When I recently read Women Food and God by Geneen Roth, one image particularly stuck with me because it made me shudder. She wrote that she “dreamed about slicing off pieces of [her] thighs and arms the way you carve a turkey….” (p. 77)
It horrified me that she would hate her body that much, to treat it like so much meat. Then I realized with a sinking feeling that I had dreamed of the same type of thing when I considered having cosmetic surgery on my legs. And in fact I did have part of my arms cut away (though not quite like carving a turkey).
Why do we dream about this, and in some cases follow through? According to Roth, it is because we think changing our bodies will change our lives. She was “certain that if [she] could cut away what was wrong, only the good parts – the pretty parts, the thin parts – would be left.” (p. 77)
But it is not just that we hate our bodies and how they feel. Rather, we use them as a scapegoat for what we dislike about our lives, which may be everything. We may think, as she writes, “If I fix myself so that I am no longer myself, then everything will be fine.” (p. 31)
For me, personally, my desire for cosmetic surgery was a little different. I had already lost weight and changed my life in so many ways, and I was much happier. But I had discovered that weight alone does not equal a perfect body, despite what diets generally promise. (When have you ever seen a diet ad featuring someone who looks plain or even a bit homely, or still has areas they dislike, despite being thin?) I was embarrassed by the evidence of my former life because I didn’t want to claim that younger self. I wanted to wipe the slate clean, pretend that I had never been heavy.
Yet Roth reminded me that thinness is not “inherently life-affirming or lovable or healthy” (p. 176) I have known that for years, but mostly intellectually, or as it applied to other people. I hadn’t previously considered it in relation to myself, or acknowledged that wanting to cut away pieces of me may not be particularly healthy.
Then I remembered with some relief that while I wasn’t entirely satisfied with my body, I did have limits to what I would do. I had made a conscious decision not to have work done on my legs, knowing that doing so would risk crippling injury.
More than that, I have finally (if only recently) come to a place of acceptance with my body as it is. I am no longer ashamed of who I was before. And while my legs will never win any fashion awards, I claim them happily because they are part of me, and they carry me wherever I want and need to go – what more can I ask?
Which brings me to one more quote that I loved. “Your body is the piece of the universe you’ve been given.” (p. 122) All of these pieces of me, thin or otherwise, are made of stardust, of atoms that were part of my ancestors and the earth and so much more. I cannot help but cherish what I have, and hope that when I am gone and those pieces disperse once more through the universe, they will find homes where they are loved.