Love My Body

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Love My Body
Body Image
How I
Learned To
Love My
Body
Marie Claire asks four
writers to relive, in poignant
detail, the emotional
journeys that have led them
to love the skin they’re in
‘Feeling well is more
important than feeling thin’
Award-winning writer Lionel Shriver reveals how good health
and happiness have finally made her love and respect her body
I
Photograph by Suki Dhanda
like to think of myself as unusual.
Yet in one respect during my younger
years I was just like practically every
other woman I knew: my relationship
with my body was fearful and antagonistic.
I was terrified of getting fat. I was anxious
that my athletic discipline would slip, and
I’d give in to a seductive sloth that would
turn my body to pudding.
But I’ve finally instituted a routine that
maintains a body with which I can remain
on friendly terms. At last I trust that
eating a single dark-chocolate truffle does
not mean I will uncontrollably devour the
whole assortment. If I’m on a flight from
San Francisco that knocks out running
that day, I trust, too, that I will resume my
regular exercise regime on arrival, so I’ll
put my feet up with the paper and stay
cool. Besides, I’m sufficiently advanced in
years to have glimpsed another range of
terrors that have nothing to do with remaining taut and slender – the many cares
that flesh is heir to as you get older.
In my twenties, my dietary habits were
erratic, and eating made me feel chronically guilty. In retrospect, it saddens me
that so many women of my generation
and younger have frittered such a large
proportion of our energies on reading
ourselves the riot act for whatever we
dared to eat that day. Back then, my
response to gaining the
odd pound was extreme:
I fasted. First for three
days, then five, then a
week. Once I discovered
I could live on coffee and
diet soda for that long,
I jacked up the fast to 21 days. Twice I went
for three solid weeks eating zero calories.
In all honesty, I found fasting fascinating. You go through phases. The first day is
the worst. You just feel hungry and petulant. But subsequently there are periods
of curious exhilaration; you get high. It’s
an intriguing exercise of pure will. Yet it’s
also violently hard on your body. I never
plan to do one of those goofball fasts again.
Instead, I keep to a regime that some
people find equally nutty, but that works
for me. I eat one meal a day – dinner. That
meal is robust, nutritious and delicious.
I’m always hungry for it, and eat whatever
I want with gusto. My weight has varied by
only a pound or two for years.
As for exercise, I just do it. Barring
the odd airplane, I exercise every day. It’s not a
choice. If I waited to be
in the mood, I’d never
leave my chair. But faithful, regular exercise is
what keeps my relationship to my body fundamentally affectionate. I may rue whatever energy I’ve ever
squandered on whether to eat a piece of
cheese, but I’ve never regretted a single
set of press-ups once the toil is behind me,
which is why I’m convinced that Jackie
Kennedy Onassis’s famous {continued}
‘Twice I went
for three solid
weeks eating
zero calories’
JUNE 2010 MARIE CLAIRE <#R#>
0123456789
Body Image
‘I hadn’t been naked in front of
another man for years’
When her husband of 20 years left her, Justine Picardie didn’t know
how to face the world. Here, the critically acclaimed author explains
how accepting her body has helped her to accept her pain
Daily
exercise
helps Lionel
love her body
deathbed lament,
“Why did I ever do all
those sit-ups?” is apocryphal. I may detest
sit-ups, but on my deathbed I’ll only feel
sorry that I didn’t do a few more.
Since writing my new novel, So Much
For That, I have a new raft of fears: cancer,
chemotherapy and any diagnosis that
destroys my ability to eat and drink with
pleasure, to negotiate the world without
pain. Fortunately, I’m in perfect health so
I’ve instituted a new discipline: maintaining an awareness of that good health.
I now walk down the street consciously
enjoying the long, buoyant stride of my
legs. I luxuriate in hot showers, pleased
that I needn’t yet install hand rails to prop
myself upright. Sitting down before a slab
of sea bass, I think: ‘Isn’t this great!’ Or I’ll
sip a glass of wine, gleeful that no doctor
has forbidden me from drinking because
alcohol can’t be combined with whatever
medication I can’t live without. I extend
over cool, fresh sheets and try not to drop
off to a rich, dream-filled sleep without
first savouring the certainty that I’ll not
be restive from itchy rashes or sciatica.
