The history of my relationship with my body is tumultuous. For most of my life, my body confidence was a pendulum swinging from two extremes. In high school, I contemplated skipping my senior prom in a department store dressing room. Each dress I tried on encouraged this idea. Under the fluorescent lights, I hoped a dress might transform my body into something a boy would desire. Instead, I faced my worst fear: no dress could disguise the nightmare of my body.
Last summer I completed Whole30 (a monthlong elimination diet that restricts most processed foods) and as a result, lost ten pounds. Wiggling into the smallest pants size I’d worn as an adult thrilled me. Only my outer shell changed, but the newfound confidence intoxicated me. The disappointment when the weight slowly crept back intensified my self-hatred. The self I dreamed of had been within reach and my lack of discipline ruined my chances. How could I let myself go?
Several months later, I dislocated my knee. I’ll spare you the graphic details, but the injury inhibited the full range of motion in my left leg for six months. Before my accident, I worked out consistently; however, per instructions from my orthopedic doctor, I avoided most physical activity as my knee healed. I claimed my fitness regimen as a vital piece of self-care. While this was not untrue, exercise also helped me control my body. I ran, I took barre classes, I loved hot yoga; each of these were cleverly disguised pursuits to define my waist, slim my thighs—shrink myself.
My self-confidence squandered in the months that followed as the scale steadily increased. The same week I received a promotion at work I realized none of the jeans in my closet fit properly. Instead of celebrating my career successes, I wallowed in the betrayal of my body. The simple question of what to wear each day plagued me. This moment encouraged me to search for an antidote for my poor self-esteem.
Every time I glanced in the mirror I fought not to grimace. The pretense of confidence crumbled easily under pressure; forcing love for my body which wasn’t true discouraged me even more.
Body positivity initially intrigued me. Could I simply drown each negative thought with positivity? I curated upbeat playlists and wrote a list of positive affirmations in my journal. Each day, I woke up and stared at myself in the mirror and repeated, “You are beautiful.” The affirmations were lovely, but they were empty promises to myself. Every time I glanced in the mirror I fought not to grimace. The pretense of confidence crumbled easily under pressure; forcing love for my body which wasn’t true discouraged me even more.
At first, my inability to unconditionally love my body felt like another failure. But research affirmed my experiences. Countering our negative feelings with feigned positivity confuses our brains. Put simply, you can’t fake it ’til you make it. Where could I go from here? I found confidence instead with body neutrality.
While body positivity tells me to love myself and embrace my flaws, body neutrality simply accepts this might never happen. Rather, I can define the worth of my body in the way it houses me. Yesterday, my body danced along to my favorite song with so much joy it made my family laugh. My body recovered from a devastating knee injury. My body can cry. My body can sing. My body can laugh.
Recently, an attorney general in Louisville, Kentucky decided property damage was more meaningful than the loss of Breonna Taylor’s life. As a Black woman, I am reminded my body is not protected even by the entities theoretically defined by justice. Stories of the ways our country polices Black bodies saturate my newsfeed. It exists in a world designed for its failure. What value can the jean size I wear provide in light of this fact? My body exemplifies the ultimate resistance each day it perseveres.
While body positivity tells me to love myself and embrace my flaws, body neutrality simply accepts this might never happen. Rather, I can define the worth of my body in the way it houses me. . . . My body can cry. My body can sing. My body can laugh.
This season, my body carried me through a pandemic. It feels almost unreasonable to allow my confidence to waver knowing this fact. Maybe the most comforting piece of body neutrality is its fluidity. I am intimately aware of my own self and how I should celebrate it outside of aesthetic worth. My guidebook differs from yours, but you can still feel empowered to explore your relationship with your body. What are the things your body did for you today? Where can you meet negativity with gratitude instead of meaningless assertions of love?
I’ll give you a small piece of inspiration. Today your body woke up. Then, it allowed you to read my story and pause for a moment of reflection. This alone is more than enough.
Ryan is a contributing writer at Wit and Delight. A nouveau Southern Belle, she is based in Atlanta where she works at a small startup. She divides her free time reading, snuggling her sweet rescue pup, and enjoying good wine with good friends.
BY Ryan Alexis - October 13, 2020
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.