How The Body is Passed Down

What my mother has passed down has created the most beautiful, honest parts of me. She gave me: vibrant green eyes, neon as the rainforest every time I cry, she taught me to have  trust the ocean that its power could heal any ache inside me, and emphasized the importance of tipping often and well, proving that every job no matter how small deserves a thank you, and every person no matter how far removed our lives, is working day in and day out to make ends meet.

My mother also passed down her relationship to her body, which after years of observation, and listening to the words she used to describe herself, became my relationship to my body. All of my life and still to this day, my mother has echoes how loved and beautiful I am,  but as an observant young daughter I was soaked up the shame and hunger, that not just my mother carried, but most of the women I met. I watched as women would apologize as they walked into a room, shoulders hunched, head down, told that the body they carried was something they should be sorry for, nothing something they should be grateful for. And soon, at the early age of 7, after being taunted about my weight by boys in my second grade class, and my great grandmother, I learned to hate my body too. I adopted the same struggler, the same ugly internal dialogue of hunger and shame. Hunger because I couldn’t feed the parts of myself that needed love and shame because I view my body as some sort of betrayal, one I carried day in and day out. I decided it would never been what I wanted it to be, so I turned by back and disconnected from one of the most important relationships I could ever have.

In September, I will publish, Boat Burned, my first book of poetry which examines the female form and femininity through the metaphor of a boat. It wrestles with the ideas I have about my body and how past generations have influenced these ideas. As writers sometimes are just to close or painful to address directly. And so I gave my body another name, to try and build a new understanding. Through writing this book I came to realize how disconnected I was. That I had turned my body into an object, because this is what I had been taught to do.

Now at the age of 37 I am trying to mend the brokeness between me and my body. I want to see her as the closest friend who has carried me through much. My body has let me push myself in ways I have never imagined: while running a marathon my muscle heavy with ache pulled me across the finish line. I have risen in the blueblack of early mornings to craft poems, essays, books. I traveled to foreign countries to learn new tongues to taste their wine and savor their food. I have my body to thank for all of this. Yet it is only now that I am finding these words of gratitude, that when it is just me and her, laying in the bath, or journaling after waking that I place a hand on my chest and whisper “thank you, thank you, thank you.”

I would love to say that this transformation, which hasn’t always been easy, was driven by self love and a deep acceptance. It wasn’t. This transformation came to being because for the first time I am trying to become a mother. There are things I need to ask of my body, which I feel will only be answered if asked out of love. For too many years my body has been a stranger, a houseguest I felt didn’t quite belong here, it is time to realize that without her there is no me. That to have the life I want, loving each other is imperative.

I hope that this is what I pass down to my daughter one day. That I can teacher her how to have a dialogue with her body. How to listen to what it is trying to tell her instead of turning her back on it. That she puts her and her body first, rather than thinking of other expectations or reactions, she asks, “Body, what do you need from me? How can I thank you more than yesterday? How can we grow, heal and live a healthy life together?” But most importantly, every day I want to teach her to ask, “Body, how can I love you?”

The only thing I ever wanted as much as being a writer was to be a mom. Through writing about this and other issues I aim to  heal enough that I can teach my one-day daughter, the tenderness of trust, of not just loving the skin you're in but thanking it. I am grateful to live in a time where billboards are changing, the women in magazines are started to look more like me, and less of what I think I am supposed to be. I am living in a time where how women love their bodies as an heirloom, maybe we treasure it and forever keep it close, to remember this journey and work.