I Am a Feminist, but I Am a Body Shamer
by Mary Clay Kline
This article is part of a new column series called, "I Am a Feminist, but...," which features stories about the various ways in which women (and men!) can and do embrace feminism.
I wince at the scale.
Damn it, I think. I’ve crept up two pounds since this morning.
I take a deep breath.
You look fine. Never mind that you’ve gained twenty pounds since high school. It’s been two years.
I silently shame myself and place the scale on a high shelf, vowing not to reach for it again for a week. That won’t last. I’ll be standing on it again in the morning.
I look in the mirror and pinch my belly fat as I picture my ideal body -- five, no, ten pounds lighter than I stand.
In all honesty, I probably still look thin. People likely wouldn’t assume I’ve got body issues. But even as I’m sitting here typing away, I’m looking down at myself and wondering how I got here. When did all of this fat appear on my waistline? I don’t know if I’ll have the confidence to wear a two piece this summer.
My body is strong and athletic. I’ve run three half marathons. I cook, constantly. It’s my job. My body is a product of these things. I try to think of it all positively: I’m in decent shape and I’m a pretty good cook. But that isn’t enough. I just want to be thin.
I developed my eating disorder in high school. It wasn’t one of the ones you learn about in 9th grade health class, but it was still a disorder fueled by the desire to control. One night, the summer before my junior year of high school, I stepped on the scale. Horrified at the number, I set out to lose twenty pounds.
And I did, easily. I counted calories religiously, and even though I was an active swimmer I rarely consumed more than 2000 calories in a day. In six months, my 5’3” frame stood at 107 pounds. I wasn’t underweight, but my muscular frame looked scant. My family and friends were worried, but I ignored their fears.
When I graduated high school I weighed a still small 116 pounds. I vowed not to gain more weight in college, but then came the free pizzas and popsicles. At the end of freshman year, I was back to my pre-weight-loss weight, and a year later, nothing’s changed.
For the past four years, food has consumed me. I think about it all the time. As a restaurant line chef, that’s sort of normal, but not really. I obsess about it. Do I have the calorie expenditure to eat two slices of pizza, or should I leave it at one? Instead of eating what I want, when I want, my food choices are dictated by what the scale will read the next morning.
I fear my relationship with my body will never change. I want to be the slim high school princess of my past, and whether or not that’s realistic, I yearn for it to be.
The way I view my own body affects the way I view others’ as well. I judge myself against them. I’m a whale compared to a thin-boned gal with a barely-there waistline, and I’m in awe of larger women who embrace their figures. I look to other women for a sort of affirmation that I’ll never receive.
As a proud feminist, I am embarrassed. This is not what feminism is supposed to look like. All women -- all bodies -- are beautiful. I want so badly to embrace that thought. But I can’t get past myself. I can’t get past my ideal. I can’t help but compare my body to the next girl’s. When I see another woman, I see something wrong with myself, and I can’t help but be ashamed.
My body shaming is completely unaligned from everything I believe as a feminist. I believe that men and women are not inherently different. I believe in equal rights and equal voices and equal treatment, and that no one should ever feel out of place.
I wish there were some victorious end to this story. There isn’t, at least not yet, but there is hope. There is hope for all feminists and others who feel the same way I do: confused and insufficient. There is hope that we realize how very courageous and important we are.
But we must go out and find it for ourselves.
Mary Clay Kline is a journalism major at the University of Alabama. While she isn't working the line at Tuscaloosa's Epiphany Cafe, she enjoys sharing food with her friends and family, toying with her camera, and going for runs. She runs the food blog for UA's Alice the Magazine (alice.ua.edu) and writes her own food blog at theopenoven.com.