Learning to Live in My Body - 1010 Park Place
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Learning to Live in My Body

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For most of my life, I felt like a detached head, bobbing around separate to the body beneath. 

Now I feel as though I live in harmony with the flesh and blood that provides a home for my heart and soul.

So, what changed?

I’ve always had a bit of a belly. And the rare times when I haven’t were a result of beating my body into submission: Eating next to nothing and exercising for hours on end.

Until recently I couldn’t bear for my stomach to be touched. My husband would put his hand on my belly, and at times, I’d physically flinch. I also had lots of digestive problems and experienced intense stomach pain – for no obvious reason. These proved to be equally mysterious to the long list of doctors I consulted. I got so sick of trying to understand what ailed me I decided I’d just learn to live with it.

About 18 months ago I felt it was time to start loving my belly just as it was. As part of this process, most nights I would – and sometimes still do – lie in bed with both hands placed on my stomach and silently repeat, “I love you. I love you. I love you.”

Initially this felt strange and stupid and at odds with what I normally did: Grabbing handfuls of flesh and silently screaming obscenities at it.

But the feeling of connection between my belly, hands and heart – an energy I cannot explain – encouraged me to persist.

Last summer I stood on the beach in my bikini. It was the first day of our vacation, and I felt white and fleshy under the unforgiving glare of the midday sun. For a moment I felt terribly self-conscious, but before I could think twice, my hands were placing themselves on my stomach and the words, “I love you. I love you. I love you,” began running through my head.

Something had shifted inside me.

In the months since, I’ve felt brave enough to return to my earliest memory of body shame – my belly had played a central part. I understood that I needed to acknowledge and name what happened to me in order to truly heal.

Since writing about my experience, I’ve felt more internal changes; emotional ones yes, but I also can’t recall the last time I experienced digestive problems or stomach pain. And whilst I put some of this down to other changes I’ve made, I intuitively know it’s largely because I’m no longer at war with myself.

This week my husband touched my stomach, and I didn’t flinch. It felt good.

Research on victims has documented how traumatic experiences leave traces on our minds and emotions as well as our biology and immune systems. Whilst I’m in no way comparing my experience to that of a war veteran or anyone who has experienced abuse or a terrifying event, it does make me curious not only about how our past shapes us, but the consequences of us abusing ourselves with negative actions and words.

The Pro-Body Project is published fortnightly. You can read the first entry here or the next entry, “The Woman Who Decided To Embrace Her Body” here

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8 Comments

  • 1010ParkPlace January 17, 2017 at 9:43 am

    I felt that way about my breasts after breast cancer and before reconstruction. They’re still not my favorite body parts, and it makes me sad, yet I’m still here, so that’s the good news. This series you’re writing is nothing short of brave and amazing! Love, Brenda

    • Esther Zimmer January 19, 2017 at 2:51 am

      Brenda, whilst writing this I was thinking about you and all the woman who have lost their breasts. It seems beyond reasonable that you’d feel sad, even if you are grateful to still be here. I keep repeatedly asking myself why women – collectively, with and without breasts – feel so conscious of, and even hateful towards, our bodies. And why those feelings can often end up dominating our lives. I know that media have a lot to answer for, but why are we so eager to bow down to this perception that we all need to have a certain look and be a certain size or age in order to be worthy? Maybe I’ll never be able to answer that question fully, but I do feel that so much of it lies in the fact that we’re never really taught how important it is to trust ourselves and to make our own decisions about what is right or wrong for us, or what we really want our lives to look like. It’s time we took back our power. Thank you, as always, for your support! Essie xx

  • Lois Hoffman January 17, 2017 at 9:49 am

    Your journey is brave and inspiring. I’m sure I’ll go so far as wear a bikini in public, but maybe…

    • Esther Zimmer January 19, 2017 at 2:52 am

      Lois, what a beautiful thing to say! Thank you so much for your kind comment, it means so much to me. Esther xx

  • Marian January 17, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    I just had lunch with a friend who is suffering from anxiety caused by the negative body image you can develop as an older person. Our bodies are very different than our younger selves and it’s difficult to accept sometimes. I’m sure this is prevalent amongst the midlife+ community. It’s lovely to see how you’ve overcome this. Thank you.

    • Esther Zimmer January 19, 2017 at 2:56 am

      Marian, this is such a thought-provoking insight, thank you for sharing it. I’ve been thinking about how our bodies change with age and how this could affect someone’s body image as they get older. I know that my body certainly has, but because I’m not at war with it anymore, those changes fade in comparison to how I feel. However, if you’ve gone through life feeling relatively happy with what you have – and then your body changes – that could be difficult to accept. You’ve given me some really good food for thought and I’ll have a think about how I could possibly cover this in a future post. Thanks so much for your comment. Esther xx

  • Donna O'Klock January 31, 2017 at 4:06 pm

    This is beautiful, Esther. And a very worthwhile project… bravo! It took until my forties to appreciate my body, ow the trick is to continue to do so as it ages.
    Here’s hoping lots of readers will show this to their daughters and they will learn to love themselves much, much earlier!

    • Esther Zimmer February 19, 2017 at 5:49 am

      Donna, I’m so sorry, I missed your kind comment before. Thank you so much for your words of encouragement, they really mean a lot to me! Esther xx

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