Oh, darling. What a long, bumpy road it’s been. Like in every relationship, there have been ups and downs. And I have to be honest with you; I have spent most of my life hating you.
When I was in high school, I hated my knobby knees and flat chest. I hated that I could never fill out a homecoming dress and that boys never looked twice at me. I loathed you. Every day I would pray and pray and pray that I would develop breasts and hips and curvy, muscular thighs like the girls in my class. I felt like a freak.
I couldn’t join my friends’ conversations about periods or birth control. I wasn’t a woman yet. Everyone told me I was lucky because I didn’t have to go through the cramps or bloating or general annoyance of a monthly period. I nodded in agreement, but inside I was screaming because I so desperately wanted to experience these things.
I hated you more during my annual checkup when the doctor would ask me if I had gotten my period yet and I would have the answer ready on the tip of my tongue: “No.” I hated you because when I turned 16 and gave the same answer, I was whisked away and prodded and poked and saw the inside of my uterus on a monitor like a pregnant woman. I was put on hormones that forced my body to menstruate before it was ready. It wasn’t until after all this that I was deemed simply a “late bloomer.” But the tests and prescriptions just made me feel like even more of an alien. What was wrong with me? Why was I different?
Then I hated you because at every appointment, the doctor would take a knowing pause and ask, “Do you eat?” and never quite believe my answer, despite the fact that I ate more than anyone I knew. I could stuff myself all day long and never see a pound. You remember those days quite well, I’m sure.
I never did quite learn the proper ways to eat and listen to the signals you gave me and stop when you had enough. So when I turned 18, and started developing, the weight came quickly. Everyone around me was gaining the Freshman 15 and I was going through puberty. And gaining the Freshman 15.
I was eating cheesy bread at midnight and stealing cookies from the dining hall like every other college freshman, but I was also becoming a woman. It all happened so fast and I didn’t even realize it until one day I was getting ready for class and caught sight of myself in the full-length mirror. I noticed my stomach and hips bulging in ways they didn’t used to. I gained weight steadily over the next few years.
I wasn’t accustomed to the new you. It felt foreign, being in this new body. For a long time, I was just confused. I had gone my whole young adult life thinking I had one body type, and then it did a complete 180 in the blink of an eye. I was going through so many changes that no one around me was going through anymore. I hated you for that, too. For being so late to the game.
I then put you through a series of diets, exercises, cleanses, you name it. I counted calories. I drank gallons of water. I went to the gym even though I despised it. But my breasts and thighs kept growing.
I remember being in a community theater show the summer after my sophomore year. We were going through costumes during one rehearsal and someone held up a black dress and said, “Someone small could wear this one” and suggested two cast members who were not me. I remember thinking that for the first time in my life, I was not being categorized as “small.”
I got to hate you for a different reason. I hated you for jiggling when I walked. I hated you for the time I cried in the Victoria’s Secret dressing room. And the Target dressing room. And a thousand other dressing rooms. I hated you for making me feel gross and large and unacceptable. And I’m sorry.
I heaped massive amounts of hatred and shame on you for years, when I should have been thanking you. How sacred you are; for being the thing that carries me around through all of my experiences. For remaining free of sickness and disease. For housing my emotions and thoughts. For possessing the ability to bring life into the world.
And although I haven’t always been at peace with you, I want you to know that I never once hated you for my anxiety disorder. Though you have reflected its numerous and vicious physical symptoms, I know that it ultimately lies in my mind. You are not responsible. You are merely a victim. Thank you for being a warrior though that, too. Thank you for bouncing back. I know you must be tired of it.
Thank you for helping me run and play as a child. Thank you for climbing snowbanks and apple trees and letting me dance and play tennis and figure skate. Thank you for letting me swim in the ocean and build sand castles. Thank you for being able to handle the occasional scraped knee or common cold. Others are not so lucky.
Thank you for it all. And although it will be difficult, I promise to keep reminding myself of everything you do for me. I promise to keep finding reasons to love you. I promise to listen to you; to really listen. I promise to take care of you, because you’re the only one I’ve got. And you’re amazing.
Catherine Santino is a writer and performer living in the NYC area. She started writing because she has a lot of things to say, and you won’t find her sugarcoating any of them. Her interests include strongly worded letters, chocolate-based desserts, and wearing the same outfit in multiple Facebook photos. You can read more on her blog at fullmentalnudity.wordpress.com.