Self-acceptance, even in a bathing suit

This was originally posted on my other blog, Closet Narcissist, on March 7, 2011.

I spent the last of my Christmas money buying the book Health at Every Size (and also a Tai Chi dvd; more about that later). The book is by the ironically-named Linda Bacon, Ph.D., and she writes about the myths surrounding our culture’s obsession with dieting and weight loss and our equation of thinness with healthiness. I’ve only barely started the book — midterms are this week and reading for fun is out of the question — but this bit from the introduction especially resonated with me:

Food is simple now. I appreciate the sensuality and pleasure of eating. When I am full, I typically lose interest in food. After a few magical bites of chocolate, I am satisfied and the drive to eat dissipates. When I finish eating, I rarely think about food until I am hungry again. I don’t feel guilty afterward.

And I take pleasure in my body. I move because it feels good. I enjoy being touched. I dress in clothes that I like and don’t consider whether or not they hide my fat.

As wonderful as food is, it is only one of many pleasures in my life. I am no longer waiting to lose weight before I live my life fully. Having freed up all the energy and time that I spent on dieting or obsessing about my weight or food and having let go of my shame about these, I have greater depth and fulfillment in my life, including deeper intimacy with others.

These few paragraphs have become an ideal for me, the goal I’m longing for but almost afraid to hope for. Not obsess about food? Not feel guilt and stress and shame about eating? That’s so completely outside my experience of food as to be in another zip code – no, on another continent. I almost cannot even imagine ever feeling that way.

And yet. The more I tell myself I’m abandoning dieting and efforts at weight-control, the more I practice listening to my body to know when and what and how much to eat, the more I try to focus on my beauty and okay-ness, right-ness as a creation of a perfect God instead of my wrongness according to the narrow social ideals of beauty —  the less foreign it gets. The more I choose to love and nurture my body instead of abusing and depriving it, the more natural it feels. The more I practice believing that it is okay to wear clothes I love, to dress up in ’50s pearls and liquid eyeliner and Bettie Page bangs (self-cut at 2am, after drinking — perhaps not the wisest method for hairstyling but I do love the result) instead of doing my best to disappear in boring neutral clothes and makeup, the more I find myself being honestly, truly happy with the me in the mirror. Or is it the other way around?

Maybe so. I don’t think I’m over my obsession with food. But it’s shrinking. And as food lessens its grip on my emotions, as I discover more and more that my body manages my eating choices quite well when left to its own devices, I’m becoming happier with my body — the wonderful biology of it, and its appearance too. It’s easier to love the way my body looks when I can trust the way it works.

Which is why, when I was trying on bathing suits this week (my old suit is hideous and saggy and worn through, so I ordered several different styles and sizes to try on, hoping to find one that I could live with) I ended up having difficulty choosing between two bathing suits, one to keep and one to return, and being frustrated because I love them both — the cut, the fit, the way they enhance my curves; they way they make me look at my body and think sexy, not dumpy.

In fact, given how staggeringly awful it used to feel to put on a bathing suit, and given how fully, couch-jumpingly in love I am with how these two bathing suits make me look, I think it’s not the bathing suit at all that’s making me feel beautiful. So maybe I’m already closer to my faraway goal than I thought.