Curvy is just who I am. I have the same kind of body that my mother had, that my grandmothers had. And I take good care of it.
I can’t tell you exactly how it happened. I wish I could tell you there is a magic solution out there that could make all women accept their bodies. But there isn’t. And perhaps that’s part of the problem—we are all looking for some diet, program, guru, or book that will take away the weight, the cravings, the shame.
It doesn’t exist.
We all have our own histories to reckon with. We have been blasted by inaccurate images and expectations of women’s bodies since we were children, and we continue to be. It takes effort, luck, and bit of grace to heal ourselves of them. And each of our journeys toward this healing will look as different as our different bodies.
But I am here to tell you that it is possible to feel comfortable in your own skin, because by some miracle, I am now. I have learned to embrace these hips, this soft belly, these stretch marks, this flesh beneath my arms—I get what all of it is for, how it is beautiful, how it is me.
As with so many women, my body hatred started early. It started the day that I looked in the toilet and saw a small swirl of blood staring back at me. Thankfully, my parents had always been upfront about menstruation, and all the body changes that went with it, so I knew what it was. But that didn’t stop me from panicking.
I was only 10 years old. I said to myself: “I’m not ready to be a woman.”
The world wasn’t ready for me either. I was the only girl in the fifth grade who had breasts. One day at recess, I was sitting on a bench alone when a few boys formed a tight huddle around me.
“You stuff your bra, don’t you?” asked a boy in a black baseball cap.
“No,” I answered.
“Tissues or socks?” the other boys chorused.
“Nothing!” I screeched, got up and ran away.
That night, I stripped down in front of the bathroom mirror, and took a good look at what had been burgeoning out of my body the past few months. My breasts were swollen and puffy, as though I’d been stung by a swarm of bees. There were pale pink lines on them, and on the back of my upper arms, and behind my knees. My body was broken, bursting at the seams.
I, who had been the smallest child in the class, had turned into an Amazon woman. By 12 years old, I reached my adult height. For many years, I wore long T-shirts to hide my curves. Even as the other girls caught up to me, it seemed that no one had the kind of body I had—my hips jutting out, my large breasts covering my short torso. Somewhere inside there was a slim waistline and petite calves and forearms, but I could never find clothes to accent those features. So I hid the whole thing.
This plan worked fine until I turned 16, and began having panic attacks. I had no way of managing the panicked feelings, and I kept them secret from most people. I self-medicated with food. A plate of French fries covered in melted cheese could stop my heart from beating out of my chest. A piece of chocolate cake—or two, or three—could smash out the fear running through my bones. I gained at least 20 pounds.
I hated my body most then. My fears, my flesh, my secrets—I felt like a monster, an imposter in my own body.
Somehow—by sheer force of will—I got help. I went to therapy, I took up walking. I learned to cope. The panic dissipated. And I lost the weight. I become “normal” again. But my eating habits didn’t normalize. And so began a decade-long battle with food, and with my body.
My weight swung around quite a bit in my teens and 20s. Always a rebel at heart, I shunned any kind of commercial diet. Instead, I invented my own disordered ways of eating. I have known women who have eating disorders, and I would never compare my own struggles with eating to a true eating disorder. It never ruled my life to the point of obsession; my habits were never secretive, and my health was never in danger.
But I had months where I hardly ate all day until dinner. I had months where I ate nothing but vegetables and proteins. Months where I had coffee instead of lunch. Months where I felt dizzy, lightheaded, like a faint wisp of a woman.
And then months where I ate too much to make up for the starvation. Of course.
In essence, I was an average woman. It is hard to gather statistics on how many women diet, especially because controlled or disordered eating can fall under many umbrellas and can be thinly veiled. But the fact is, most women (and many men) have had compulsive behavior related to their diets or their bodies, at some point in their lives.
Eating disorders tend to peak in a woman’s teens or 20s, but there is new research out there that more and more women are continuing an unhealthy obsession with food into their 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond.
That is why I consider myself lucky—many women my age still struggle. I am still unsure what shifted in me, and it is only now that I feel settled in my body that I see how destructive I was before.
Still, I wonder why the fixation on food and thinness simply dissolved over the past few years. Is it because I had children? Is it because I gave birth to them in a warm supportive environment, the amazingness of my body celebrated and revered with every contraction, every push? Is it that I nursed my children for extended periods, and I see the point of my large, blossomed breasts? Is it because I am settled down with a partner who loves me for who I am, each curve, each fold? Is it simply the passage of time, a natural shift in focus away from old habits?
I know a woman can have all of these experiences and still not feel at ease with her body. And I am not saying things are perfect for me. Sometimes when I haven’t exercised for a few days, I worry that things will soften and expand in a way I don’t prefer. Sometimes if I eat a bit too many sweets, I wonder if I’m going go off the deep end with my eating—and my body—again.
But mostly, I accept that I will never be skinny—each time I have gotten close to that, I was not eating enough. Curvy is just who I am. I have the same kind of body that my mother had, that my grandmothers had. And I take good care of it. I eat the foods that make me feel good, and turn down the foods that don’t (most of the time!). I can walk for miles, run for a few. My body lifts my children in and out of bed, rescues them from mud puddles, shields them from tripping down the stairs.
My body made humans, and makes me human. And it’s the only body I’ve got. If I want to live a long, good life, I have no choice but to care for it—to nourish it kindly, and with love.
Wendy Wisner is a mom, writer, and lactation consultant (IBCLC). She is the author of two books of poems (CW Books), and her writing has appeared in such publications as The Washington Post, Huffington Post, Brain, Child Magazine, Scary Mommy, and Mamalode. She lives in New York with her husband and two sons. Find Wendy at WendyWisner.com. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.