It’s a joy to invite you to read Cara’s words today – not just because her very cool name means “friend” or “dear one,” but simply because she’s the real writer deal. Cara and I just met earlier this year, but became immediate CHAMPIONS of each other, and let’s be honest, we all need that in our lives! Enjoy this new, dear friend of mine. Enjoy, indeed.
My college boyfriend and I drove down to the lake that night, as we often did. He was a little unsure of a lot of things, so I never knew whether we were going to kiss or debate the existence of Hell. He turned off his car and looked at me, hesitating just a moment. “There’s something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about,” he said.
I waited, silently, as I usually did in those days.
“I’ve noticed that women who have a belly don’t really seem to take very good care of themselves,” he said.
It took me a moment to register the words. As soon as I did, I was confused. What does this have to do with me?
“You have a belly,” he said, answering my unspoken question.
He went on to suggest that I consider cutting back on the chicken strips I sometimes chose for lunch (the ones I dipped first in catsup, then mustard, making the meal feel like a treat), he told me the name of a website which streamed yoga for free, and reminded me that I could access the gym for free.
I am not usually quick with a response, especially when surprised. In hindsight, I should have broken up with him then and there, with a few well-chosen words about shame.
But I didn’t.
Instead, I went from a college student with a healthy view of her body, a former ballet dancer and martial artist, to someone who peered critically in mirrors. I started to watch other girls in class to see if their stomachs were prominent, I stopped eating in front of my boyfriend at all.
When we watched movies together in his apartment, I sat up straight and sucked in my stomach, never allowing myself to relax.
Graduation came quickly, as did the end of my relationship with that boyfriend after we found that long distance didn’t work any better than when we were close at hand. The relationship ended, but the shame did not.
Back at home, I woke up early and did yoga before work, even though it left me exhausted. Every evening, I took a long walk, not to enjoy the sunsets (which are gorgeous on the bluff near my house) but to burn off whatever calories I’d ingested during dinner. I would look down at my tummy in the mornings approvingly, seeing it empty and flat, only to fill as the day went on.
It was only much later that I started to talk about this experience out loud. It was amazingly easy for me to hide my unhealthy attitude toward my body. No one questioned why I was ordering a salad (even when halibut was on the menu).
When I spoke about it for the first time, I was surprised at the way the shame poured over me. I could barely get the words out. Somehow, I did. “You have a belly.”
Thankfully, I was in the presence of someone who loved me and was willing to tell me the truth. “Of course you have a belly,” she said. “Your belly allows you to process the food you eat, giving you strength, and keeping you sustained. Even the flattest stomachs are visible.” The weight of years started to crumble from my shoulders.
My struggles with food and image didn’t magically go away after that. I still get into unhealthy cycles, of one kind or another, where I fail to treat my body with the care and respect I aspire to.
Now, perhaps because God has a sense of humor, I work as a food writer and find myself often eating for a living, taking small bites that taste like healing. Day by day, I’m making choices based, not on hiding my body, in all her beauty and function, but in celebrating the ingenuity and brilliance of the ways she works, resilient and whole.
When you first meet Cara, you might think that she’s quiet or reserved. She’s still learning how to relax her fingers, gripping tightly to how it should look and how she should be. She’d love to have a cup of tea or a glass of wine with you, to gradually pull out a few of her broken pieces, matching them up with yours and watching them sparkle in the light. She writes about faith and life (and occasionally food) at Little Did She Know. You can also connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.
What about you? What pieces of Cara’s story, of those four words spoken, reached your heart, too? Leave a comment, and cheer our friend on today!0