"I'm Going To Miss My Beautiful, Beautiful Body"
I know I'm in good company when I say that I've struggled with weight and body image my whole life, even when I shouldn't have.
I look back at pictures of myself as a child, adolescent, and young woman, and I see that I never actually went through the "awkward phase" that haunts my memory. In my own defense, I take after my dad's side of the family; we're big-boned girls. I'm pretty much medium in every way. My mom, however, is a little waif of a Barbie-doll. While I didn't inherit her body type, I sure did drink her Cool-Aid: "Your value as a woman lies in your ability to make yourself attractive to men, and men like petite women."
The women in my family were a tough crowd. My aunt teased me for the way my thighs rubbed together, "You developing calluses yet, kiddo?" And my grandmother taught me how to suck in my stomach by kindergarten. By the time I turned 40, I was exhausted by the constant managing of my weight and work-out routine, and the incessant nutrition label analysis. I needed a break, a really long one.
Somewhere during those break years, one of my best friends was diagnosed with stage-4 colon cancer. He squeezed every last drop out of life in the year before he passed, surrounded by friends and family at the youthful age of 50. He was a clean-living, marathon-running, back-country skiing, river-running lover of life. His diagnosis and premature death sent shockwaves through our community. I was privileged to spend a lot of time with him that year, especially during his last months under hospice care.
I went to doctor's appointments and accompanied him in his sorrow as we watched his heath slip through his fingers, grasping at any hope for a second chance at life. Every day brought a new symptom, more dysfunction and increased pain. It was torture to helplessly witness this landslide of physical decay. One day, while expressing his grief about the parts of life he was going to miss, he spoke about his "beautiful, beautiful body." His emphasis startled me a bit.
I had never really thought that my friend's body like that. Further, I felt uncomfortable hearing someone talk about their own body in such unabashed and admiring terms. Nevertheless, he was teaching me that when you are at the end of life, when you can see what really matters, when you are reconciling regret on your deathbed, you know that a healthy body is a beautiful body.
I listened with curiosity, both to his meaning and to my own discomfort at hearing it, but I took his words personally and seriously. I didn't want to be that person, the one who on their deathbed came to realize they had taken for granted the miracle of life. I wanted to arrive at that moment in peace, in the fullest acceptance of ALL of me.
Now, all of me no longer rests at my smallest size, but I can actually rest. I let myself off the hamster wheel; I eat and exercise in ways that I enjoy and give me pleasure. And while I don't particular love the look of cellulite, I totally love how I feel toward my body — inside and out.
Further, I am completely impressed with my body's ability to heal and regenerate. I feel as if there is nothing my immune system can't handle. My nervous system is adaptive and fast-responding. I sleep well, I digest well, I am so fortune to have the resilient health that I do.
Finally, like my friend who died, I also have a "beautiful" body. In fact, my body is a living miracle. And thanks to his gift in death, I get to live a life rich in value and worth that, thankfully, has nothing to do with how others perceive me.
#TakeBackTheBeach essays are meant to reflect individual women's experiences. They have only been lightly edited (if at all) by Refinery29 and do not necessarily reflect the company's point of view. Refinery29 in no way encourages illegal activity or harmful behavior.
Have a story of body image and self-perception that you want to share? Submit your essay to our Take Back The Beach contest here.