I never felt comfortable saying “my body” or “the body”; it never felt like mine, yet it also seemed more personal than “the.” Growing up, it was commented on: you’re so skinny, so petite, what a tiny peanut, you should really eat more, better hang on to that figure. No one ever said anything about my 4.0 Grade Point Average, the poetry contests I won, or the dreams I had of escaping the life of expected bodily perfection. The taut form of my body was the accomplishment that mattered most. I was nothing more than a skinny girl who happened to be smart. Rewards came from my body, not from my mind. Compliments were paid to my tiny waist, not my intellectual pursuits. I wrapped my identity tightly in others' recognition.
Naively, I thought the obsessive culture of body image was linked to location, to the sunscreen and palm trees of California where I grew up. I learned quickly that geography has zero to do with this. I moved coast to coast, lingered in the middle for a bit, but the only thing that changed was the scenery. People only cared about the skin suit I wore, not what was underneath it. I hid my true achievements behind skipped meals, obsessively watched calories, and researched tricks of the skinny trade. I carried the unreal expectations even though I knew the absurdity, the damage, and the ramifications of them. I sat, like an imposter, through countless Sociology of Gender and Women’s Studies college courses. Reading, digesting, and believing the research in these classes while being devoured by my own belief that my power was defined in being a skinny girl. Try as I might, I could not shed what I had been told for so long, that my body was more powerful than my mind. I reeled back and forth hating myself for doing the exact thing I fought against daily. Skipping meals filled a sense of control yet flooded me with shame. Self-loathing became a daily companion. My reflection was no longer a skinny girl, I saw a conflicted and confused girl. I went decades living like this, an abstract shadow of perceived perfection.
I found a freedom in pregnancy. I could eat what I wanted to, copious amounts, because I was told: it’s okay, it’s for the baby, you’ll be tiny again, don’t worry. But, I wasn’t tiny after. The excessive meals I once skipped, stuck to me. That newfound food freedom paid its price in the folds of my belly, the touching of my thighs, and the larger numbers on the scale. My skin suit was pocked, stretched, and saggy. I’d spend hours crying in the mirror, devastated. The reflection bore no resemblance to me. My skinny body was who I was. It was how people defined me. It was how I defined myself.
I went back to my old ways but this new body had no plans of going anywhere. I hated it. The self-disdain swallowed me. I was lost. If I was no longer a skinny girl, who was I? My reflection was a stranger in a foreign body. Every part of me was different. I obsessively scanned each curve and crevice, searching for some sign of my former self. Depression arrived and in the darkness of those days, I discovered something unexpected. The skinny girl disappeared. In her place, I found a broken girl trapped in the skin suit of a woman.
I made a decision. I wanted that broken girl to tell her story, become her own artist. I gave her the canvas I had, my body. In the stillness of tattoo studios, the broken girl creates masterpieces. I endure hours of pain to paint her story. I clear copious amounts of blood to illuminate the illustrations of her life. I let go of expectations of how I should look as a mother of three, a woman of thirty-nine years. I carry my skin suit, an elaborate exhibition of her story, of our story.
Owning my story allows me to own my body. Claiming it as my own, I let go of what society tells me to be. Tattooing my body is a control that is different than skipping meals or scanning my body for imperfections. It is bringing attention to something else other than my weight. It is claiming that my body, no matter what its size, is not for anyone else but me. My skin artwork expresses who I am beyond what people think I should be. It is unwrapping my former self, my identity no longer bound by others. It is finding a way to love a body that I have hated by shedding societal expectations and celebrating the tattooed, strong woman I see in the mirror.
My days of double digits on the scale are distant memories. The struggle will never leave, but I have power over it now. I control the negativity and disdain with love. It took decades but those messages I heard in my college courses are now ones I share with my own children and students. I am no longer a fraud, my outsides match my insides. The skin suit I wear is authentically me.
I will never again be the skinny girl. I am okay with that, and with this body that is mine. A curatorial homage to acceptance and self-love.
Meagan Grant is a writer living outside of Boston. She first fell in love with words while reading Ramona and Her Father under her bedcovers with a flashlight. Her work has been in various publications. When she is not writing, she is reading or dreaming of new tattoos.