I feel well. As I age, I realise that feeling
well is even more important than feeling
fit or thin. When the time comes that I feel
wretched, I want to look back with surety
that at least the free ride wasn’t wasted on
me while it lasted.
Lionel Shriver’s latest novel, So Much For
That (£15, HarperCollins), is out now.
<#L#> MARIE CLAIRE june 2010
0123456789
As my husband walked away from the
house we had shared, from the life we
had made, I curled up in a ball on the
kitchen floor, howling like an injured
creature, then crying, in huge, racking
sobs. Grief, like childbirth, overtakes
you; there is nothing you can do to
stop its crashing waves and, as I wept,
I remembered, ‘This is how it felt when
my sister died, this is how it feels…’
To those who are going through
something similar, let me say now:
you are not alone. You might feel alone
– the terrible sense of
abandonment; or worse,
as if part of your body
has been cut off. But
I promise you, someone
else is sharing the same
pain, at this very second.
You have to remind yourself to breathe
– I found I was holding my breath,
waiting for the next blow – and to keep
breathing. Sometimes that’s all you can
expect of yourself. I was clumsier than
before, slipping on the stairs, dropping
glasses; and with each fall, I felt much
more aware of how fragile {continued}
‘My body went
numb, then
seemed to shrivel
up with pain’
Photograph by Linda Brownlee
A
fter all these years together,
we’d reached a kind of
understanding, my body and
myself. I was a gawky, skinny teenager
who would have preferred bigger breasts,
although I could see the advantages
when it came to school games (nothing
to get between me and netball). As
I grew older, I would occasionally poke
at the floppy bit of my stomach that
looked like our elderly cat’s underside;
still, I was thankful to my body, for it
had given birth to two babies, nurtured
small boys into tall
teenagers, held firm
as the world turns.
But last year, when my
husband suddenly left
me, it was as if a bomb
had exploded, and in the
aftershocks my body went numb, then
seemed to shrivel up with pain. That’s
the thing about heartbreak: it hurts, it
really does, right through to the core.
Anyone who has known loss – and
all of us do, for it is entwined with love
– will remember its
visceral physicality.
Time healed
Justine’s
emotional and
physical pain
Body Image
<#L#> MARIE CLAIRE JUNE 2010
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‘Anorexia is so much more
than learning to eat again’
Marie Claire’s features editor Kasie Davies on finding
a new confidence after beating an eating disorder
R
ecently, I came upon a letter that
my dad wrote me nine years ago.
It wasn’t until I reached the final
line that I started to cry. ‘I wish you could
see what everyone else sees,’ he wrote.
‘You are beautiful.’ Those 12 words broke
my heart. Of course every father thinks
his daughter is beautiful, but it was more
than that. He wrote this letter in February
2001: my first year out of university, and
my first year with anorexia.
I’ve grown up watching my weight and
controlling my diet, as if it is the expected
thing to do. And yet I’ve never been fat. In
my late teens, I hovered around the 9st
mark, and even at my tubbiest, when I left
university, I was just over 10st. But I know
very few women who are 100 per cent
delighted with their bodies. Even slender
girls with long legs and tiny waists complain about cellulite and flat chests. Why
do we gripe? For many, the easy answer is
that we have been brainwashed by ideals.
To an extent, this is true.
I do believe women of my
generation are unhappier
than previous ones, not
because we’re worse off,
but because our expectations are higher. But
while I admit that the
pressure of expectation played a part in
my eating disorder, it would be wrong and
naïve to completely lay the blame there.
As with most mental disorders, there is
no short or simple answer to what led
a bright and ambitious young woman
to such a dark place. I’d just moved to London after graduating and found myself
feeling more alone than I ever thought
possible. I didn’t tell my family how I was
feeling because I felt like a failure. I can
still remember the strained sound of my
voice on the phone, assuring Mum everything was ‘totally cool’, before hanging up
and doubling over in tears. To fill my days,
I joined the gym. Throwing myself into
exercise, I got a momentary lift when
I discovered I’d dropped 3lb in ten days, so
I started cutting back on food as well.
Soon, exercise and dieting became my
new best friends.
