I was in school and it was a Wednesday during a free period. I had an itch on my back in a place that my hand couldn’t reach, so I had to ask a friend to help me scratch it. For her to do so effectively, I had to take off my school uniform top and I did. Afterward, I turned my back to my friend with my frontside facing the rest of the class. A classmate passed at that moment and uttered a statement that made me feel shame about my body for the first time.
‘Bunmi, look at your stomach’
She said it condescendingly. She said it with distaste. She said it with an expression on her face that I can’t put a name to but years later, it comes up whenever I look at myself in the mirror with repulsion.
I am 24 years old now and it’s evidence of the years that have passed since the landmarking incident but I still think about the crippling shame that latched on to me like a leech from the event. The shame made me abandon my body con dresses till I couldn’t fit into them. The shame made me deem myself unworthy enough to date because the guy I had feelings for was into slim girls with flat stomachs. The shame that constantly made me doubt myself. While rubbing lotion on my body after showering, I would do it hurriedly because I didn’t want to look at my stomach. I hated changing in the presence of other people including my friends and when they picked at me over it, I told them I don’t like being watched but the real reason is I was ashamed of my body. So, I kept it away. I didn’t like that I was doing it but I couldn’t help it. I tried to be positive about my stomach and her rolls by loving it but I was unable to do so. I would even feel repulsed whenever I mutter a half-hearted ‘I love you’ because it’s always followed by ‘what’s there to love.’ I tried my hardest to love it though because I desperately needed to be relaxed in my body. So, I tried to lose weight and I spent a while eating bland meals that fitness blogs recommended. I tried pilates, I tried yoga. I tried affirmations. I tried eating well. I reflected wonderful sayings of love to myself, and my body but nothing changed. The shame still brewed like soup in a cauldron.
Then, on a fateful day, while pushing my daily rock of drifting through social media, I stumbled on body neutrality. The term piqued my interest because I have only heard of body positivity and that’s what I have built my entire self-perception on. I was curious about what body neutrality is about, so I took the plunge of researching it. I learned that body neutrality is simply acknowledging my body, which, upon internal scrutiny, is something I haven’t done in all those years. I didn’t acknowledge my body. I only wanted to love it. I only wanted to make it worthy. This scrutiny made me see the fine line between acknowledgment and loving in the context of self-perception.
So, I decided to give neutrality a try. It meant instead of repeating my morning affirmations, I looked at my body and told it “thank you for the job you have been doing so far. I have been trying to love you without acknowledging the wonderful job you have been doing of housing my organs and other activities. Well done. Thank you for all that you are doing to make me a healthy person. It’s hard to love you but I can always appreciate you for all that you are. And because I want you to keep working as stealthily as you can, I will do all I can to help you.”
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Being neutral helped me see that first and foremost, I am Ọdẹ Bùnmi and I shouldn’t be defined by how my body looks because I’m more than it. I “always think of solutions” and “taught me how to speak up for myself ” and “so brilliant that I look forward to holding conversations with you.” I am all of these things and more regardless of the shape and size of my stomach. In retrospect, it pains me that I didn’t allow myself to see all these things because I was caught up with things that are now insignificant, to say the least. My body will always do what it needs to survive and I will always help it in every way that I can. That is the best I can do. To help it. Help it by eating well. Help it by not overusing it to avoid burnout. Help it by eating properly because I am an ulcer patient. It works, I function. Day in, day out. There’s no space for love in the relationship between me and my body. There’s only space for gratitude and acknowledgment. My body will change several times over the years but what won’t change is the fact that it’s working hard to keep me alive. It will always do so. Regardless of whether I love it or not. So, instead of forcing myself to love it, I can just see it and thank it for everything it’s doing to keep me alive with enough fuel to burn with the passion to be everything I desire.
I have very little shame left now and the rolls are still there. I have been having muscular pain for a while now and the doctor suggested I start exercising and that I will start as soon as I can. All for my body to keep up its rigorous work of keeping me alive. How I feel about myself now is no longer based on how I look, it’s based on my capabilities and abilities as a person.
To conclude, here is something interesting:
“I would like to thank my arms for always being by my side, my fingers because I can always count on them, my legs for always supporting me, and my hips because they don’t lie. Thank you all so much. I do not take your hard work for granted.”