I just finished reading Hunger by Roxane Gay. This is an honest book about food, weight and self-image. Emboldened by Roxane’s writing, I want to talk about bodies.
Every body has a story and a history. – Roxane Gay
Like many women, I have had a tortured relationship with my physical self ever since I was a young girl. At age 48, I finally had slid into a semi-solid state of acceptance. Then breast cancer appeared last February and totally erased any hard-fought body peace I nurtured over the past 40 years.
The past few months, I was gifted a scarred dent in my left breast, permanent radiation tattoos and a recently-burned boob. Tamoxifen has added greatly-unwanted fat around my waist. If nothing else, before my diagnosis I was okay with my hourglass figure, which is now slowly thickening. Radiation caused fatigue and I’ve been (situationally) depressed. None of this has helped with the weight gain.
Part of the body torture in my past was an eating disorder, where I became obsessed with numbers – pounds and calories ruled my life. At the doctor’s, I close my eyes at the scale and ask they not tell me how much I weigh. But I know I weigh more because I now barely fit into what used to be a ‘bad size’ for me. Who decides what is a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ size? And why do I believe them? (Fuck you fashion industry).
I don’t have the energy to acquire an eating disorder right now. An eating disorder is a full-time job, and while adopting the control associated with not-eating is sort-of attractive to me, I also want to be kind to my poor body – it has been through a lot.
So this leaves me with resigned acceptance. (And yes, being active and drinking water and eating healthy – don’t worry. I know the drill). Oddly, when I was very thin after my first marriage broke up, I did not love my body one bit – instead, I was at constant war with myself.
Now that I’m chunky and been through cancer treatment, I oddly feel a glimmer of love for my beleaguered self. My dear husband is pro-Sue. My hips carried three children. My breasts breastfed three kids. A tiny ridge in my left breast signalled the tumour that was growing underneath. I’m grateful to that ridge too – serendipity (and a family physician who listened to me) caught my cancer early.
We just returned from holidays and being on the beach for two weeks was totally freeing. I stopped wearing make-up. My curly hair became a rat’s nest. I wore a bikini to the beach. A bikini! Me with my post-cancer bod and all my scars and lady lumps. (I am thankful to the ladies at the swimsuit store Nettle’s Tale and my daughter who helped me pick out flattering bathing suits – I appreciate their collective body acceptance philosophy).
I mean, I’m not going to compete with the 18 year old surfing girls on the beach! So why bother trying. I’m an almost-50 year old mom who has a soft bod. I gave up caring for those two magical weeks, but when I squeezed into my jeans when I arrived back home, the self-doubt started creeping back in.
Why is this all so hard? An acquaintance told me she stopped taking Tamoxifen because she gained weight. Let that sink in: she would rather increase her risk of cancer recurrence than be fat. This shows how we glorify thinness at any cost.
“What does it say about our culture that the desire for weight loss is considered a default feature of womanhood?” – Roxane Gay
So many women after breast cancer treatment struggle with added weight due to chemo, steroids or Tamoxifen. I can’t exactly wear a sign around my neck that says: I gained weight because of cancer drugs. I am who I am for whatever reason.
My only hard-fought lesson so far from having cancer is this: Love yourself. And that includes honouring your body, no matter what. I’ll just keep bumbling along with my love-hate struggle with the physical embodiment of me. I won’t forget (and you shouldn’t either), as Roxane Gay says: “I am stronger than I am broken.” I hereby welcome you to be jiggly (or not) with me.