Post three – in which we start opening a can of worms labelled “body image”

CW: this post discusses weight loss, eating disorders, and bullying

I spent a long time hating my body. I mean, seriously, well over a decade. I don’t remember hating it when I was a kid, but I remember hating it as young as 11.

There was a girl in my class who used to bully me something shocking, and when I started growing breasts she used to tease me about them, and call me a slut. She used to tell everyone else that I was a slut because I had boobs.
Shall we sit with this for a minute?
Boobs = slut.
Boobs on an 11 year old who was too interested in being a free spirit to realise she should feel ashamed of her changing body and didn’t think to ask her mum to buy her a bra, and anyway, it’s not like she ever went without a shirt at school = clearly just an attention seeking slut.
A little piece of my innocent, joyous soul got torn up, exposed, laughed at.
She used to throw water on me so she could point it out to others.
My heart still breaks for that tiny Asha who only learnt to be ashamed of her body because primary school kids suck.
That was just the start.
I got chubby. Everyone said it was just puppy fat and I’d grow out of it when I got taller. But I didn’t get taller (I’ve grown maybe 4 centimetres since I was 12). My dad started pointing it out, then commenting on what I was eating.
He’s so awesome.
He’s so awesome, in fact, that he didn’t stop doing that (along with a host of other insults disguised as encouragements) until I was in my late twenties.
I was a dancer from the age of three, and in those awful, awkward teen years I took to bulimia. If I could be thin, then maybe people would like me. Maybe I could avoid the shaming, the laughing, the comments.
I never got thin enough, though. I don’t think you ever can, not if what you want is to stop being you.

Then I got older, and, I got bigger. And with every kilo my self-loathing grew. Hating my body was a full-time job. It’s complicated, and intense, and there’s so much that all ties in together, and it will take just as long to unravel it. But let’s leave all that part of the story for another day.
I want to talk about when I stopped.

I went to a Queer party, my first in years (after years of pretending to be hetero), and the first that was properly Queer, not mainstream gay, and someone asked if I wanted to join a queer, amateur, fabulous, synchronised swimming team.
“But, uh, it’s only for people who identify as fat, or, bigger. I don’t know if that’s you or not.” I had a choice, I could call myself fat, embrace my body the way it was, and join what was the most fabulous adventure I could imagine, or I could miss out. I went for the first option, and my world changed. I stopped actively hating my body, and started learning to enjoy it.
My body was giving me something, opening doors, how could I hate it?

Then one night, two magical things happened. After weeks of training I passed the first try-out for Sydney Roller Derby League. On a high I rushed from the sports court to do my first-ever burlesque show. A show which specifically explored the hatred thrust onto fat bodies (with a happy ending of self-love and fabulousness).

Derby made me feel in awe of my body. I could push, I could learn new, difficult skills. In derby, being fat wasn’t a hindrance, it was what made me awesome. I wasn’t lesser than skaters of other shapes and sizes; we were all awesome; we were all needed in the league. I felt in control of my body in a way I hadn’t before. It was genuinely, physically, empowering.

Removing the spectre of weight-loss from the fitness equation means I can pursue strength and fitness without hating my body, without having to slip back into disordered thinking. If I do exercise, it’s because I want to kick arse on the track, not because of self-loathing.

And I want to add that my body image isn’t this perfect unchanging edifice of awesome. Far from it. I had a baby and my body is radically different from the one I taught myself to be in love with. I haven’t skated in years and some of my strength has gone. But I know the way back when I get lost. I know that for me, surrounding myself with other amazing fatties will always make me feel better, and that roller derby sometimes means kicking my own arse.
And it takes an amazing body to manage that feat…

swim2
* image description: A fair skinned fat woman at a swimming pool wearing a bright pink swimsuit and light green swim cap is holding a striped blow-up ball and laughing with closed eyes and a hand held up to her face**

Want to read more about this awesomeness?
Aquaporko – fat synchronised swim team, has a documentary, check it out here: http://aquaporkofilm.com/

News with Nipples has written about the link between body image and derby http://newswithnipples.com/2014/07/25/get-immunised/
Which also mentions some research if you’re into that

And for a discussion on the link between fat positivity and positive health outcomes, you can check out this – http://theconversation.com/study-finds-fat-acceptance-blogs-can-improve-health-outcomes-2890

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