I grew up with the story that ‘thin’ was the only acceptable body shape. There could be no beauty without thinness. As I was not thin, I was not attractive and it was unlikely that anyone would love me. I was told explicitly on one occasion (I was probably twelve or thirteen) that no one would ever want me because I was so fat. These stories informed my sense of self, and my sense of who I should be.
I spent my teens failing to be thin. I have the kind of body that gets efficient under pressure, and stores hard in a crisis, and my attempts at dieting looked too much like a crisis to my body. At some points I was down to one meal a day. The story of trying to be thin was more important than any other story. Even though it was never what I truly wanted for myself.
What I really wanted, was to be strong. From late childhood, I rather wanted to be Batman. This body was never going to run fast or climb ropes or leap between buildings, but even so, Batman was a much better story to tell myself. Had I been supported in going with my Batman story, I would have spent my teens trying my hardest to be fit and strong. I would have eaten good food to support my body in being as Batman-like as it could be. I would have been a happier and healthier person.
I’ve spent my whole life fighting against a story that says female beauty is thin, delicate, fragile, down to the bones and looks easy to break. That story has lived in my head, even though it doesn’t match my sense of self. I still want to be Batman. Or Vasquez from Aliens. I want to be strong. And in many ways it is a better investment, for now, and for the long term.
I don’t like it when people read stories into my body about who I am and what I might want to do. I don’t like it when people I don’t know at all want to engage with me on the basis of how my face looks. I don’t find bone thin fragility attractive in other women either, it just worries me. I’m conscious of the way the emaciated ‘beauty’ notion comes to us from the Victorians fetishing women who were dying of tuberculosis. I don’t like the awareness that women who take up less space are preferable in some environments.
The older a person gets, the less scope they have to be ‘pretty’ as society likes to measure it. However, the thin, fragile, delicate older woman is vulnerable in so many ways. I don’t want to age with fragile, brittle grace. I want to be strong. I am not, in my later life, going to get to be Batman, I accept that. But, if I am strong, I will do better. I will be healthier, and happier, and have a body story it is possible to live with, not a body story that would kill me if it got the chance.