I can’t remember how old I was, the summer I realised I hated my body. But I think I was wearing a tankini, so I must have been pushing ten at best. Summer is bad for this. Suns out, guns out, with insecurities trailing in their wake.
It’s easy to forget, in the winter. Under thick jumpers and the comforting fuzz of red wine and mince pies, our lumps and bumps are somewhat closer to forgotten. But then spring rolls around, a summer holiday gets booked. A bikini beckons. And like the daffodils, the thought pops up, as if from nowhere: I hate my body. I want it to be smaller. I want it to be less.
This is a shame—it’s an otherwise lovely season—but it’s what summer does to me, and no doubt many others. The loss of layers makes me think of my body, and how I want it to be different. There are so many ways I want.
Some of my wants are completely irrational. At twenty-five, it seems unlikely that my legs are going to stretch out another two inches. Even when I was very thin, my knees were still rounded.
Some of the things I want, I could have, if I tried hard enough: tauter muscles, a smaller dress size. I know my body could do it, but it would be very, very hard. A constant and grinding effort, which I would inevitably undo, further down the line.
The older I get, the sillier this seems, and the harder I work to tamper these thoughts. For one thing, my body is small: the sort of body society approves of when clothed. A malign voice tells me it is fat, but I know it isn’t. I also know, objectively, that it wouldn’t matter if it were fat. It is not a crime to be fat, I remind myself, staring absentmindedly at the soft rolls of my stomach in the bath.
For another, it’s really bloody ungrateful to malign this body as much as I have done. Insofar as I know, it does what it should. My brain is another matter, but these limbs are ticking along. Also: my body does some cool shit. It’s taken me up mountains and down hills, across beaches, through fields. It has propelled me forward; ten metres under water, chasing a turtle. This body has sliced neatly into ice-cold lakes and emerged, shivering and pumping. It has jumped from a plane and a bridge (albeit not gracefully).
This body has been touched and held and kissed. I have fallen in love with this body: with the hairs on my arms and the lurch in my stomach. This body has been fallen in love with, too: I think this bum might even have got me a free drink or two in its time. This body is young and able, with just a few wrinkles appearing around the eyes, and muscles I have built, minute by minute.
One day I might find out that this body doesn’t work the way it should. One day something within me might veer off course. Cells multiplying. Organs faltering. But right now it works, touch wood. Not everybody is so lucky, and this reminds me more than ever how fundamentally pointless it is to hate a body that does so much for me.
This is a working body, and for that reason alone, I am very, very lucky. So this summer, I have another want: to stop being so hard on this vehicle of mine, and learn to quiet the voice that whispers in my ear. I’m sorry, body of mine. I’m truly sorry. Most of us don’t know exactly how old we were, the summer we learnt to hate our bodies. But that doesn’t really matter. What matters is remembering the summer we learn to stop.