Write a Sweet Love Note to Your Body #bodylovechallenge
Remember you went on the JSA summer program at Princeton University? You came back home after a month and a friend told you, “How are you still so skinny? So many Marshallese go to the US and get fat.” You wondered how to respond because you did not want to be demeaning. But the way she said it as if you were a superhuman. You accomplished something most Marshallese failed to do and that was to remain skinny because that is what we want to be. So you shrugged it off and played it cool. What you did not tell her that for 3/4 of that month away, you lived on plain cheerios and corn flakes. After watching Faces of Death in geography class, you vowed never to eat meat again because you finally learned how horrendous the living circumstances of livestock were. You had no idea what being a pescatarian, vegetarian, and vegan was. Almost all the food Princeton served for lunch and dinner had meat or were food your Marshallese palate could not stomach. And with remorse, you see the ocean of leftovers and untouched food that will no doubt go to the dumpster. For a 15 year old girl who got used to hunger pain so your siblings could have something to eat, you saw how cruel the world was. You did not grow up eating vegetables and fruits. Those were luxury foods. They were expensive. For you it was always rice, chicken, canned meat, and seafood. So you looked for those during meal time but they had them few times. So you went back to the cereal corner.
But your friend exclaimed with such reverence, you were glad you stuck with the plain cereals. Because you thought you were fat. Though you were self-conscious of your head being bigger than your body, you thought your belly and thighs were more protruding and that comment reassured you.
Remember how Mama always had your hair in a braid throughout elementary school days? It was always every hair combed back and the bottom in a simple braid. Never any adornments or anything stylish and cute. In 5th grade, your classmate told you, “Why don’t you change your hairstyle? Your forehead is so big. Look how shiny is it.” Because Mama always lathered you from top to bottom with Marshallese oil. You started learning how to braid so you can do your own hair. You changed your style and it was the style you would wear until you rebonded your hair after graduating middle school. Once your hair started getting curly again you went back to that braid. It was a part to the left side, braiding both sides of the part and either you leave the ends in a low ponytail, low bun, or you braided it all together. When you looked at the mirror, you thought the hairstyle softened your features. Made you look prettier. Even the boys in your class started noticing as well.
Remember when a boy told you you smelled horrible? You thought it was because you were fat therefore you were releasing a terrible body odor. Never mind that you had just been running about the field under the sun and that that boy whom you were chasing each other around was also slicked in sweat, even his shirts armpits were salivating. That it is normal to have a body odor. You wondered if your parents showered you properly as a babe with traditional medicines that eradicated body odor. Because of their neglect you failed to meet the standard requirements of a girl and is now being subjected to demeaning comments? You became so conscious of your smell you showered frequently. Made use of the noni tree you planted outside your house by the kitchen’s water tank. Even thrice a day. Maybe this is why you hate sweating till now but force yourself not to pay heed to it? How you feel that sense of ill-guided self-importance bubbling up when Westerners smell worse than you do. You wondered at how they lived with it, owned it. They were secured where as you were insecured. That was the start of your OCD. Along with the terror that your orderly and well-kept house became.
Remember when your uncle whom you had been classmates with throughout high school became more of a close friend told you to walk like a boy? This was minutes after he made you go back to your house to change from basketball shorts to a skirt because you should be ladylike, a girl. He said, “Walk like Katie. Do you see how rigid she walks? She does not sway, she stiffens.” He said that is why boys look at me when I walk. Am I tempting them? Do I want that attention? This same boy in 8th grade, who always bullied you in class suddenly under the pouring rain at MIHS gate asks you out. You reminded him that both of you are related. And he said, “We have so many relatives on island. Lets lessen it.” You don’t know if he remembers but you remember. A while ago when you went back home, he confessed that he had feelings for you for a while. At 22, your body is still confuse on how to walk. Sometimes your hips start swaying naturally and it feels comfortable but then you hear his words again. “They will look.” “They are looking.” And you lock your knees and start walking in a stiff manner.
Remember when the two tomboys that everybody looked up to in Demon-Town told you you were becoming too girly. Where was the girl who was always sporting baggy shirts and basketball shorts fighting with boys? Why are you now dressed in long skirts and nice shirts? But you were growing and at a certain age, the Marshallese society expects you to start ‘being a girl’. You were confused and torn between two differing identities in one gender. You wanted the credibility of your friends but you also needed to display yourself as deserving of respect and dignity from your society.
Remember when your body started developing? Breasts made a hill out of your sports bras and hips created that nauseous curve to your bottom wears. Leaving a dented waist outlining a form that created sexual fantasies for men who needed saving, another chance, faultless. Your body was a target. They came after you. Not one but a legion of them. By 12, you knew the weight of a man on you and that is when your PTSD started. You felt like the most vilest and dirtiest scum ever existed. You had been soiled. You caused it. You were the reason things came to this point. Why could you not be disfigured and ugly? You were only able to sleep after punching your head multiple times because it was a cinema in there, playing a horror film one. right. after. the. other. Jimma told you and your sister not to say anything to anyone. For it would bring shame on the family. The police told you to have sympathy on the poor fucker because he only wanted to get revenge on your Mom, so release him from jail. Your grandpa silenced you. The police silenced you. Your Mom expected more, “Was that it?” While drunk she tells you her partner’s friend has expressed his interest in you. That you are “pretty.”
