I know I’m supposed to hate my body. [Cynthia]
Why are you supposed to hate your body? [Kerry]
Because I’m fat. [Cynthia]
This dialogue comes from a little book called “On Living” by hospice chaplain-turned-writer Kerry Egan.
The woman speaking, Cynthia, is near the end of her time on earth. And she is craving caramel cake, which her daughter won’t let her have.
After asking and verifying that her visitor, chaplain Kerry, doesn’t have any caramel cake, the conversation turns to the topic at hand – why she is supposed to hate her body.
Shannon Cutts is the author of Beating Ana: How to Outsmart Your Eating Disorder and Take Your Life Back, the first book to address the critical role a recovered person, or mentor, can play in a recovering person’s support team. In 2009, Shannon founded MentorCONNECT, the first global nonprofit eating disorders mentoring organization. MentorCONNECT is based on the mentoring principles outlined in “Beating Ana.”
Editor: Nadeem Noor
As it turns out, Kerry doesn’t already know why. And here I think she must be one of the few – perhaps only – beings on Earth who doesn’t. I’ve known that since I was little. Everyone told me – my family, my school, my church. When I got older, magazines and salesgirls and boyfriends – even if they didn’t say so out loud. The world’s been telling me for seventy-five years that my body is bad. First for being female, then for being fat, and then for being sick. I know they think it’s terrible.
But the one thing I never did understand is, why does everyone else want me to hate my body? What does it matter to them? [Cynthia]
Kerry goes on to share that Cynthia’s story is hardly unique amongst the hundreds she has witnessed while sitting with her hospice charges. And she says that, among all the sad stories of time wasted, the ones where the time was wasted on body abuse or hate strike her as some of the saddest.
Kerry also says her work has shown her how, sometimes, the only thing that can turn the tide of this relentless, inexorable and seemingly utterly mandatory sense of body hate is the realization that we are soon to lose our body forever.
Suddenly, this realization turns the body into a treasure, and one we will never get back.
Recently a friend shared with me a deeply moving post called “How to love a fat person.”
The author of this post, who calls herself My Fat Friend, remains steadfastly anonymous. From what research tells me, the anonymity is for her own safety, because sometimes readers threaten her after reading her posts.
What struck me while reading her post was how I kept nodding, like, “oh yes, yes – I have felt that way. I know what you mean.”
Yet I have never inhabited a body that could technically be termed “fat.”
However, my body has been called fat, many, many times. At first, it was other people calling it fat – my piano teacher, my peers, my teachers, my doctor.
Later, the person who called it fat the most was me.
I called it fat because I figured if I said it first, other people might give me a break. I called it fat because I had been told that it was by people I trusted, so I believed them.
Eventually, I called it fat because, after all the years of anorexia and bulimia, I had honestly come to believe it was [this, an aspect of body dysmorphia, persists at some level to this day, although I have been in strong recovery for two decades now].
So when I started reading “On Living,” and especially the chapter about Cynthia, something within me snapped back into pissed-off, passionate life in a whole fresh, new way.
I think I had just given up a little on ever really vanquishing my own lingering body dislike issues, contenting myself instead with pondering how close I am now to turning 50 (3 years away, in fact!) and how perhaps, upon reaching that venerable age, I might finally inherit some creative license to like an imperfect form such as my own, just because.
But after reading Cynthia’s words, and hearing about My Fat Friend’s safety-centric anonymity, I woke UP.
Because that’s not good enough.
It’s not good enough for me, and it’s not good enough for you, and it’s not good enough for anyone who wants to love their own shape and form and is still somehow waiting for permission to do so.
I don’t want to age into permission, and I don’t want to age into tolerance. I want to age into LOVE.
And I don’t want to only realize I love and treasure my body when I am about to lose it.
In other words, I want to be like Cynthia, who concluded her story by saying:
You know what, Kerry? Even though I’m fat, even though I’ve had this cancer for twenty years, and I haven’t had any hair in I can’t remember how long-even through all that, I don’t hate my body.
They were wrong, and they always have been. I think because I thought I was going to die for so long, I figured it out.
And that’s why I’ve been happy anyway. I just need to figure out how to get some caramel cake into the house.
Cynthia is a timely mentor, and one I have needed to connect with for far longer than I’ve realized.
Perhaps, because of Cynthia’s courage in sharing her story AND permitting Kerry to include it in her book “On Living,” I, too, will be able to “figure it out,” and tuck into a piece of cake (chocolate, in my case) with real zeal, enjoying every morsel AND enjoying the body that receives it while there is still time a plenty to make that choice.
Today’s Takeaway: What do you think about Cynthia’s story? Have you ever felt like you “had” to hate your body, or at least hate some aspect of it? Have you ever found yourself wondering what it would take to finally make peace with – even make friends with – this form you inhabit day in and day out? I’d love to hear your experiences!