Eight years ago, my anthropology professor asked the class a question: Who among us considered themselves feminists? And I did not raise my hand.
I remained silent because, I thought, feminists were intense. They didn’t shave their legs or under their arms. They talked freely of menstruation and took classes like women’s lib and gender studies. They listened to Ani DiFranco. They formed opinions and they weren’t at all shy about them. At the time, I was a French major. I still found my period about as embarrassing to discuss as when it first came when I was 12, and I definitely did shave my legs and under my arms. No way was I feminist.
Except I totally am. I am a leg-and-armpit-shaving, not-always-but-sometimes-the-loudest-in-the-room, indisputable, bleeding-heart feminist. I was too scared to identify as one eight years ago because I still subscribed to the fragile, small, boxed-in definition of womanhood (and narrow, stigmatized definition of feminism) that our patriarchal society has been propagating for decades.
It wasn’t until years later, after I started to work as a dietitian, that I began to see things differently.
You see, I work with a lot of women in my job, and though they are all individuals, all too many come to me with eerily similar stories. They want to lose weight, shrink, be smaller. They want to look like they did before motherhood left its miraculous mark on their bodies. They’ve cut their calories down to virtually nothing. They torture themselves with endless cardio. They’re “bad” when they eat one cookie and “good” when they limit themselves to an 80-calorie diet yogurt for lunch. And yet, the scale doesn’t budge.
Ladies, we’ve been lied to. We’ve been shown the world through pink-colored glasses. We’ve been made to believe we need orange juice laced with stevia and any snack with “skinny” in the name. We’ve been made to fear calories and weightlifting. We’ve been taught to hate ourselves, to turn against our own bodies, to spend our lives trying to squeeze into tangible dresses and proverbial boxes three sizes too small. We’ve been left to wonder what’s wrong with us when none of it seems to work.
There’s a reason none of it seems to work: It’s because none of it does work, not in the long run, anyway. So if you’re exhausted, bone-tired from trying to force yourself and your body into being someone or something you’re not (or used to be), take a deep breath. There’s a better way. Are you ready for it?
First, look your diet square in the eye and say, “It’s not me. It’s you.” You haven’t failed the diet; the diet has failed you. Again. And again. And again. We don’t need 100-calorie packs and insubstantial “girl” food. We need nourishment. We need energy to fuel us. Ladies, we’ve got to eat!
Instead of dieting, have a love affair with food, and by that, I don’t mean some secret midnight binge followed by feelings of guilt and regret. No. Court it. Get to know it: Where did it come from? How does it smell and look and feel? What flavors accentuate it? Light some candles and pull out the fancy china. Dine slowly. Savor every bite. Leave the table while there’s still a little anticipation; no need to stuff yourself when the next tantalizing meal is only a few hours away.
Discover ways of moving your body that make you feel alive, not punished or exonerated. Challenge yourself physically and acknowledge how much your body does for you on a daily basis. You are already strong. You will continue to get stronger.
Wake up every morning, look at your reflection, smile, and say, “I love you,” even if it doesn’t feel true. (Especially if it doesn’t feel true.) One day, you’ll wake up and you’ll believe it.
Hold your head high and stand proudly in your truth, whatever that may be. You never need to apologize for taking up space in this crazy, mixed-up world.
In other words: Take care of yourself.
There is a quote that I call upon whenever I sense the toxic twins—comparison and self-doubt—rearing their ugly heads in the back of my mind: Remind yourself “how exhausting it can be to try to be perfect when you’re not, or to be somebody that you aren’t.”
Your body is not the enemy. It doesn’t respond to the war you’ve waged against it. It’s resisting you, and it will continue to do so until you stop resisting it.
Nourish it. Respect it. Challenge it, but be patient with it.
Stop fighting against your body and start fighting for it.
Start fighting for you.
That’s what it means to be a feminist.