And that’s what
anorexia feels like:
a friend who cheers
you up, understands
you, makes you feel
stronger and in
control. At least, it
does at the beginning, before it becomes
an obsession. Here’s what it was like: I felt
guilty every time I put mayo on my meal
or butter on my bread. Soon, I felt guilty
about putting anything in my mouth at all.
No matter how little I ate each day, even
when I ate nothing at all, there was always
a nagging feeling that I could have tried
harder, that I could have survived on less.
Did I think I had an eating disorder? God,
no. I still had way too much flesh on my
bones. What I didn’t realise was that anorexia has nothing to do with how much
you weigh, but how you see your body. It
distorts your self-perception and quickly
stops being about losing
weight. Because bizarrely
I didn’t want to be skinny.
I wanted to be in control
and prove I could do
something really well.
Five months later and
2st lighter, I was vaguely
conscious of how much weight
I was losing, but would tear into a rage if
anyone suggested I was too thin. I had
gone from being a sexy, confident woman
to – as I put it – looking like a child again.
My body disgusted me and I would often
stand in front of the mirror and cry because
the image looking back at me was so ugly
– until it got to the point where I stopped
feeling anything at all. I was neither tearful, nor miserable, nor angry. I literally felt
nothing, and that was the scariest phase of
all. I was the pale and pathetic shell of
a person that kind of looked a bit like me.
Deep inside, I knew I needed help, but
it wasn’t until the night my sister held me
in her arms and reminded me of all the
wonderful reasons I had to live that
I finally accepted it. But the struggle was
much tougher than I thought. {continued}
‘I’ve grown into
someone more
perceptive and
confident’
Photograph by Ian Dewsbury
everything was. One day, you’re married,
the next you’re not.
Anyway, the days passed, and turned
into weeks, and months, and eventually I
realised I no longer had to remind myself
to breathe. But my body still felt very
fragile – as if it had been in an accident.
My sons would give me quick hugs,
which were comforting, but at night,
I felt lonely; sleepless in the big marital
bed, burying my head in the pillow.
And then one May evening, a friend
of a friend invited me to dinner, and
there I met a man, a friend of the friend
of the friend. It was as random as that;
although there seemed to be a kind of
magic in its accidental quality, as if the
universe had chimed, just for a second.
He made me laugh, and the next day he
rang me, and asked me to the theatre.
This was both thrilling and terrifying.
OK, it was just a date, but I could not
help but be reminded of the fact that
I hadn’t been naked in front of another
man for about a hundred years. Not that
my clothes would be coming off, because
I had sworn never to trust a man again.
Even so, I had a manicure and a pedicure,
just to make myself feel better about my
battered body; and when the man asked
me on a second date, I took myself off
for a bikini wax. I was still vowing
celibacy, but I decided it was time to
do something I’d not done before, and
waxing seemed like a good place to start.
Soon afterwards, I broke my vow of
celibacy. My head was telling me not to,
but my body took charge again, desire
flooding through, overwhelming the hard
knots of grief and rage. I had no time to
think about how embarrassing it was to
be seen naked by a man who was not my
husband; indeed, I stopped thinking, my
mind switched off its ceaseless, circular
anxieties for the first time since my
husband left. I just felt like me again; back
inside my own body, alive and breathing
as another man touched my skin.
Healing takes longer than that, of
course; there are days when my heart still
aches. But I am surprised and grateful at
my body’s capacity to recover, to discover
simple pleasures; to uncurl again, and in
doing so, remind me, ‘This is who I am.
This is what it means to be me.’
Justine Picardie’s new book, Coco Chanel,
(£20, HarperCollins) is out in September.
Body Image
<#L#> MARIE CLAIRE JUNE 2010
0123456789
‘I no longer have to evaluate my
self-worth by what I look like’
Award-winning writer and journalist Ariel Leve explains how
maturity has given her the confidence to finally stop dieting
I
have never wanted to look like anyone
else. Which isn’t to say that I have
always been happy in my own skin.
That took a while. But I can’t recall that I
have ever looked at women in magazines
and thought, ‘If only I had her thighs,
life would be easier.’ Maybe I knew that
even in skinny jeans, life is tough.
Or maybe it was more in my nature
to compare myself in other ways.
Academically, then later professionally.
I learned early on that physical beauty
was subjective and so I would sooner
covet another woman’s
apartment before I would
her bone structure.
