When you have a bad body image day, you move a little slower, smile a little less, and sigh as you avoid making eye contact with your reflection. But then the next morning, or a couple mornings later, you wake up full of appreciation and poke fun at yourself with a little giggle. I’m still waiting to wake up feeling like that.
I’ve been having a bad self-love month. I don’t know what it is about this time of year, when you transition from winter to spring to summer, or the change from school to not-school, but I haven’t been very kind to myself. The list of the things I wish I could change about myself has been growing longer these past few months.
The scary part is that I’ve heard this dialogue before. I know how the story goes. And it’s still so difficult to put an end to it. This feeling of being dissatisfied, resentful even, leads nowhere but heartache—but I still feel it.
I truly believe that self-love is a daily task. You have to immerse yourself in it, surround yourself with people who believe in it and practice it, and one day you’ll be surprised to find that you’ve gained a little peace. But I am still trying to figure out how to love your body and will it to transform at the same time—still.
March 28th, 2017. My one year anniversary with lifting weights is fast approaching. I was planning on celebrating by ending my current burn phase and starting a new strength phase, so ready to kick ass.
For some time now, I’ve felt a bit of a pain in my lower back. I put heavy lifts on pause while I booked a physio appointment. The reason I started training was so I could trust myself and my own body, to not hold myself back from all the things I want to do. My physiotherapy assessment was yesterday. I sat in my car for a moment before going in, so ready to have whatever it was that’s wrong fixed as soon as possible. I didn’t know what to expect but I was stupidly optimistic.
That optimism disappeared so fast I swear I have emotional whiplash. There’s something wrong with the muscles that support my spine and my hips and likely my shoulders and my feet and my knees. I don’t know exactly what’s causing it or exactly what the plan is to fix it, I was too busy trying to process the fact that my body is no longer my own.
No Muay Thai, no weights. No running, no jumping. I have to make friends with the elliptical. It feels like I’m being denied a part of who I am, who I’ve become. I feel defeated. This body that I worked so hard to love, to train, and to trust, is holding me back. It feels like the walls are crumbling down around me these days, and I don’t know how many more hits I can take.
I had a much-needed change in perspective these last few weeks. I have this warped sense of time and become so impatient with myself. Every now and then I have to find ways to ground myself, to make sure that I don’t lose sight of reality, and it’s always a relief to realise that I haven’t gone completely crazy.
I want to see women who look like me, with features like mine – dark skin, round faces, small eyes – out there being appreciated and appreciating themselves.
I want to start taking photos again – challenge myself to find an artist in myself. I want to take portraits, capture people as they are and as they want to be.
I want to be in love. I want to be able to trust again and not find it so easy to let go.
I remember three distinct moments in my life when the number 77 was more than just a number.
The first time, I had found an old journal of mine from grade 7 or even earlier. I was in highschool at the time. I found one entry that burst with determination. I wrote about how I wanted to reach my “goal weight”, 77 kg, before my friend’s birthday. She was planning on throwing a pool party. 14 year old me was reminded of the ambitions of 12 year old me and it broke me. I felt shock and shame, knowing that in all the time since I first wrote that journal entry, all I had done was swell up in size and become uglier.
Fast forward to 2012 or 2013 when I was trying to exercise regularly, and dabbled in bulimia. I stepped on the scale and it read 76 kg. I was elated. I now weighed less than my 12 year old self and she could finally be proud of me, standing naked on that bathroom scale, hating myself into oblivion. Almost literally, or at least trying to.
Third. This week Monday, when I stepped on the scale at the gym. 76.7 kg. I felt hollow. As though the eight years since I wrote about wanting so badly to lose weight and be skinny had all amounted to nothing. Look at me only just now reaching my “goal weight”. What an utter shame.
Have I just been stalling all this time? Was the pain I felt cycling through phases of binge eating and dieting all for nought? I thought I was capable of more. I was supposed to be living my dream life by now. I was supposed to get skinny and fall in love and finally stop hating myself and wanting to die.
I don’t really hate myself anymore. And I want to die less literally nowadays. 12 year old me and 14 year old me would probably be disappointed in 21 year old me. But age has brought with it some wisdom, learning to love myself and my body is the progress I wouldn’t trade for anything. I am worlds apart from who I used to be. And I’m not planning to slow down. Thank goodness for that.
