It has been my experience and therefore my belief that the ineffable can exist within the expressed; that is, that words are not limiting in and of themselves and that the act of naming is not the final definition but rather a beginning, a jumping off point. This is what I love about writing, and it's why I've been more eager lately to describe myself, among other things, as a writer. Language can bring a concept to life, and since we all walk around thinking about ourselves as certain identities anyway-- faithful God-fearing husband, delinquent daughter, successful, lazy, excitable, brave, single, depressed, smart, etc.-- we might as well start to name and therefore think of ourselves as how we would like to be.
When I talk with people about writing they often ask what it is that I write about, and my response always orbits loosely around women, bodies, food, and female identity. When I began this particular blog a few years ago, I spoke very briefly about my previous eating disorder and my intentions for this space, and since then I've elaborated on that line of thought approximately three times. I think of myself as a generally self-aware, highly reflective person, and yet there's this chasm between how I perceive myself to be in the world and how I actually am. The space between is mostly made up of self-doubt and the fear of vulnerability, afraid that my messy and my broken are too much. This narrative that women are supposed to take up as little space as possible has been imprinted on me since birth, which is why it felt important to carve myself a new story.
Last August, Austin and I had been married for four years. It felt like an important marker because it had been a year full of experimentation, voicing our desires, showing up for each other in very unexpected ways, paying witness to each other's personal growth and change, trying to live up to our vows of always being the other's most fervent advocate. As he and I have grown accustomed to doing, we wanted to set some intentions for our fifth year of marriage, for the two of us as a couple, but also for each of us as individuals. As we discover more about what marriage for us means and is becoming, we wanted to be braver about sharing that process more with people around us. For Austin, he wanted to practice loving the questions themselves, an homage to Rilke and an understanding that his inquiries ought to be friends to find intimacy with, not anxieties to be banished or shamed. For me, my intention was to learn how to decidedly and militantly love myself.
It's hard not to treat that concept as merely a platitude, and I'm fighting that urge even now as I try to summon the urgency I felt toward making it a reality back when it felt so far out of reach. Sure, it can be overused, not to mention damning (mistakenly, in my opinion) in all of the literature discussing millennials' key character faults, but I believe that mastering self-love is the means as well as the end to living our best, most vibrant, most generous, most congruent lives. To state the obvious, our bodies are the most material parts of us. They are often the first way that other people experience who we are, and unlike our hearts or souls or thoughts, we can't hide them. They are clunky and bony and muscular and beautiful and unique, and they are our primary vehicle for experiencing the world and, at a surface level, how the world experiences us. As a little girl and then as an adolescent and now as a woman, my body has been the focus and the target for judgment, celebration, ridicule, lust, and comparison from loved ones and advertisers alike. It's been out there in all its awkward and gorgeous glory as my first line of defense and my first wall of perception, so it's no wonder that I've always felt an enormous pressure to fashion and shape it accordingly, as though it's a never-ending project to be completed and perfected.
When I graduated from college and was moving to New Mexico to teach, something in me snapped. Suddenly it all felt too exposing to have the appetite and the body that I had, like I was abruptly caught completely naked in a room full of everyone I knew and loved and they were all laughing at me or completely disgusted with what they saw. It became unbearable. I had, months prior, returned from my time abroad in the Middle East and I had unknowingly, gained some weight while there. I had become dissociative with food, a form of disordered eating no doubt, and had lost track of what hunger and satiation meant, replacing it with whatever my emotions wanted to consume (Peanut butter. They wanted peanut butter). As I was looking this new chapter of life in the eye, I felt it looking back at me judgmentally, and I didn't want anyone looking at me anymore; I wanted to hide, but baggy clothes can only do so much, so I slipped knowingly, willingly into obsessively restricted eating, praying that it would make being seen more tolerable and less excruciating.
Months later I remember asking my trusted nutritionist if there was ever going to be a time when this didn't weigh so heavily. At that point, it felt as though I was never going to be able to focus on anything other than bodies and food and how much and how little-- I was like one of those bees that can be trapped in a glass jar without a lid because they just walk around on the bottom and forget to look up. She told me that it was going to get much less consuming, that I would find freedom eventually, but that my eating disorder was always going to be a part of my story. She was right on all accounts, but it took so much longer than I had thought it would, and not only is it still a part of my story, it's still a mindset that I can access when things get dire, something to fall back on when the ground gets bumpy, or falls out completely.
In many ways, loving myself has been a much easier practice when I apply it to only my insides rather than my outsides. It's far less painless for me to love my soft heart, my often-sporadic mind, my hypochondria, my rash decision making, my excited curiosity, or my sensitivity than it is to love my soft stomach, my long straight hair, my square jaw, or my pinkish golden skin. By all accounts, loving my body has been the first and the final frontier, a way of experiencing myself that I've had to confront and make stubborn peace with, and the most difficult aspect of loving who I am.
Which is why that individual intention for our fifth year of partnership felt so crucial, and elusive enough to elicit a reminder of the most permanent kind: a tattoo in my own handwriting penned across my feet that says 'Beautiful and Fierce as I am.' As I am. Not when I lose or gain, not when I have this career or that one, not when I evoke any compliment or praise, not when. Just right now. Always. In my own flawed and bubbly scrawl I etched a new story onto my body, and every time I look down at my feet or feel them carrying me from this place or that, being my ever faithful vehicle and tool, my body is reflecting that resolve back to me as a reminder and as a truth, which were always the same things anyway.