To love myself
I look back at the thirteen-year-old girl in this photo, this totally normal, average looking girl on the cusp of teenagehood, and I almost can't remember why she hated herself so much. Where are the giant fat rolls that she thought she had? Where is the hideous chubby face with the double chin and where are the jiggling thunder thighs and the stocky cankles and whatever other insane bodily flaw we have, as a society, invented?
I can't believe that what I'm seeing, captured for all time with undeniable photographic evidence, is the same person who was looking at herself in the mirror, wondering if someone could magically chop three inches of fat off her thighs.
Because what I see is lovely and awkward and fabulous in her flares and blue-foam platform shoes and sunglasses; totally average and normal and healthy. (If you're wondering how foam platforms could be considered normal, just remember it was 1998.)
I spent so many years following just utterly hating myself. Scrutinizing everything about my body; agonizing over every detail: the stretch marks on my boobs, the flab around my biceps, the amount of fat that would smush out the to sides when I bent my knees. I hated everything about myself. And recently something has occurred to me: it's because I thought I was supposed to.
I thought I was supposed to hate myself because I wasn't super skinny, or didn't have long legs or an Audrey Hepburn neck or shiny straight hair. I thought this - was convinced of it, actually - for most of my life.
Then, sometime in my mid-twenties, I started to realize I didn't hate myself. I actually kind of liked myself, even. I would look in the mirror and say, "Okay, Saadia, you're always going to be a little fat, but you've got that hourglass thing going for ya, right?" But then if I stared in the mirror long enough I would begin to feel guilty for feeling good about myself - something I clearly didn't deserve to feel. Beautiful and fat? They just didn't go together and the world made that very clear.
And then, at age 29 - cue dramatic "we knew it was coming" music - I became a mother. Suddenly there was no choice: I had to love my body. Not for its looks, but for its power. Its power made it beautiful. And, look, my body was shit during pregnancy - I was bed-ridden for four long, excruciating months - but damn did it still grow an incredible baby. And my body was shit right up until labor - all hunched over and aching - but then, damn, it was gold. It was miraculous. It was all strength and beauty and holy hell am I in awe when I think back on all that it was then.
And now this body has a daughter. A little girl who might be lanky like her daddy or chubby like her mama, or something totally her own. And I want her to feel nothing but love for the warm tiny machine that holds her soul. I want her to feel inspired by every nerve ending and blood vessel and hair follicle. She inspires me, and my body, once hated, now inspires me, too. My body brought her body, every cell of it, into this world. And when she looks at me, when I see myself reflected back in her sunlit eyes, I see how truly beautiful I am.
So I don't really give a shit anymore if my ass is wide or my stomach is flabby, because this body is mine. It holds all my secrets, all my wishes, all my loves. It made another person, out of nothing but itself. Hell, it grew a soul, this body. It's mine. And it doesn't belong to anyone else. I define what it is. And I am the one to decide it is beautiful.
I just wish I had known that when I was an adorable thirteen-year-old. I wish I hadn't waited so long for someone to tell me I could love myself. I wish I could have just done it. I hope she can, too.