The Body Issue

In starting my blogs I usually reference what I’ve written before to help guide you, my readers, through our journey together. In deciding to write this blog, I have nothing to reference because this is the first time I have written something on this topic. It’s such a big piece of my life, and the lives of other women, so today I’m going to open up about something new. New, and deeply personal. Today I will walk you through a part of my journey about eating disorders and disordered eating. I will also walk you through the radical beliefs that I have surrounding beauty vs. the beauty culture as well as what I believe to be a healing practice. We’ve got a lot to cover,  let’s dive in.

As a young girl in America alongside every young girl then and sadly young girls today, I was raised in a home where fat was feared. On the paternal side of my then family, my grandmother and many of her sisters were obese by definition. There was a deep fear in my family of any of the children becoming overweight because it “ran in our genes.” As children, the weight we were and what we ate, were highly commented on during family gatherings. In addition to this, my own mom was worried that I had a “bigger bone structure” than my sister and that if I became overweight “like grandma” I’d have fewer friends. There was a form of intergenerational trauma sprinkled with the cultural shame of not fitting in abound. All this was because somehow my grandma and her sisters were less attractive than the cultural norm. In typing this I wish my grandma was alive today so I could wrap my arms around her and tell her how beautiful she is.

Disordered Eating to Love

The shame I felt at home quickly spread to school as I created the habit of comparing myself to ideal bodies. This, alongside a forced diet at home by the second grade created a belief in myself that when I had fat on my body I wouldn’t be accepted. By my eighth grade year, I developed anorexia dropping a startling 30lbs in 30 days. As I dropped the weight I was praised both at school and in my extended family. My parents were worried about my calorie intake and so by my 10th-grade year, I had switched to bulimia. In response to this, my parents did take me to counseling and luckily the bulimia was short-lived. Not, fortunately, I then switched from eating disorders to disordered eating. I spent the next decade living in fear of food, crash dieting, and working out non-stop. I lived in fear of my own body. 

In my late 20s, I wanted to change my relationship with food and so I spent several years reading about our culture surrounding food. By the time I was 30, I was passionate about eating real, home-cooked food and the dangers of the food industry. Michael Pollin took me on the journey to learn to love to eat. Yet during this time I still had a massive fear of gaining weight. I then got pregnant twice in two years with Henry and Declan. Talk about losing control. During my first pregnancy, I was not able to mentally embrace the weight gain, somehow I felt shame over my growing body and fear over losing the weight. When Declan surprised me, something inside of me flipped. I was not going to shame my body over growing to grow life. My little surprise baby changed my entire view of how I saw my body. 

After birthing Declan I committed to continue loving my body, it was the reason I had life and my children had life. Being in a constant battle over what I looked like to control what I thought would be my social acceptance on earth was stealing my life. I couldn’t give another second to obsessing over food and my body size; I’d given decades. So I tried a radical change, I embraced my body. 

When the fear bubbled into my mind, or I started passing over a mirror for the 12th time in a day, I placed my hand on my heart, “Baby stop, you’re perfect, your body is giving you life and will tell you what it needs.” I leaned in and listened to what my body wanted and gave to my body in abundance. I gave my body rich, whole foods, heavy lifting, yoga, meditation, rest, and joy. Each time I felt my body or mind shift out of integrity I leaned in; first with forgiveness, then with acceptance. I allowed myself to enjoy my body without judging it. When my mind screeched at me to become smaller I reminded myself, “I am expansive, I am life”  And when my soft stomach, filled with stretch marks from growing life tells me it’s not worthy I remind myself my stomach is magic; my humans grew there. When my little sons knead again my stomach I tell them, “Look little tigers, I have stripes from growing you.” 

The Journey Continues, Still

I’d like to say my mind is fully free of shame over my body, and it’s not. Thoughts still creep into my mind often to ask me to change my body to get a higher level of acceptance on Earth. Yet when these thoughts come I am now able to let them go. Sometimes I can let them go in a moment, sometimes it takes weeks. Just last month I was taking a bath and having a conversation with my stomach, “Okay girlfriend we can either get a tummy tuck or we can love ourselves and we all know what the correct answer is.” Love ourselves, that’s the answer.

I’m writing this to you because I want you to know that I struggle as a woman with this too. But more importantly, I am writing this for my incredible tribe who I know struggle with the same. Should I ever set a table and take a picture of them, your eyes will dance with the beauty before you. When I sit with my sister, my best friend from high school, my stunning employee from Jamaica, the women at my Crossfit gym, and my second family in Illinois I am filled with awe over their beauty. I tell my best friend, “You’re the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen in real life,” and I mean it. Yet I know she, like all the women I listed, pass their damn mirrors still filled with criticism. They see what they don’t like instead of the stunning women they are. Perhaps through sharing my journey to choose to love my own body after decades of disorders, they too, you too, can flip the script on your body.

Ladies, beautiful women, we don’t have one more minute to give to becoming smaller. Close your eyes, breathe in your beauty, and radiate across the world. My loves, my darling ones, our culture is wrong, an ideal body doesn’t exist, but you do. Take your life in your hands, your fork to your plate, and dine in the glorious moments that are your life.

Jessie Cooper

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