Last night, I had a revelation.
I find myself craving to go to the gym, to train. It comes in waves, because I know I’m taking some time to study–priorities, etc. But I feel so drained whenever I have to address the amount of study material I have to face in the next 24 hours. I’ve been diligent at procrastinating and I hate myself for it.
Then, while running through the reasons I love training, and planning how I’m going to start lifting heavier, it hit me like a freight train. Starting to lift heavy is, slowly, teaching me discipline. It’s a foreign idea to me, but I’ve started to shape my life around my training because I know that this will make me better. Training consistently, eating well, and sleeping enough helps me stack more weight onto that bar. And it’s taken time, but I’ve been surprisingly understanding, patient even.
And then I thought about applying this to other parts of my life, like schoolwork. This is me training to get better, and to perform better. Being consistent, studying regularly, eating right and sleeping well is what will help me stack more points on that GPA. I didn’t know a slight shift in mindset would revolutionize the way I feel about studying.
A while ago, I found out why I feel like I should be doing well, proving myself. And now I know how to go about that, albeit a little late.
There is something to be said about the pursuit of independence. It is endearing and admirable, but sometimes, that is all it is. It is a futile attempt at convincing yourself that you are an autonomous being, with full control over your circumstances. More often than not, you succumb to things greater than yourself, shrink because you have no energy left.
Some days, I am arrested with the thought that I could give up this whole life and not miss it. So unattached and uninspired, there are very few things that I would fight to hold on to. This scares me a little. But I’m also just waiting to welcome the day that I will wake up, and the days would have blurred into years, and the years won’t feel so bad anymore, and the regret won’t look like regret, and I can just let it go.
Loneliness is no longer something to regret. It is how I have saved myself, time and time again, and it is how I know that I’ll be safe. Until someone can convince me otherwise, I want to stay that way. Alone is how I stay safe, how I’ve become strong, how I choose to stay. What’s the alternative?
It’s been two months since I started training with a personal trainer. And this past week was the first time I doubted whether it was worth it.
I left last week’s training session not feeling like myself. I was inhabiting a body that no longer belonged to me, and I lost all motivation to keep it alive. I’ve trained and trained and I’ve grown more and more fixated on the image looking back at me from the mirror. It’s sad to admit it but it’s true; I’ve been late to school because I was obsessing over the darkness of my skin and the wobble of my thighs.
I see myself and I remember the dark nights of binge eating and the early morning runs and the protein shakes–I see myself and promise not to go back to that. But it’s difficult to run from vanity. So when I found myself slipping into that hole again, forgetting everything else but how much I’ve eaten and how much I’ve exercised, planning my next run but then hating myself for skipping it, and imagining my body bloat as a result–it became a battle that I didn’t want to fight anymore. So I considered giving up.
But last year, I fought a similar battle and won–kind of. When my mother threatened to send me to a dietitian, I broke down and rebuilt myself stronger than ever. I had stopped hating this body of mine and I wouldn’t let anyone turn me against it ever again. Now, I have to keep myself from turning against me. My body is a battlefield but I am my own army.
One day, you will want someone
just as I have wanted you.
You will see her with another man,
and will feel the urge to kill something–
it won’t matter if it’s him or you.
I am still avoiding who I used to be. And I am in denial of who I have become.
I’m currently reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I started reading it almost three months ago, and I’ve had to put it down so many times because it reminds me so much of myself and how I used to be when I first left home, how I am. For the longest time, before this novel, before I found that the words that I used to describe myself had already been strung together by someone else, I have felt a little empty. It’s not a gaping hole, like I’m used to. I would have wished for someone to arrive and fill up. It is a hollowness that I could not get identify.
There are whole parts of myself, of who I am, that people here will never recognize. And sometimes, I fantasize about going home and feeling whole again. But even then, home has grown just as much as I have, we may no longer fit together.
I am a Burmese South African living in Canada and there will always be parts of me that are unsatisfied–hungry. I’m waiting for my Africa to return to me, but it’s different here. You cannot be African if you are not black. But even then, the South Africa I grew up in was delicate and golden, I experienced something entirely unique and inexplainable. One of those “you need to have been there to get it” things.
I feel less like myself and less of myself every day. I want to fight losing these parts of who I am but I’m not sure I can. I’m not sure if I’m really worth it.