Remember when your friends finally convinced you to go to a club in Shanghai, you had a man grope you. For once instead of freezing up, you moved after him. Kicking him down and was about to give him the beating of his life but your friend grabbed you to him and held you back. “No Selina. You can’t do that.” It became apparent to you that this was normal. To be groped in public spaces like this because after your friends asked if you were ok and if you wanted to go back to the hostel of which you said no to because you did not want to be the party-pooper, everybody went back dancing. Everybody worked hard through that school year and you were not going to take that moment of indulgent away. This time they surrounded you dancing while you stood, impassive as a stone. You were fighting the onslaught of a panic attack. Everything was coming back. When you all finally left and reached the hostel, you despaired having to show this side of you to anyone but you grabbed a pillow, apologised for what you are about to do. “Ignore me.” You went into the bathroom, screamed your throat hoarse in agony, kicked and punched the turquoise tiled wall until your hands bled and swelled up. Because you felt body and words on you. Making you filthy again. To bring harm on yourself has been your only way of stopping yourself from getting swallowed into that vortex. After about an hour you came out, “Well I just made it awkward.” And you left to Family Mart across the hostel, got an almond magnum, sat down on the plastic chair and table, ate it and stared out into nothing. Selina you committed violence that day. Something you seldom let out.
Remember when one of your uncle’s forced you to smoke a cigarette as a child. Or when your dad’s friends had you drink alcohol, also as a child. You saw how all these substances destroyed your family, destroyed you. You saw how those around you abused it, lost control and caused an earthquake, spurring you to lock your siblings in their rooms while you try to calm the erupting volcanoes. To no avail. You made the vow never, ever to try any of them. To never lose control. God forbid.
Remember when you had a panic attack and you cried for a skirt. You were wearing jeans and more than ever was very aware of the outline of your legs, the space between your chummy thighs on full display. For any lecherous gaze. You needed to cover up. Your friends rushed to get you one as you kept sobbing for one. How long were you going to be a target?
Remember you started exercising because you noticed you were gaining weight? You did not want to face more criticism from back home. But then your body grew stronger. Those 10 push ups you could not do, now you were doing 30 of them without stopping. That uphill path you could not run, you did in an hour without stopping. Even when your sides started pinching you but you kept going up with blurry eyes, crying. You stopped weighing yourself on the scale. Instead you became braver in looking at yourself a little longer on the mirror. You saw a toned body and you knew those muscles came from hard work. And you felt invisible. “No man is going to attack me now. I am finally strong.” Losing weight became a distant memory. Health, strength and endurance were now the tunes your body danced to.
Remember when you revamped your wardrobe? You finally allowed yourself to splurge on yourself. You wanted to finally put into physical form the styles in your head. Dark colours make your feel morose therefore you amped up the colour choices in your new wardrobe. Even when people were skeptical at your outfit choices, you remembered yourself in the mirror that morning, the smile of satisfaction and the inner joy that was running a marathon within you at another creation you put together. You had finally learned that what matters most is how you thought of yourself. You set your own standards and you were excelling at them. Others opinion came second. Compliments were plentiful as well and you were grateful but they were not what you use to validate yourself. They were affirming. Not validating. The ones you were humbled about were the painters who saw your colour combination and said they were going to use it in their next painting. Or your peers who said they never knew such colours could go together.
Remember how such an homebody you were? You barely stepped outside because you were cooped up with your books. When you finally step out of your house, friends would comment on how “white” you are. You skin had lost just a tiny bit of its colour from staying indoor and out of the sun’s rays. Like an uneducated person you preened as a peacock. Because to be white was to be beautiful, pretty, and desirable. It seemed like all the white girls you saw around you had boyfriends unless you were of a darker shade who was super pretty or from a well-off family. When you finally experienced your first winter, so little sun, your unapologetic brown became a light brown. And the comments on your pictures came in with, “Wow, gaining weight, whiter, and getting prettier and prettier.” And you thought that was all you needed to be? Be white and you are guaranteed pretty. Before you went back home for summer, you deliberately stayed under the sun long hours to gain back some colour to go back and disappoint people at the upgraded Selina. Asides from the health benefits, you purposefully walk under the blistering sun(with sunscreen on of course to prevent harm from UV rays). Because by the end of the day you are a glistening glow of chocolate. You are challenging those around you. That even if you became paler, you are not scared of being darker. You challenge their standards on beauty. That you can be of darker colour and be pretty, gorgeous, and desirable. And that looks do not define you.
Body, remember you are an eternal flame. You are adorned in scars and wounds therefore you burn continuously. Because you unlearned what you internalised and picked yourself up. You are a journey that recognizes its strength in patience and endurance. Thank you for your unwavering love when you gaze at yourself (naked or not) in the mirror and see that you are beautiful and enough. You see features that society would deem a flaw but you are able to separate that from how you see yourself. You grew up thinking yourself smelly, big forehead, too feminine, and fat because that was what people said but you soon learned to set your own standards. And those standards were what you already are. And I find that cool and revolutionary.
You learned to gain happiness and comfort in what your body can do and not what it looks like. Everything everyone wanted you to be, you went against it to challenge their standards and your pre-conceived notions to find beauty in the unthinkable other. You are able to look at other beautiful bodies and not let it distort your perception of how you should be or what more you can be. In fact you look at it and appreciate the love and hustle they put into their body because you have been and are there. Taking the lead when your mind and heart isn’t. Please continue being kind, caring, and loving yourself.