Growing up in New
York City, there were lots
of opportunities to feel
physically inadequate.
The girls I went to school with looked
like models, and many were. I was never
in the same category and didn’t try to
be. If I’d been cast in a movie, I would
probably be the best friend. Which was
fine with me. The supporting characters
are usually the most interesting.
From around 18 until my early
twenties, the supermodel phenomenon
was ubiquitous. Cindy Crawford and
Linda Evangelista appeared in George
Michael’s Freedom ’90 video. Suddenly,
models were superstars, and the bar was
impossibly raised because not only were
they beautiful but they had power too.
During this period, I was on a
different diet every other week – though
to refer to them as ‘diets’ is generous.
They were clear signs of an eating
disorder. In college I went through a
period where I ate a specific brand of
corn muffin every day. I’m not sure
why I thought they were low calorie
but perhaps it was the word ‘corn’.
If I couldn’t get to the gym, it was as
though my life support had been turned
off. Searching for some way to manage
my universe, there was a misguided
belief that if I maintained a specific
weight, it would be OK. But it wasn’t
enjoyable and it had the opposite effect
of making me feel better about myself.
Somewhere along the way, in my
mid-thirties, I got tired of being so
restrictive. I had gained a ton of weight
after a break-up and withdrew into a
world of bagels and baggy shirts. The
turning point came at 35, when I stopped
counting calories and started getting
more pleasure from food. A sense of
acceptance set in as I began to take care
of myself and calm down about the
flaws. I see wrinkles and lines and I don’t
care. Grey hair I’m not thrilled about but
that’s easy to fix.
Sometimes I might
see an outfit I like and
feel a bit of remorse that
I don’t have the body to
carry it off. But then I
think, if I wanted to work
at it, I could. But I don’t. And it’s OK.
I feel lucky to no longer have to worry
about evaluating my self-worth by what
I look like. When I look in the mirror,
I like what I see and I’m happy in my
own skin. Even if it is dry.
Ariel Leve’s latest book, It Could
Be Worse, You Could Be Me (£8.99,
Portobello Books), is out in June.
‘At 35 I stopped
counting calories
and took pleasure
from food’
How do you feel about your body?
Tell us at marieclaire.co.uk/bodies
Photograph by Jonathan Torgovnik
Recognising my problem was one thing.
Finding out why, and how I could be
brought back, was a whole different battle.
My parents arranged for me to see a
counsellor. None of us were prepared for
how much we would all cry. I can still see
my mum and dad holding each other’s
hands and quietly crying as I confessed to
my fears of disappointing them. Avoiding
food and losing weight had become a way
of proving I was strong. But it was all an
illusion, stopping me from dealing with
the real issues: perfectionism, loneliness
and insecurity. Recognising this was like
having a light switched on in my brain and
gave me the clarity to move forward.
It was thanks to counselling, and more
importantly the support of my wonderful
family, that I kept going. Memories of my
mother sleeping in a chair beside my bed
in case I woke up crying, or watching me
take 30 minutes to eat a digestive biscuit,
still bring me to tears. But it was because
of acts like these that major milestones
were laid over the next 12 months, like
eating a pizza without scraping off the
cheese, undressing (and eventually showering) at the gym, being wolf-whistled on
the street because I had my curves back.
Beating anorexia isn’t just about learning to eat again. It’s so much more than
that. It’s about learning to accept who you
are on the outside, as well as the inside.
Horribly corny, but true. When I look back,
I can’t believe it happened to someone like
me. People who know me feel the same.
I’ve grown into someone – and I say this
with pride, not arrogance – more perceptive, confident and successful than I ever
thought I would be. Now, when my dad
says I am beautiful, we both know what he
means. And this time, I believe him.
I recently found a box of photos of
myself as a teenager. When they were taken, I remember feeling chubby and selfconscious. But as I looked at them again,
I realised I had always been perfect. The
problem is, we don’t see ourselves as we
really are. There is always something we
want to change. I’m certain there are
women reading this who believe that
fitting into a pair of size 10 jeans will make
them happy. And it might – for a moment.
But it’s an illusion. Learning to love my
body came with finally knowing who
I want to be. And the funny thing is, it’s
the person I am, and was, all along.