Today at work I was told by a stranger that I was big and broad like a football player. The man then proceeded to puff up his chest and spread his arms wide laughing. Just in case I didn’t understand what he meant I guess, how very kind of him to offer visual clarification. Perhaps it was the shocked look on my face and inability to find words that gave him the impression I may have needed further exposition. That silence didn’t last long mind you, and as the clouds of disbelief in what this stranger had just said quickly dissipated, they gave way to a retort along the lines of, “you’d better shut your mouth now and leave before I toss you out like an actual football player.” However quick my response was though, that was still how my day started, mildly horrified that this man had felt the need to openly judge and insult me for no other reason than the fact that I happened to be standing behind the counter in front of him. Standing there in the body I was blessed with, the one directly inherited from my strong Viking ancestors. Was I suppose to apologize for not being a delicate flower or something? If so I hadn’t received the memo.
His words hung heavy (pun intended) on my mind all afternoon. That small moment, that one thing had deflated me. I stood there afterwards serving customer after customer with my shoulders hunched feeling like an immense expansive being. A bulky hulking figure, blocking paths and views of the skyline.
I had to choose how it was going to affect me, or at least how I was going to show how it affected me. I decided to make light of it, so when a coworker asked what I was having for lunch, I replied, “Oh you know, the usual, small buildings, cars and wayward townsfolk.” Laughter makes things better after all, right? Riiiiiiiight?! Who was that man anyhow, and what did he know? But as I left to forage for lunch and the smell of pizza from the shop beside me called like a siren song to my slightly hungover body, the guilt and shame of my size and frame still hung heavy on my mind. I had a salad.
Now in my mind, my rational, educated mind, I know that what he said wasn’t true. Or wait, was it? Was I actually this huge monster and I’ve just never realized it before now? Was he the first one brave enough to let me in on the big secret? Maybe he saw something I couldn’t see. Maybe all my friends were just being nice. Maybe every photo of me EVER taken happened to be at just the right angle that I didn’t notice my imposing frame. Here I thought it was my personality that was larger than life, but perhaps it was just me all around. Dear Lord, have I been living in sweet oblivion?
What a difference a day makes, or in my case a few seconds. Still coming down from a euphoric high after the Burlesque Hall of Fame, I never expected to suddenly come crashing down so low. I have been walking with my head a little higher and my smile more frequent and genuine since returning from such an inspiring weekend. Having had the opportunity to perform and share a very personal duet about struggling with inner demons to find self-love and self-acceptance was a truly honouring experience. The roar of thunderous applause as the lights dimmed and we stepped off stage filled me with a new passion, more fire, and a reassurance that what I am doing, what I am pouring my heart into, actually matters. The tremendous support, encouraging words and overwhelmingly positive feedback about our number has been staggering. Beautiful, poignant and inspiring are words I keep hearing and will never tire of their power. But then there I was, feeling like a fraud, eating my side salad, no dressing. How ironic. How disappointing that the words of one man, one stranger, could fill my mind with such self doubt, when there were so many more kind words from friends, family, colleagues and idols that I could have been reflecting upon. How fragile everyday can be. I should probably take this moment to let you know that I have a sordid history with eating disorders, body image issues and self harm. One of the reasons our number was so important to me, and one of the reasons this little man’s words could deflate me in seconds I suppose.
I will never be willowy, dainty or petite. I could lose a hundred pounds and I would still have wide shoulders and a high set ribcage. However, I have worked hard to be proud of the body I have been given. My body is strong and built to last. My body bends and twists and allows me to pet all the cute dogs that cross my path. My body can hold open doors for frail old ladies and carry my bags of groceries home. My body allows me to laugh and drink and scream and spoon. My body transports me over hard rain soaked cement and soft sun kissed sand. My body allows me to tremble with pleasure and cry out in pain. My body allows me to dance and share my art, connect with people and move them to tears with the beauty it can express.
I feel bad for that poor man who can only see my body’s shape rather than its potential, because my body is amazing.