#MyBodyStory is a series of reader submitted pieces about what it’s like to live in your body. The opinions expressed in #MyBodyStory articles are the writer’s own.
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Because every body has a story.
And now, without further ado, here is Michelle’s story:
How I felt about my body as a teenager can be summarized in one funny story about the release of the Harry potter and the prisoner of Azkaban movie!
Now I’m a Potterhead and a proud Gryffindor and I remember one fateful day, after school mid-week, I sat watching News Round (for my American friends that’s an after school tv segment). And they announced that they were casting extras for the new Harry Potter film! Once I finished my gospel praise dance break and revived myself, I glued my ear to the television to hear what I had to do to be part of the new film.
The directions were: Write in and tell them why I should be in the new movie. That was all I had to do. I scoffed, took out my pen and paper and got to work. I can assure you it was some of best writing ever. I poured my heart and soul into that letter. My older sister took even took a picture of me. We printed it out, attached it to the letter, and sent it on its way.
For weeks I waited and waited for a response. I asked my family several times a day: Did I have post? Had it gotten lost? On the weekends, I would practically jump on the post person. I’m surprised to this day that I don’t have a restraining order.
Finally the day came. I received my response. The Harry potter logo was on the envelope, my hands shook as I opened it up. I unfolded the page and read slowly, my eyes darting…”we regret to inform you…“
My heart tightened and I thought about everything I already feared: I wasn’t good enough. They didn’t want me. It didn’t matter how much I loved it and how much it made me feel like I belonged. I didn’t really belong. I saw the film when it finally came out, and there was a scene in the great hall, where the camera panned past a face similar to my own. So the story goes that I saw the film, said to my friends “That girl stole my part as an extra.” I made everyone laugh and that was that.
That’s the funny bit.
The truth was, I saw a body similar to my own, but it looked better than mine. I told myself that my body was the reason I couldn’t exist in the make believe universe I loved so truly and purely. Fictional or not, if I wasn’t good enough for a world of make believe, how would I exist in reality? I was ashamed that I had failed so miserably; I told myself if I was better, prettier, stronger, slimmer, cooler, than they would have wanted me. It was my worse fears confirmed and suddenly I felt the darkness of that failure slip into every area of my mind. I already felt so “other” to my peers.
Already I was unable to hear and understand the positive and sweet words from my family. I felt trapped in my body. My body that was failing me. Why couldn’t I be more like everyone else? Why couldn’t I look like my girlfriends, why couldn’t I act like them, talk like them and like the things they liked? Why was everything about me “other”?
In so many ways I retreated into myself. I did my best to be almost invisible. Yes I smiled and laughed because that’s what I thought people expected, but inside poison was spreading and I felt like I was losing. All the dreams and desires I had seemed impossible. I would never live a full life in this body and not with this skin. The idea of being wanted, in anything and by anyone, became unattainable and if that was challenged I would flinch in pain waiting to be the punch line of the joke. Suddenly and abruptly I became my own worst enemy, like I said I had to be invisible, so anything that made me stand out was a punishable offence. Everything about me had to be stifled and buried… I had to just survive. I couldn’t burden anyone with my existence, I was inconvenient enough.
That’s how I lived for so long.
I think about that girl often, and I cry. Because of all the things in my life I am sorry for, I am sorry for the way I treated her. I’m sorry for the things I said and did to hurt her. I was intentionally cruel. I inflicted pain and snuffed out joy. I treated her in a way I would never treat my worst enemy and if on seeing anyone I loved treat themselves in such a way, would be filled with indignation; but the rules were different for me.
So how did things change?
Well the beautiful girl who wanted to be in the Harry Potter movie was still alive, buried deep down, but alive. And after some turbulent years, she began resurfacing despite my greatest efforts to keep her silent. But she was everything I had forgotten how to be, bold, loud, full of life and laughter and dreams and hopes and fire. She wanted out and it was beginning to look like she might get what she wanted.
Now I know it’s starting to sound like I might actually be the reincarnation of Jekyll and Hyde, but stick with me because I promise this will start to make more sense.
