I was recently traveling on a flight from Louisville, Kentucky to Denver, Colorado. Sitting next to me was an older man, dressed as you’d expect of the prototypical southern gentleman in his suit and bow tie, who appeared to be in his 80’s. When I sat down in my seat he exclaimed with some surprise, “You’re a big girl, aren’t you?!” Admittedly, I was left a bit speechless and mildly amused. Yes, at 5’11” and weight gain that has pushed me over the “recommended” weight for my height and age, my body is larger than that of the average woman. He didn’t seem to be offering judgment, simply observation and lack of the filter we might expect in polite society. Somewhat befuddled, I simply acknowledged that my body is bigger than most.
Most remarkable to me in this encounter, was my reaction, or more accurately, my lack of reaction—which brought a sense of relief, and probably even a bit of pride. You see, for most of my life I have been caught in a battle with my body, soaking in every hurtful message from society, family, coaches, boyfriends, girlfriends, random people—you get the idea—and I have built a mighty fine arsenal of harsh, negative, belittling and demeaning words, thoughts, emotions and actions to sling at myself, at my body, eroding most sense of confidence and comfort in my own skin that may have existed at some point early in life.
I am not alone in this experience. I think it’s safe to say many, if not most, women in the western world have similar arsenals ready on command. What struck me was that in the face of a grouping of words that has the potential to unleash the inner brigades (against myself, not this southern gentleman), I didn’t even turn to this internal arsenal. Oh sure, I had a momentary flash of uncertainty and remembered the possibility of accessing the arsenal, but I wasn’t interested in going for the reserve of weapons. I heard the statement for what it was, acknowledged the objective truth of it, and was amused at this older man’s lack of filter.
I was struck by the possibility that, perhaps after years of studying this idea of body compassion, it had finally begun to take hold without so much effort on my part.
To be continued…