I recall the scenario vividly, played out dozens of times in my past – the hiss of the boiling-hot water careening off shower tile, steam fogging up the mirrors so I remained invisible in their reflection. Stripping off my clothes, multiple overshirts and long pants in summer, my eyes pinned to the ceiling – assuming the well orchestrated habit of keeping my gaze dead-fixed on the blank wall ahead of me as I stepped into the shower. Bathing myself, keeping my eyes closed. Not wanting to look down.
I hated my body that much.
Through much of my teenage years, I was obese. I also had huge purple stretchmarks streaked across my stomach and chest – almost vibrating with colour contrasted with the paleness of my torso. Honestly, in the context of my life experience it was a minor inconvenience, I passed my time in front of computer screens, indoors. But taking showers, or any situation where I had to wear any less amount of clothing really struck me just how little I liked to look at myself.
Fast forward to my early twenties. I had just lost over 100lbs – my stretch marks were now barely visible, pale silver. My t-shirt sizes no longer had several ‘X’s in front of them. My gut was gone. I was thin – but I still felt embarrassment almost to the point of terror if I took off my shirt in front of people. Through effort, I was able to radically change my appearance physically, but in my inner life I still had a ways to go.
Last week I was vacationing at a provincial park in northern Ontario, and there was a beach trip planned. It had been years since I had gone swimming (I used to go to the pool with a shirt on, but even that became too excruciating after a while) and at the last second, I decided to pack a pair of green speedos I had bought as a courage-purchase, with hope that I would one day be able to ‘pull it off physically’.
The moment came when we finally packed to go to the beach. Even at the last second I felt like calling it off, hanging back, or at least just lingering around, fully clothed, while everyone else frolicked in the water. I didn’t.
What followed next felt liberating beyond words. I stepped into the sun wearing nothing but a green speedo and flip flops – and I felt fine. No judgement, no embarrassment, no false bravado and posturing to hide my supreme discomfort. I was just a person at the beach, in beach attire, having fun.
Now, that could be called a personal body-image accomplishment, but what happened next transformed it into a Champion Victory. Because of the logistics, and only having one towel, we decided to visit a local outdoor Art exhibition on the camp grounds directly from the beach – without changing clothes.
So there I was, in green speedos and flip flops, walking through crowds of fully clothed art critics and showrunners – and I felt FINE. There was this profound normalcy to it, like my situation was implicitly understood by everyone around me. There was no inner dialogue choking the life out of the situation for me anymore. I was free to just chill out and enjoy the day.
Returning home, I felt like that was a watershed moment, marking the end of a body image journey.