Eight Years Old
Jess, a friend of Happy Bodies, reflects on how her experience of her body has changed over time.
When I was eight, my body was what I used to run, to climb, to play. I did not think about my body, much. My body was simply a way of enjoying the world. It was an instrument of pleasure. When I looked into the mirror, I did not see a body, imperfections or beauty. I just saw me, looking back.
When I was nine, ten, eleven, twelve, my body was something that other people looked at when I did not want them to. Touched when I did not want them to. My body was now something that other people had opinions on, control over. I did not quite know how I felt about my body. My stuttering attempts to explain what I thought my body was, what I wanted it to be, what I wanted, were misunderstood, then silenced. My body was no longer an instrument of pleasure. It no longer felt like it was quite mine. When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t see me anymore. It was who I was, but it was a body, and bodies got judged, so I judged it.
When I was sixteen, my body was a monster. It was ugly, twisted. A slimy, repulsive thing, that I did not want to be associated with. That I did not want, at all. I wanted it to go away. I stopped feeding it, afraid of how this ugly thing was growing, taking over. It got thinner when I stopped feeding it. Thinner was not necessarily better, but there was less of it. It felt like progress. If I starved it for long enough, maybe it would disappear. It came to me in dreams, in hallucinations, in the border between waking and sleep, burning at the edges and spreading poison inside me. I did not understand how I was the only one to see the monster. I suspected my family, my friends, my doctors, were lying when they said they could not see it. If they convinced me that there was no monster, then I would have to eat. I would have to live. I was not sure I wanted to. It did not seem worth the effort it would take to fight to regain my body. I was not sure I cared enough to get it back. It had not felt like my body for a long time.
At twenty, my body was something that other people looked at, and I did not see. Sometimes I wanted them to look, sometimes not. It did not seem to make a great deal of difference either way. Sometimes I dressed it to make them look. It got me what I wanted, sometimes. It was useful. When people did things that hurt it, it seemed insubstantial, temporary. It was hard to see why hurting it mattered, much. It was mine, but it felt separate. The things people did to it did not need to affect me. It was my body, yet I did not quite belong inside it.
Sometimes, now, I still feel like I do not quite belong in my body. Occasionally, I still feel the creeping horror I felt at sixteen when I think of my body. Mostly, though, I look into the mirror, and a stranger looks back. Not always an especially unattractive stranger, but nobody I recognize. I try not to hate it. It is just my body, after all. Sometimes though, my body is also what I use to run, to climb, to play. When I run, when I climb, my body is where I belong. It is joyful. It is eight years old all over again.
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