I have always tried to do everything I was supposed to from a young age. I hated it because I never felt like I fit anywhere. I was a New Yorker who would rather hang out at home than explore the “most amazing city” ever. My passion as a teen was to become a ballerina. I started my training and spent my days being told that pretty much everything about me was “wrong”. My shoulders were too broad, my rib cage too wide, and the tension in my mouth never made me look like the pretty, effortless dancer I was meant to be.
As the daughter of a single immigrant mother in the 80s/90s, I always felt like an outsider because no matter how “American” I felt, my mother’s accent revealed my foreignness. I worried my lack of a father gave the world another reason to think I was unlovable. No matter how well-behaved, hard-working, or disciplined I was, I couldn’t change things about my life I felt I was failing at.
So, I made a friend – a voice inside my head. She seemed like a friend at first, but then I realised she was just another of those mean girls. A bully who told me I was a failure, every day, all day long. She was particular in her criticism. She tormented me when my leg didn’t go as high as a fellow dancer’s. She called me “disgusting” because she knew my favourite way to relax was to order a burger with fries and a milkshake with friends. She told me I was “stupid” and “ditzy,” which I found frustrating because I was struggling. I was constantly losing things or getting lost, forgetting what I needed to remember. I was fidgety and distracted. She also told me it was my fault my dad wanted nothing to do with me. When my mom had a mental health breakdown, and I lost her to suicide when I was 23, the frenemy in my head blamed me again.
I’m 39 now, and that voice is barely a whisper most days. Sure, she still hangs around, but she’s disappointed in me. Maybe it’s because I still enjoy those burgers – joyfully, without her permission. Or because she doesn’t matter anymore.
I’ve had four kids, and the voice knows she can’t compete against a body that has grown, fed, lost and birthed. There are so many “imperfections” that I’ve lost count: Hernias, haemorrhoids and pelvic floor spasms; loose, wrinkled skin that folds over itself infinitely; a belly button that sometimes gets tangled in zips.
Things are soft. They sag. It’s a body that carries the trauma of birth and grief, abandonment, and years of insecurity and self-loathing. A body that I admire and, I feel, deserves an immense amount of love. One I’ve learned to cherish.