GUEST POST: A Mouthful of Want (On Discovering My Body Again)
I was a physical child. I grew up in the country, and I spent a lot of time outside, so my early memories brim with images of oak trees climbed and wildflowers picked and dogs chased. I was an adventurous kid, and I thought of my body as a vehicle for those adventures. I loved it for all the things it allowed me to explore and discover. And because of that physicality, I was very in tune with my body's needs and wants. When I was hungry, I ate. When I was restless, I ran. When I was tired, I slept. My body existed only for myself. I certainly never thought about how other people reacted to it. Why would I?
That being said, I also grew up in a conservative, God-fearing home. So while I was spending my childhood running around in the hot dusty sunshine, at the same time I was absorbing certain ideas about womanhood. Evangelical religion taught me that women were dangerous by nature. Women’s bodies, just by existing, were a temptation to men, and it was the responsibility of women to protect the virtue of men through chastity and meekness and obedience. I listened as the patriarchy preached traditional ideals of femininity, insisting that, for a woman, the highest good was denial of desire. That the worst thing a woman could be was “high-maintenance.” That hunger--for food or sex or attention or anything else--was unseemly. That the best women wanted for nothing. And as a child, I didn’t think much about these ideas, but they stayed with me.
With those ideas rolling around in my young and impressionable mind, it's easy to imagine what happened when I hit puberty. I became a sin. I wasn’t doing anything different, but I looked different, and I had become a temptation. Men leered at me, and I felt guilty for leading them astray. I was suddenly responsible for their virtue, but I wasn’t doing a very good job. That guilt was compounded by the fact that, not only was I a woman, but I was a cavernously hungry one. Voraciously, consumingly hungry. For food, for sex, for attention, for everything. My needs felt overwhelming, and my body was suddenly terrifying to me in both its existence and its want. My body had become a problem to be solved.
For me, like for many young women, the answer to that problem was to make myself disappear. If my body was a temptation, I would starve it out of existence. If wanting was wrong, I would want nothing at all. I spent years quietly starving myself, going to bed hungry, counting calories obsessively, puritan in my denial. The physical consequences of this were obvious and dramatic. But looking back, that wasn’t even the worst part. Really, the most heartbreaking effect of my eating disorder was that I managed to completely sever my relationship with my body. I intentionally taught myself to drown out my internal cues, so that they became nothing but temptations to be fought. I forgot how to listen, and as a result, that childhood love of my body was strangled.
I did get better, physically speaking. Abandoning evangelical Christianity and wholeheartedly embracing feminism certainly helped, as did meeting a man who revelled in all the vast and varying forms of my hunger. But I was still afraid of my body and its want. I still thought of it as something of a danger that needed to be kept under control, rather than a thing to be celebrated. That relationship needed be rebuilt, but I didn’t really know that, and I wouldn’t have even known where to start.
I became pregnant shortly after I got married. It happened on purpose--my husband and I both felt ready for kids. But pregnancy hit me like a train. I had spent years constructing this elaborate facade of control that deliberately distanced myself from my body, and pregnancy shattered it, quickly and without mercy. As soon as I became pregnant, my body took over and started growing a baby. I couldn’t even pretend to have control anymore. And so, begrudging and more than a little fearful, I started to listen to my body instead.
And I liked what I heard.
When I became pregnant, every physical sensation I had suddenly felt like a technicolor wonder. My sense of smell increased tenfold, my sense of taste along with it. My body became very sensitive to touch. I wanted food all the time. I wanted sex all the time. And I got it and I loved it. And as a result, I was pulled back into myself. I felt inside my body in a way I hadn’t felt in years. I had spent so long being completely disconnected from the most basic cues of my body, but the intensely physical process of pregnancy grounded me and forced me back to myself in a way that nothing else had been able to.
Pregnancy also gifted me a certain delight in the strength of my body that I hadn’t felt in years. As a child, I swelled with pride at the things my body could do. I was able to run fast and jump high and climb trees like a squirrel. During the years of my eating disorder, in the act of making myself small and unnoticeable, I had lost that sense of pride. But pregnancy helped me find it again. I was growing a *human being* inside my body! Every pound I gained made me feel stronger. I felt luscious and expansive and magical. I took up so much space! And honestly, I had spent so many years waging war against my body, fighting and fighting, that to see my body as anything other than a danger felt miraculous.
I do think eating disorders never really go away. Sometimes, when I’m very anxious, I can feel mine hovering beneath the surface. But pregnancy offered me a groundedness which helped me to reconnect with my body and learn to trust it again. And it’s a feeling that’s managed to stay with me, through breastfeeding and a second pregnancy and more breastfeeding. I feel rooted in myself, and I’m kinder to myself for it. My body feels like a wonder to me now, and I think it always will.
Brittany is a witchy lady currently soaking up the sun in Austin with her cute husband and sweet sons. When she's not taking care of babes she's usually reading tarot or talking to plants. You can find her at www.meadowqueen.com.