The problem has never been and never will be your body. Find people who agree.

Dear Younger Me,

Sometimes, when I imagine you, I picture you at the tender age of four, free and magnificent in a body that did not yet know shame, fear, or unworthiness. Other times, I imagine you at 14, when things were a little more complicated, but you hadn’t yet been touched by sexual trauma. This letter offers you a few lessons I’ve been learning that might have offered you some ease, permission, healing, and fortitude.

So, here we go…

The problem has never been and never will be your body. Surround yourself with people who agree.

Like many of the lessons I’ve learned, this will not be an easy one to remember. 

Mom and Dad did their best with what they knew, so it will be hard to stay in that place of love and freedom inside your skin when the little comments start about how big boned you are compared to your much thinner, younger sister. You won’t know it at first, but each and every time the food you put on your plate is policed you’ll be tempted to trust voices outside of you to decide what’s right.

Cling to the messages your body sends you with everything you have, little one. This will be the first of countless attempts to gaslight your inner knowing and you’ll spend your lifetime trying to regain the ability to hear what that glorious body of yours is trying to tell you.

The problem is not your body when you go back-to-school shopping at the age of 12 only to hear disparaging remarks by adults in the store about how your size is so much bigger (two sizes, in fact) than all the other girls your age. The problem is their own shame and hatred of their bodies. Feel sorry for them when you can.

The problem is also not your body when your dance uniform gets mixed up with a teammates uniform who is four sizes smaller than you are. Though you can squeeze into it, shocked at how tightly your custom tailored dress suddenly fits (and your first thought will be that you ballooned four sizes in one week), your friends will tell you it’s a great thing that you could even make it work – because in high school, everyone already knows that smaller is the social currency that scores you access to what matters. 

Your body is not the problem when much older men sexualize you, harass you, and come on to you when you’ve barely hit puberty. Your body is not the problem when they do much worse.

No, sweet soul, this is when that anger you’ve been taught to deny yourself can be channeled righteously at those who seek to make your body both an object for their consumption and a sacred ground fertile with your fear.

You will feel like your body is the problem when boys tell you they don’t want to date someone who looks like you, when they tell you you have such a pretty face and if only you’d do something about the rest then maybe…

You will feel like your body is the problem when you try diet after diet after diet after diet after diet only to be admonished by teachers, doctors, and family alike that you’ll do better next time and if only you had more willpower then maybe your body wouldn’t be such a tragedy.

The truth is, beautiful little Dawn, that your body is strong and wise and utterly in love with you. It will show up for you after you belittle it, betray it, abuse it, make excuses for it, manipulate it, starve it, and dream night upon night for decades about cutting entire pieces of it off. 

Your body is not the problem. Your body is magnificent. It knows what you need at every given moment and people will try to sell you solutions that teach you that wisdom is wrong and untrustworthy. If you have the strength of will, spit in their faces and laugh all the way to freedom.

Your body is your own. Your body is your own. Your body is YOUR OWN.

Other people will feel they have a right to comment on your body and how you live in it. They will claim it’s from a place of love. At first, you will not have the language or the voice to tell them that’s not what love looks like. At first, you may have to play along, pretend, or check out to survive. 

But find a place inside of you where you can go to remind yourself that your body – no matter what size it is, how old it is, what abilities it does or does not have – is utterly and completely yours.

Your body is built for pleasure (and future letters will explore that in great detail). Instead of denying, rejecting, and wishing it away, find ways to play, celebrate, and savor everything it is capable of. It is endless in its capacity for joy.

And as lonely as it might feel, there are people in the world who will see your body for what it is and delight in it with you. 

Your body will change. It will age, get heavier, acquire scars and trauma. It may feel like a betrayal, but your body is not a problem to be solved. It is yours to tenderly and curiously meet with love and trust again to again.

There will be many thousands of moments when people attempt to make you see your body as something monstrous, sad, broken, and insufficient. You’ll hear words like “flattering”, “plump”, “fluffy”, “almost”, “someday”, and “too bad.”

Do your very best to understand that the world around you rewards people for this abuse. It has nothing to do with you or your body.

And, in fact, people will endlessly congratulate and celebrate when your body does things that make it look like it’s conforming to what they expect from you (because sadly the world we live in wants every single body on the planet to be a singular size and shape, which when you think about it is utterly fucking ridiculous, but there it is). It will feel good when that happens, and it’s OK that it feels good.

Just know that regardless of what size you are and regardless of what certain people in your life may claim, your body is not the problem.

Cultivate relationships with those who want to trust their body and yours. Nurture and seek out friendships and relationships with people who delight in your body as it is and as it changes in any number of ways. These very special people inherently believe in the wisdom of your body. They will be difficult to find at first, but you will find them and then the world will open up in ways you never imagined.

Oh, sweetheart, if only I could hold your hand, each and every day, caress your cheek, hold you close and whisper over and over again: 

The problem has never been and never will be your body. Surround yourself with people who agree.

Until next time, with so much love,