Spending a vacation week on a bike, including taking lots of bike selfies, was a wonderful way to reflect on where I’m at in healing my relationship with my body. Riding the roads of Manitoulin Island, inhaling the sweet smell of wildflowers, I thought a lot of about past bike trips when I was younger, thinner and totally obsessed with my body size/weight/shape.
Back then, I was a beautiful young woman who was locked in a fight with her body, making the kitchen and the gym the primary battlegrounds. I worked in partnership with diet culture to create so much suffering for myself, constantly comparing myself to thinner friends, constantly obsessing about what was going in my mouth, and constantly fixated on my next workout. I would have the most intense inner reactions to seeing fat babes in public wearing tight, skimpy or sexy summer clothes. My literal thoughts would be “How come SHE gets to wear a bikini and I don’t?” or “How come SHE gets to wear booty shorts and IIII don’t?” Reader, I was not inviting myself into a moment of reflection; I was having a pure reaction to witnessing the liberation in others that I did not feel I deserved. If I had actually properly reflected on this question, I would have sagely advised myself, “Fuck, yes, you do,” and that would have been that.
Instead, I tormented myself with food rules, food restrictions and a years-long flirtation with orthorexia that made me fear for my mental health. The messed up thing was how “healthy” it looked. I knew, though, that I had to find another way to live, and through a lot of hard work, I did. It’s been five years now of going deep into a sustained practice of body acceptance/fat acceptance/fat liberation and I’m not even sure I can put into words the difference it has made to my life. I’ve found a place of peace inside of myself that I am able to go back to again and again. Establishing that oasis of trust within myself has transformed my life’s choices since then.
Every summer since 2014 has felt like a graduation into a deeper and deeper level of knowing about both the political philosophy of fat liberation and the personal knowledge that I am fully right and ok in this body. That first summer after quitting diet culture, I was still very much in a mode of very deliberate, daily practice, and I quietly freaked out much of the whole season about showing my once-defined arms. MY ARMS, MY ARMS, EVERYONE CAN SEE MY IMPERFECT ARMS. It makes me laugh now, like WOOO WOMAN WITH ARMS HEADING DOWN YONGE STREET ALERT THE AUTHORITIES.
The second summer, I was a little more used to it, and focused more on finding summer clothes that would just make me feel good. The following year, I purchased the very first bikini I’ve ever owned in my life, a hot li’l black-and-white polka dot number that I wore stand-up paddleboarding in locations across Ontario. Last summer, the problem with my body was pretty well exclusively about the ankle I rolled hiking in Newfoundland, and not the size of any of my body parts.
So I arrive here at this summer: happily riding a bike while fat.
Turns out that all those years of practicing body acceptance came in really handy while riding 50 km a day on rolling hills. I was able to enjoy everything about this trip–the wildflowers, copious amounts of butterflies, sunshine, even the gravel roads–because I wasn’t preoccupied with what it meant for my body to be looking or functioning the way that it was. I felt intensely grateful for my body as it is right now, including the burning thighs and unspeakably sore butt. Having to walk my bike up a hill was as morally neutral as being able to coast down one.
Building a mindset that is no longer predicated on bodily shame was not easy (and could not have happened without working with some amazing coaches and benefitting from the fat activism of bad bitches like Virgie Tovar). Healing an extremely messed-up relationship with food and a lifetime of hating your body is hard work, made harder by the fact that we live in a fatphobic society that reminds us on the regular how distasteful and distrustful fat bodies are. We live in a culture where eating what you want–the practice of intuitive eating–is a ticket you can only redeem once you’ve made yourself as small as possible and as hungry as possible, in order to prove your worth. But when you can bring yourself to ease into your body’s deepest knowing, you find out that eating what you want is a relaxing act of deep self-trust, and reflects a world where the nutritional value of the food does not equate to the value of you.
This piece was originally published in The Generalist on August 6, 2019.