within ourselves.
I was walking around with a devastation within me that made it hard to breathe and I had caused it.
We can be so horrifically unkind to ourselves, even when we appear to have it all together on the outside. I cried for myself quite a bit when I started to really look at this internal world without looking away. It was so sad and unnecessary and unloving. And it hurt. I hurt for myself and how much internal violence I was waging.
Liberation from violence and self loathing comes in phases. Unraveling the damage that we take on because it’s become cultural and systemic takes work, like… WORK. And it’s internal, messy and often painful. I’m writing about this now because to pretend is to continue to feed the shame and the violence.
It’s violent you guys. It’s violent to loathe parts or all of yourself so much that you’re constantly trying to change it, eradicate it, stifle it or cut it out because it doesn’t conform to some external measure of perfect or beautiful or worthy. And this isn’t just about weight loss. It’s about our bodies. And it’s predominantly women that suffer this affliction, but men do as well.
I’m writing about this now because hating myself isn’t my jam. Because perpetuating self loathing in the world isn’t my jam either. And I don’t want it to be your jam either.
I’m writing about this now because I have a ton to say about embracing ourselves, loving ourselves and by extension the rest of the world around us. Because we can’t FULLY love or care for anything while we are waging wars with ourselves internally, because it’s time to heal, because it’s time we liberated. Because it’s time we nourished ourselves with love.
It’s clear to me that I cannot write about food culture around the dinner table or eating whole healthy food without addressing this aspect of our collective relationship with our bodies and by extension, ourSelves.
It’s also clear to me that the reason I have felt only partially here on this website is because this was the part I was holding back. The part that was missing.
There is an intimate connection with our sense of self worth and self loving and how we feed ourselves, how we grow food in the world and how we distribute food to the world.
How you feed yourself is absolutely how you love yourself. Food is not a substitute for love, it is a mechanism by which you love yourself. That is the intersection here on Food Practice. An intersection layered with meaning and implications for our personal lives as well as the rest of the world.
There is much more to come.
Kimberley McGill says
I am grateful to you for writing about this! Our voices need to be heard.
Elena Rego says
Kimberly, thank you so much for that. It’s time. It’s just time.
Lori Ferrara says
Elena…amazing read and so true for all.of us. Thank you for sharing this and for the reminder to live myself unconditional.
Elena Rego says
Thank you, Lori. Yes. Unconditionally. Always. Let this be our prayer and liberation, girl. So happy to see you here!
yes, all this yes. thank you for opening yourself up and shedding light on something i know i struggled with as well for longer than i like to admit. xo
Elena Rego says
Thank you, Darlene love. It’s hard isn’t it? This fear of admitting…I’m both humbled and floored by how much easier it feels to breathe with this out there.
Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! This is what we need to hear, the raw truth that we are all, as women, so afraid to share, admit and bare. This blog was such potent medicine for me. I know the shame, the embarrassment, the self hate and judgement and you know, there’s no pleasure in that.
Lisa Duque says
Thank you for writing with such courage and honesty. Many, many things you wrote connected to me.