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Cake for breakfast - overcoming body shame

Updated: Mar 22

This morning I ate cake for breakfast. Liberation, for breakfast.

I’ve been writing this blog post in my head for weeks. But I kept knocking up against that sticky spot inside me, that fear of what others will think.

Then I remembered I don’t care about that anymore.

Tell the truth. This is the best, most enduring writing advice I’ve ever gotten. It came from the author Dani Shapiro, as she stood poised and thoughtful in front of an auditorium of eager writers. I scribbled it down in my notebook, wondering if I was full of lies.

It turns out that you have to know the truth before you can tell it. And then you have to be exceedingly brave and vulnerable.

So, in the spirit of truth telling, here’s a story about living in my body.

A short history: All my life there has been this deep calling around my body. A wish to live in a body that felt like me, that felt like mine, a place I could rest and call home. A body I liked. I’ve always answered the call in the same basic, ineffective, way - external manipulations and control that left me feeling confined, rebellious and, ultimately, powerless.

It was like I knew where I wanted to go but I kept building the wrong bridge to get there. I also fundamentally believed I was broken in this way, that the only way to have a body I liked was to hurt myself to get there.

So a while back, I decided I didn’t want to do that anymore. I swore off food plans, strict exercise regimes and demoralizing expectations of my body. I felt a profound relief, but also a sense of settling, of giving up part of what I wanted.

Because this subversive act was a subtraction of something without the addition of something else. I told myself it didn’t matter without telling myself what did matter.

Recently, I read The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor. It’s a reverent text, a gift to anyone who has ever felt the sting of body shame, an invitation to look at who installed the judgmental, often cruel, thoughts you think about your body.

Her basic premise is that socially taught body shame is simply a tool of oppression, driven by consumerism, capitalism and power.

“Body terrorism is a hideous power whose primary support beam is the belief that there is a hierarchy of bodies. We uphold the system by internalizing this hierarchy and using it to situate our own value and worth in the world….Relationships with our bodies are social, political and economic inheritances….Our economic systems shape how we see our bodies and the bodies of others, and they ultimately inform what we are compelled to do and buy based on that reflection. Profit-greedy industries work with media outlets to offer us a distorted perception of ourselves and then use that distorted self-image to sell us remedies for that distortion.”

-Sonya Renee Taylor

So there is nothing wrong with me. This rollercoaster ride with my body is a symptom of a much larger powerplay. A disruption and interference in my natural knowing and my truth about who I am and what I want to be.

I started asking myself how I felt about my body, from the inside. I suddenly realized I feel amazing in my skin about 70% of the time. I love all I can do and experience with my body. I love stretching deeply into a yoga pose, love the feel of morning air on my skin, the pound of my heart and the sweat that runs down my spine when I hike. I love the first sip of tea in the morning, love hearing the rhythmic pulse of the peepers on a spring night, love tipping my face to the sky, love wrapping my arms around someone I love.

I love being in a body. I love being in THIS body.

But when I look outside myself, the comparisons begin. The chatter starts, the judgement slips in and coils itself under my ribs, squeezing out all recollections of self-love. I forget myself. My magnificence is distilled down to one narrow aspect of my being: my body. A body that, reflected back from the barrage of media images and messages, is simply not good enough.

And let me tell you, that 30% obliterates the 70% amazing.

This is a crushing moment, all the beautiful ground I’ve gained lost in an instant, a landslide of lies that feel true. Because I have internalized them my entire life, the lies are spoken in my own voice, are fed to me as my own thoughts, intruders disguised in my skin. This is the tricky part. Body shame is a parasite, dependent on me as its host.

Oh, and what a good host I have been. I have bent over backwards to accommodate this particular brand of misery, disconnection and self-abandonment. I have tip-toed while it slept, picked up its shoes and done all its dirty laundry.

Until now.

Taylor’s solution - radical self-love - is a balm. Her words speak to the deepest, truest parts of me, and I instantly recognize the truth of what she is offering.

“What would the world look like if each of us navigated our lives with the total awareness that we owed no one an apology for our bodies? …Radical self-love is not an in impossibility. It is not even a destination. It is your inherent sense of self. You came here, to this planet, as unapologetic radical self-love. Body terrorism depends on your amnesia for its survival. Making peace with your body is not about finding some obscure pathway to the peninsula of ‘liking my thighs.’ Making peace with your body is about awakening to who you always have been: the physical, spiritual, and energetic manifestation of radical self-love. Together, we will disrupt decades of tired body-shame practices using the only map we ever needed for this journey: a map back to ourselves.”

-Sonya Renee Taylor

I decided if it came down to choosing between a body that was valuable in the world versus loving myself as I am, I would choose self-love. Not as a way of settling, but as a way of coming home. This is how we overcome body shame.