So fast forward a few years, because that girl still wanted her shot at the movies. And she decided, I decided, that it was time to try again. I loved theatre and tv and film, and I wanted to be a part of it. Sure I still thought I wasn’t good enough, but I also felt like I had nothing to lose, because in my mind, there was nothing someone like me could gain. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I was suddenly being forced to face myself at every turn. Literally, have you tried to do a pirouette and avoid yourself? It’s impossible! The girl who would not look at herself in the mirror, the girl who would whisper the most grotesque things about herself into the cover of darkness, who would restrict and batter her body, was starting to give herself a little wiggle room.
Suddenly we were in the ring together, both girls, each with their grievances, being forced to see each other. Except we weren’t properly trained female wrestlers so there was a lot of awkward grappling and hair pulling. Well hair pulling was off limits because we both agreed we can’t be playing games with my good wigs.
Regardless we began the tussle and it was not pretty nor was it fair. I wanted to to live, because for so long everything that was actually a positive about me had been a negative: I hated my skin, my body, my faith, my personality, everything that made me…me. All these things made me different and different was the worst thing I could be.
It was around this time that I began to self-harm. But god bless my first counselor. She might not have been cut out for it as I spent many sessions counselling her more than she did me, but I stuck it out and eventually realized that I was beginning to vocalize things I didn’t even know I needed talk about.
This voice that had been been quieted for so long was suddenly roaring. She had been so silent and now she had to a lot to say. So I found a different counselor and even though at times it felt like I was doing physical battle, I kept going because little by little, the chains were falling off of me.
I began realizing that over all these years, I had ignored and berated my body. It was foreign to me and I no longer knew what my body needed when I needed it. How should approach myself? I wasn’t quite sure what to do, but loving my body seemed the furthest thing from my mind. I had to get to know myself again, and that was one of my biggest parts of self care. The counselling was helping but I had isolated myself to such a narrow way of living for so long that I knew it was going to take more than counseling to wash away years of unhealthy thinking.
It was called the body positive movement and I was in awe. I was exposed to the most diverse community of women reclaiming their bodies and their minds in the most open and honest ways. I would read post after post for hours and hours of different women fighting back against every obstacle that tried to stop them from loving who they were. Sometimes I would stay up to the early hours of the morning searching through different profiles and reading their own stories and journey. I would go to sleep but my mind would still be turning at the possibilities that laid before me.
Step by step I was ready to take on that same task. I wanted to accept myself. I wanted to face myself and know that it was good enough, whatever I had was enough. The movement caught fire and so did I. My inner voice that had been silent and then began wrestling was finally emerging from the ring, tentatively triumphant and ready to speak out. It meant everything and took everything to speak out, to be honest, to face myself everyday and find ways to just be and to just love. Some days I felt like a warrior woman and some days I felt like I was torturing myself. I squirmed under the light I was beginning to shine on my body. I was debunking myths and facing truths and facts and it was often more exhausting than I bargained for.
When I think back on the courage it took to start posting my own journey, I can recall the cold sweat I would break out into. My anxiety would rear it’s ugly head and I would be struck almost to the point of paralysis and horrified that I was about to take up space. It had been so long since I had taken up space, since I had known that I had every right to live as full a life as anyone else. All I’d lived for since then was being invisible and silent, and opening myself up again would take more effort than it had taken for me to close up.
The more I told myself and others that it was okay to be imperfectly perfect, the more I actually began to believe it. You know that scene in Forrest Gump when Forrest is being chased by those awful bullies because of his leg braces and Jenny is yelling at him to run. And with each step he takes to push forward, a piece of his leg braces flies off? That’s exactly how I began to change. As I ran forward, things began dropping from me. With every painful step, I was stripping me of the even more painful things that had managed to attach themselves to my whole body. When they fell off, my world opened up. And what was in front of me was special, and so worth fighting for. I couldn’t believe I’d never seen “me” before.
I’m now far down that road just like Forrest, and I am still running and dancing and sprinting to the finish line. But I’m not racing to the perfect finish, I’m moving towards my best life. A life that is lived boldy and vibrantly and as purely as possible.
So now my mission to love my body has turned into a mission to be part of the community that wants everyone to love their bodies…precious temples we have been gifted for such a time as this.
There are still days where I feel the ghost of the girl I tried to make myself be. Some of my old habits try to work their way back in, and if I feel tired or vulnerable I’m tempted to welcome them back…but by grace, something always comes along to remind me that that’s not what I am made for. I am not here to use my time to find ways to mistreat myself or anyone else anymore. I am here to love, to radically love myself and everyone else, because when we love, there’s nothing that can stop us.
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