Selfie Reflections: Learning Radical Body Celebration

Me: curves and short hair and scars and all

Confession: I’ve never felt great about my body shape. That probably doesn’t surprise you. A lot of women don’t. It’s crazy; when I look at my friends, I see SUCH beauty. Why is it so difficult to see it in my own reflection? Could it be the beauty and diet industries, my social media feed, and all of pop culture? Could it be that it’s just easier to find the faults than the gifts?

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I give my nutritionist a lot of grief about my weight since my diagnosis. I’ve gained about ten pounds in the two years since I found out that I have cancer. I figured that weight loss would be the one silver lining of this illness. Why should I get the diarrhea and the extreme fatigue, but not the weight loss? Come ON, cancer. (She just smiles and tells me how thrilled she is about my size.) I’m not quite as bitter about it these past few months when I’ve felt good and enjoyed food as I was when I was feeling like hell and still packing on the pounds. At least now I can savor a donut before scowling at my body in the mirror. And I shop a lot. Spending money I shouldn’t spend on new, bigger clothes that fit a body that is a completely new shape to me.

And there are scars. Little scars, big scars, straight ones and curvy ones. There’s one where my port access is and one where it connects to my veins. There’s the big ol’ S-shaped scar where they took out the toxic half of my liver, hoping that the cancer would leave with it (it didn’t). I spend some of my time thinking of all of the creative ways that I can turn these scars into things of beauty, but more often, I just ignore them. Tattoos and chemo don’t really mix anyway.

I miss my hair. I miss ponytails, barrettes, and curling irons. Bald is never what I would’ve chosen for myself, but the short blue hair was fun. I’m glad that I never felt pressure to wear a wig, although I know that it’s the right choice for a lot of women and there are some damn fine ones out there. All of the hair – blue hair, brown hair, short hair, long hair, no hair, thin hair, thick hair – it’s all so cool. So are hats. Boy, have I accumulated a kick-ass collection of hats!

So here is what I realized last week with my therapist:

I’ve been super focused on “body acceptance” – trying to learn how to tolerate a body that I didn’t plan or ask for. But what I need to be working on is “radical body celebration” – love and gratitude for a body that is fighting SO HARD against a deadly disease that, were it not for my stores of fat and the holes in my body that allowed modern medicine to do its thing, would have killed me already.

Instead of feeling guilty for not slogging through a workout at the gym or making myself miserable on daily runs, I should enjoy the days that I can get out on my bike and give in to the triumph of this body getting me to the tops of the hills and the rush of going down the other side! I should embrace the days when my body tells me to rest instead, because my body knows. She’s super smart.

This lovely barn is at the top of a couple of VERY steep climbs.

I should stop worrying about whether the guys on Match are swiping left or right on me because dating and being in relationships is just not that important. Like exotic trips and flying lessons – fun and exciting, but not at all essential to this Hell Yes life. For real, being big doesn’t preclude a girl from finding love, but it makes doing it online a lot harder. Having a terminal illness and refusing to keep that a secret doesn’t really help either. What I ought to do instead of worrying is swing my too-wide hips, fluff my too-short hair, put on a pretty dress that I’ve spent too much money on, and buy myself a martini.

My therapist ended our discussion that day by reading “Phenomenal Woman” to me. I very much want you to click this link and read Angelou’s words from beginning to end. But I can’t risk you closing out of this blog without reading at least this part:

I say,

It’s the fire in my eyes,   

And the flash of my teeth,   

The swing in my waist,   

And the joy in my feet.   

I’m a woman


Thank you, dear therapist; thank you, Maya Angelou; and thank you, thank you, thank you, Kerry’s body. You are all phenomenal.

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