Oh, what a gorgeous gift that is to give to oneself. The utter relief of total freedom to be as I am, of gazing at my naked body in the mirror and just marveling at the wonder of biology arranging itself uniquely into me. My goal was simple: love and peace. I allowed myself the gift of total peace around food and stopped trying to become anything. I gave up the fight. I stopped weighing myself, likely for good. I bought shorts a size up for the upcoming summer because my usual shorts are too tight. I decided I am worth that kindness of comfort and ease. I decided to stop waiting for someone to tell me it was okay, but to make it okay for me to be exactly as I am now.

I didn’t try to do anything. I just became aware of the thoughts I think about food and my body. Waves of clarity were close behind.

I was using my obsessive relationship with food and my body to distract myself, to buffer me from my life. It was my go-to mental escape, a way to fill the interstitial space between me and everything else, clog it with chatter about how I wasn't doing or looking good enough. I started to just observe how often I wanted to escape stressful or unfulfilled moments (which in the beginning meant observing myself escaping them). The truth was, I didn’t actually trust myself. It was that muscle that needed work. It wasn’t food’s fault. It was my fear of being truly present in my own life.

What I really wanted was to enjoy food, enjoy my body, eat when I was hungry and stop when I was full. I wanted to be free of food rules, cravings and this pervasive sense of powerlessness. I wanted to eat well because it nourished me, to allow myself things that I desired but be so fulfilled inside me that food didn’t become a replacement for goodness. I wanted to CHOSE when and how to eat rather than being slave to compulsivity and mindlessness.

But I knew that until I learned to disengage from my own social conditioning around my body, true self-love could not be obtained. Until I found a way to trust myself and own myself, food and body obsession would hold this unwieldy power over me. (A journey that, ironically, parallels the one I am taking in examining my internalized racism and white supremacy.)

And the deeper I went, the more I could see that I was scared to fully be me, scared of my power, scared of my abilities and my desires, scared of what it would mean in my life to show up fully as myself.

I was scared that the world (and the people I love) would meet me and tell me to go back into hiding.

But my emergence was already in process. I had waited for so long and could not, would not wait any longer. Each day, I try to step more into myself, step more into love, to set down my weapons and exit the fight with myself and my body. And something has begun to happen that feels so much like a miracle I don’t have another word for it.

I’ve started to cultivate the feeling of cherishing my body, of inhabiting it fully. I pay attention to what it fells like to eat, to move, to fall into sleep, to be hungry, to be full, to be energized or tired. I pay attention to all the ways in which I am “hungry” – emotionally, physically, spiritually. To taste and be nourished by the food I eat. In cultivating awareness with curiosity rather than judgement, many of the things I have always coveted have begun to happen naturally. I suddenly want to stop eating when I am full. I find that I enjoy eating so much more when I am truly hungry. I want less sugar because I don’t love the way it makes me feel. I realize how much better I feel when I don’t eat at night - I wake up with more energy, a clearer head and in a more joyful mood – and doing so has just become natural, easy.

All those behaviors I used to struggle with have begun to fall away under this enduring desire to be the fullest expression of myself inside myself and in my skin. I believe this is the body alignment I have been seeking.

I feel so powerful in being able to ask my body and listen to what it says. I no longer live in the tug of war of over-indulgence and deprivation. When shame and fear surface, which they do, I acknowledge that they are not mine. I now know that I would never to speak to myself the way those thoughts do and so when I hear them, I recognize them for what they are - thoughts implanted by a society that benefits from my oppression.

When I choose escape in a moment over presence, I am gentle with myself. I allow myself these natural rhythms, releasing the shame and judgement of even how well I am or am not doing.

I see now that body alignment doesn’t necessarily mean me in a thin body. It means me in integrity with myself and the physical expression of me. It means me loving myself in my thoughts and actions about eating, moving, resting and being. It means me trusting myself, rather than a system that aims to keep me small, broken and in need of constant intervention and repair.

This journey asks me to consider how I judge other people’s bodies as well as my own. It means reminding myself that I am allowed to have cellulite and wrinkles. It means finding myself beautiful, and fully allowed, just as I am.

It means not hiding out of fear of how the world will judge me. The world WILL judge me. It is on me to disregard, to discard. It is on me to be so boldly myself that those judgements are as insubstantial as a three-year-old saying the sky is purple.

I've wanted to not just be okay as I am, but to be glorious. I finally understand that this is a state I give myself. I need no one's permission. If I think of myself this way, move this way, love myself this way, SO I AM. It's mine to choose. And yours, too.

I’ve always wanted to look in the mirror and see a reflection of my real self. And day by day, I do.

I no longer feel like this is an either/or situation where I have to choose between self-love OR a body I love. For the first time ever, I know I can have them both. Because I believe in my unconditional wholeness. I am building my body out of love, in my own vision.

And the more I come home to myself, the less hungry I am. I am filled with myself.

I am overcoming body shame.

If I want ice cream, I have it. Sometimes I even have cake for breakfast. And because I am breaking no rules, because I allow the pleasure of it without shame, I can hear my body when it says, “Enough, give us something healthy.”

And because this body is my home and I love it, I do just that.

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