Before I share my letter, some background. I have a body. So do you. Over the years, it has frequently gotten a raw deal in terms of how I think about it. It’s much easier to think of it negatively than any other way. However, as I have discovered, there is a reason for this. In Louann Brizendine’s fantastic book, “The Female Brain,” she explains that there is a part of our brains assigned to the task of negative thinking. This tiny little formation, called the anterior cingulate cortex, is responsible for how you worry, compare and judge yourself (and others) negatively. You know the whole Ashley Judd thing going on now? About how she was portrayed in the media as having a “puffy face”? Well she wrote quite the essay about it in the Daily Beast Anyway, those people criticizing her were using their anterior cingulate cortex. But we can be quite brutal to ourselves using the same tiny little structure.
Okay, yes, men have the same neuroanatomy. But, this particular structure is larger in women. We use it to meticulously observe emotion in others (Did she do a double take when she looked at me? Does she think I look fat?) We judge (I can’t get away with wearing this, my hips are too big!). In the ultimate double-whammy, our brains are also super sensitive to hormone fluctuations, which does the unsavory task of amplifying any emotional nuance which may (or may not) be present. In other words, if you are two days from your period, you are even more hyper-aware of any hint of emotion in others. So, my daughter just came into the room all pouty and quiet. I asked her what was wrong and she shrugged her shoulders and walked away. I am now wondering what is wrong. My husband would have completely missed this, I am sure. Not because he is a bad parent. But because he is not evolved to be as cognizant of such things.
A 2000 study by Thomas Joiner at Florida State University found that we are hard wired to remember the bad stuff more vividly and shamefully even if it is manufactured in our own heads. So, if you think your butt is too big, even if no one else has pointed this out or told you so, decades of telling yourself make you acutely ashamed of your butt. On top of that, if you are in any way nervous or anxious when you make such a judgment on yourself (think: first time you meet someone, at a job interview, on a date, speaking in front of a group, the entirety of middle school), the negativity sticks like glue.
So, in hopes of dispelling the negative and embracing the positive, I will share my own letter:
Please accept my apologies. I have thought the worst about you for a long time now and I need to let you off the hook. I am sorry, in no particular order, about the following:
Sometimes, when I look at you, I feel ashamed. Like you are a reflection of laziness or my unbridled desire for cheese.
I have been angry at you for things which are not your fault, like dark hair and zits. My sister has the same amount of hair but it’s blond so she doesn’t have to shave it. Bitch.
I did not appreciate your younger incarnations, your lack of gray strands and your fuller breasts.
I know bodies come in different sizes, and I never stopped wishing for one that was different than you.
I have imagined you changed by plastic surgery.
I have a hard time listening to you, like when you are tired or sick. I get frustrated too quickly with you when you aren’t what I want right now.
Reading all those shape and fitness magazines! They only make me be more judgemental of you. I mean, we could manage a bikini, couldn’t we? Okay, dammit, we don’t have to!
Equating how you look with how worthy a person I am. That’s not fair.
Never trying on clothes because I don’t want to face you in that fucking dressing room mirror. You deserve better than that.
Even though my husband says you are beautiful, I have a hard time digesting that. The bad stuff I tell myself is easier to believe.
Commenting on the appearance of other women. It’s not compassionate.
Still berating myself after so many years. It is really fucking old, isn’t it?
Exposing you to toxins to make you more attractive. Like tanning beds, dexatrim and Jazzercise.
I also wish to thank you for the following:
My babies. I am so lucky to have not struggled with a thousand interventions to help me get and stay pregnant, and that you graced me with adequate milk supply and the ability to cry at the slightest provocation.
Bouncing back. Every time.
Working with me during yoga. I know you don’t like being stretched that way but we have made some excellent progress!
Sex. No, reader, you are not getting any more information than that.
Being remarkably healthy and relatively free of aches and pains. You are holding up quite nicely.
Dancing with my girls. Sheer bliss.
My breath. Being able to use it has helped us become so much more grounded.
Being able to ride my bike. So simple, so special.
My brain. You make me curious, which keeps me alive.
Being able to touch my toes, hold my pee until I make it to the bathroom, enjoy delicious food, read great books, hug my kids, listen to transcendent people and music, navigate a car, run with my dog and a thousand other things I take for granted on a daily basis.
A two parter! Next post will be about research to make all of us feel better about our bodies. We could all use a little more self acceptance.
In case you are interested, here is the link to Ashley Judd’s essay. And all the praise and criticism for it: