Marriage is a funny thing, we make our vows to a person on our wedding day and we rarely think about how impossible it is that the person we are marrying will stay the same. Life happens. We change, transform, shift. Personalities change. Circumstances change. Bodies certainly change.
I have sat in my cozy low lit office on many evenings across from a client, tears streaming down their face as they tell me that their spouse has angrily hurled a body based criticism at them. Bodies can be such shame triggers. Suddenly my client is shuttled back to that time in elementary school when their friend made fun of them for bringing twinkles in their lunch. “Those will make you fat, you know?!” A lunch table of giggles erupting around them.
They are transported back to their kitchen where their more body compliant sibling was given full permission to eat, but they are given a “special meal” of salad. Glancing around they are reminded, that their bodies are shameful. Their bodies can’t be trusted. I have a million stories collected in my heart just like this. I wish I didn’t. I wish I could stop the millions of ways we tell people that their bodies will never measure up.
Body comments comes in various forms. In the heat of an argument. As a cross complaint. In the form of fear. Under the pretense of concern. From tired mouths that are exhausted from doing another night shift, with a newborn. It comes as a joke, teasing, a love pat. But they are never funny.
“Your body isn’t attractive to me anymore.”
“When is your body going to go back to the way it was before the baby?”
“You’re getting a little dad bod lately. Maybe lay off the beer.”
“I didn’t sign up for a fat wife.”
“It’s not your weight, it’s your health- I can’t stay with someone who doesn’t prioritize their health.”
“It’s clear you don’t even love yourself, so how can you ever love me?”
“You are being a bad example to our kids.”
“You used to take better care of yourself.”
Till death do us part. In sickness and in health. Those are the vows we make. It’s hard to watch them crumble in the wake of weight gain. Especially now that I am learning that our bodies just biologically don’t want to lose weight. It’s an impossible standard. Many of my clients, and even myself, have spent a lifetime weight cycling. I used to think it was my fault. Little did I know with each diet I was teaching my body to slow my metabolism, mistrust it’s own hunger and fullness cues, and enter into a deprivation mode that left me feeling constantly out of control around food. So I lost weight and found weight. Lost tiny pieces of myself on the alter of dieting. I would spend hours meal planning. Start each day with self punishing exercise. Then hit a wall and eat all the things I told myself I would never eat again. And of course when you are “off the wagon” what’s the point of exercising? Then I would start over again. I was in a constant battle against my body.
I am so grateful my spouse has loved me through it all. He is so happy I have found freedom from diet prison. He remembers dinners where I stared at him blankly, so calorically deficient I couldn’t even process enough to have interesting conversation. He remembers times I didn’t want to leave the house because I hated my body so much, I couldn’t bring myself to get dressed. This body I inhabit is now the least important thing to him, although he still claims to love it and encourages me to do the same. He wants me to live life fully and he knows I could never do that while my constant focus was routed in shame and unhappiness.
So my heart breaks, to imagine what this road to self compassion would be like without that. When the world is against me, I still have a safe place to turn. Some of my clients don’t.
Here I sit across from my client and I want to scream. I want to cry. I want to try my hardest to convince their spouse that shame is never a powerful motivator for change and seeing their spouse for more than their body will free them too. Shame has entered their inner sanctum. The person they have been the most vulnerable with, the person who has seen all of them has said “You are unacceptable. Too much. Not enough.” I want to fix the broken world we live in or transport my client to a precious body acceptance bubble where they can at least heal.
How can a person ever survive this shame?
If this is your story, I don’t have magic words to fix it. People have found my body unacceptable before. I have had “you’re fat” aimed at me like a weapon by people I cared about.
I hope you take a second to care for yourself. Instead of punishing your body, I encourage you to nurture it. Rest if you need it. Eat satisfying meals. Take hot baths. Whatever you need to do. Your desire will be to go to war on your body. To beat it into whatever acceptable package you think will make it worthy. Whatever it takes to win that constant dangling carrot of approval from others. I invite you to consider doing the very opposite. Rest in your body. Care for it. Treat it kindly. This is my biggest rebellion in a world that tells me I need to be a constant improvement project.
Remember that a lifetime of self hatred hasn’t given you anything worthwhile, so far. More of that won’t make things better. If it worked it would have already worked. Whatever the heck “working” even means.
I know you love your spouse but their comments say more about them than they will ever say about you. What your spouse has just told you is that they are angry, afraid, insecure, struggle with communicating, or misled. That’s not on you. Don’t internalize that shame. That is 100% on them.
Find community. You are lovable and worth loving. We all are. There are so many people that will love you through this.
Seek healing. Did you know that there are body-accepting, non-diet medical practitioners, therapists and dietitians? It’s true. If you need help, I can hook you up with one! There are also life changing books like Health at Every Size and Body Kindness. I have found so much healing in these pages.
Your body is a good body. I am so sorry that our culture has brought you so much pain for being how you are. Your spouse is being sucked into this same toxic culture. I can’t take away that pain, but I can sit with you while you process it. You deserve so much more. There is freedom and healing and it won’t be found in another diet. That will only bring you more confusion and separation from your true self.
I hope and pray you find healing for your heart. I hope you find freedom.