How Do I Love My Body If It's Causing Me Chronic Pain, or The Paradox of Body Positivity
I follow the Instagrams, the Tumblrs, the blogs. I read the books. I preach the power of body positivity to my friends, family, and coworkers. But when it comes to myself, I am at a loss.
Loving yourself can be difficult no matter what you look like, but it is even more so when your physicality veers outside that deemed normal, in whatever way that may be. Media representations of atypical bodies -those which are not white, thin, able-bodied, conform to a conventional gender identity- are still hard to come by, despite some recent improvements.
I am one of those atypical bodies. I am fat. I am not obese, but I am overweight. I know that by some standards, I am not very fat at all. I am able to accomplish everyday things such as climbing a flight of stairs and fitting in an airplane seat (albeit not always comfortably). But that does not matter to my harshest critic, myself.
I have been fat ever since the age of about six. (I should also note that I am also white: I have privilege. I must not forget that. I try my hardest not to, but I do sometimes.) I have never been very athletic, but even when I played sports in middle and high school I was still fat. I have overall had a better track record when it comes to eating healthily. All the same, I have my periods of bingeing. My relationship with food is complicated.
For the past three years, I have had chronic pain in my lower back and legs. Two and a half years ago, I had back surgery to fix a herniated disk in my lower spine which was pushing against a nerve in my legs, causing pain and eventually numbness. Recently, after leaving work early due to increasing pain, I lay down to rest and was unable to get up. The night ended with a six-hour visit to the emergency room.
Now, I am facing the prospect of epidural steroid injections to ease the recurring pain. Whenever anybody learns about my back pain, they ask “What did you do to it?” The answer? Nothing. It is just the way my body is. To see a seemingly healthy (yet still overweight) 27-year-old have excruciating back pain mystifies many.
Loving your body is hard when you are constantly hurting. I’m not a masochist; I don’t enjoy the pain. And ultimately, my body is the source of my pain. Changing my behavior may ease it, but I have come to realize living with chronic pain is likely my fate. How, then, am I supposed to love what is the source of my pain? Some days, I hate my body. And many of those days, I don’t even feel guilty about hating my body. Most of the time, it just feels like my body is against me. Why should I love my body if it causes me pain?
Not to mention the emotional pain that is living with my fat body. I hate how desperately I want to be thin. It makes me cringe to think that despite all the body positivity that filters in and out of me, it has largely not had an effect on how I view myself. Shopping, for instance, is both physically and emotionally painful. After an hour or two walking the aisles and trying on clothes, my back and legs ache. I tire of seeing young women donning gorgeous clothes that inevitably never seem to be available in size fat. By the end of a day of shopping, all I desire is to give it up and wear shapeless clothing for the rest of my life.
Body positivity is not an easy thing to develop or learn. It may be the zeitgeist of the moment, but the entire concept assumes you can make the leap from hating your body (or, at best, disliking your body) to loving your body. First, how about...body acceptance?
Sometimes, it is so much easier to be kind to others than it is to be kind to yourself. I can’t say where I’ll go from here. I would like to think that one day I will wholly embrace my fat body that often causes me pain.