A few weeks ago, I fell in love with my body.
When I made this confession in our weekly editorial meeting, everybody turned to stare. Tears welled up in the corners of my eyes as I struggled to process my surprising emotions. I wasn’t sure whether to feel embarrassed at appearing vain, or proud to be sharing something that had been taboo most of my life.
Awkwardly, I tried to explain.
“I was at the climbing gym last night and I noticed a couple of young men falling off near the top of a challenging new climb. I decided to give it a go, fully expecting to fail,” I said.
“But I didn’t! As I made my way up the tricky hand and foot holds, my body got herself into flow and lifted me to the top of the 15-meter wall.”
“And I just realised, I loved her. Despite her being old and wrinkled. Bloody hell.”
The whole team was looking at me. Bella, my editor/daughter/therapist/cheerleader, had that glint in her eye she gets when she’s excited.
“This is a blog,” she said. “A good one.”
I wasn’t convinced.
Exposing your most intimate and complex relationship – the one with yourself – is confronting. I wasn’t even sure I was ‘allowed’ to love my body – isn’t that kind of… full of yourself?
I nervously agreed to write the blog – with Bella’s help – hoping I could shed some light on the mistakes I’ve made over the past 62 years. And some of the solutions.
It wasn’t that I had never liked my body.
I liked that she could scamper up trees, do tricks on a bike, walk on her hands, climb tall fences, explore stormwater drains, dangle off the rafters, clamber on top of the wardrobe, scramble onto the roof of a chook pen, spin around the backyard, create sexual pleasure and enjoy delicious food.
But I had never loved her. Not since I was 10 years old, when my gymnastics friends nicknamed me Dumbo and I decided I must be fat. (I wasn’t. Like, at all.)
This belief that I was never lean enough to be a gymnast persisted, despite me becoming the Australian Gymnastics Champion at 16. I would never look like my gymnastics idol, Olga Korbut, who was literally nicknamed the “Sparrow from Minsk”. My body was more elephant than sparrow, always too hungry and too chunky to be loved.
But it wasn’t just her chunkiness I didn’t like. She was also a letdown because she refused to give me boobs when all the other girls got them. She made me feel ugly and unattractive, especially next to my blonde bombshell sister, who got her perfect pair of bosoms at 14.
Through my teenage years, I was fed the message that women’s bodies didn’t exist to be enjoyed. Masturbation was totally taboo, and having an appetite brought shame and guilt. My body, with her cravings and her urges, was shameful.
At 19, I dreamed of becoming a professional dancer, which – of course – required my body to be stick thin. I fasted and binged and fasted. Once or twice, I made myself throw up. This freaked me out so much that I went to see a dietician to try to get “control” of my recalcitrant body. She gave me a diet plan, but still my pathetic body failed to stick to it.
Then, suddenly, my body decided to grow breasts. By the time she was 22, her breasts were so big and perky that they became the star attraction wherever we went. I was still binging, fasting, and exercising obsessively to maintain my curvaceous bikini body, but I secretly loved my astonishing new boobs.
Until they got in the way.
At a 12E, jogging and dancing was so uncomfortable I considered breast reduction surgery. Lol. Four years earlier I was praying for boobs… be careful what you wish for.
Instead of a breast reduction, I got pregnant, and for the first time in my life, I focused on feeding my body with delicious nutritious food and exercising her without worrying about how she looked. My body thanked me with a perfect baby, her greatest achievement. A miracle.
But still, I wasn’t happy. Over the next few years, she got softer and rounder. I got moodier and more miserable.
And then I started hiking. And I believe this was a tipping point in this love story.
Firstly, my body restored her strength and power. She carried us safely on extraordinary adventures to inaccessible parts of the planet, up high mountains, across raging rivers, up vertical ice, through remote valleys, up steep cliffs and over bottomless crevasses.
As she spent more time in nature, I started to respect and cherish her more. She was my temple and I wanted care for her so she could care for me. So she could power me to the places I wanted to go.
Secondly, I was finally surrounded by a community of supportive women. Women of all shapes and sizes. Women with big boobs and small ones, scars and cellulite and wrinkles. I saw bodies I had never seen before – unretouched, soft, strong and glorious.
Bella has also helped me change my relationship with food, from guilty pleasure to loving nourishment. She’s helped me to stop seeing food as the enemy and start seeing it as the source of my vitality and energy. She’s helped me consciously shifted my focus from how my body looks to what she can do, what joy she could bring, where she could take me, and how amazing she made me feel.
I learned more about nutrition, about how to fuel my body for adventure. Threw out the calories-in vs calories out mindset I’d learned through my fitness days and started focusing on nourishment. I learned that if I give her a salad full of veggies, nuts, seeds, avocado, protein, and homemade dressing, she won’t keep demanding food all afternoon. She loves and deserves a variety of physical activities in nature, as well as sleep, rest and pleasure. I learned that she functions best when surrounded by a nurturing and supportive group of women who don’t judge her.
But that doesn’t mean our relationship is perfect. Like a marriage, we have good days and bad. Some days I still look down at her wrinkles and saggy skin, her scrotum knees, her knobbly joints and her chunky thighs and wish they were different. But when I force my focus onto what my body can do, and how she moves, I feel better.
My body evolved to navigate the extreme landscapes of nature using speed, power, agility, strength. She brings me joy every day.
But only if I take care of her. Only if I love her. Not out of vanity, but out of respect.
My fabulous body has spent over sixty years looking after me, despite the way I punished her. Now, it’s my turn to make sure I look after her.