One of my favorite discoveries of 2017 so far (thanks to Twitter) is the work of Ashley C. Ford. I read and hear a lot about vulnerability these days, but it’s rare to encounter writing that’s as truly vulnerable, candid, and self-exploratory as Ashley’s. I never feel as though her essays are intended to teach me a lesson or prove a point: rather, I feel as though I’ve been granted an invitation to be a part of her thought process.
Another reason I’m drawn to Ashley’s work is that she has some incredibly refreshing things to say about body image. Her latest, a guest contribution to Joanna’s blog, is a meditation on how her relationship has liberated her—in many ways, but particularly in dissolving the shame she has long carried around when it comes to weight and size.
Ashley’s essay begins when she meets Kelly. At the time, she’s a college student, and in spite of the fact that Kelly immediately makes her feel at home, she can’t stop worrying about the fact that he weighs less than she does.
When Kelly first visits Ashley’s apartment, he asks what the number plastered on her wall is. It’s her weight; she has harbored a visible reminder since her last boyfriend lodged a complaint about her size. Kelly makes clear that he’s completely uninterested in the number; his disinterest becomes more and more evident as the number on the wall changes, yet his adoration of Ashley’s body does not.
Ashley and Kelly’s love story, which she captures with beautiful economy, is also a chronicle of the winding road toward self-love. Ashley writes,
What a beautiful testament to the healing power of being fully witnessed and embraced by another person. It reminded me of one of my friend Victoria’s quotations: “To the people who love you, you are beautiful already. This is not because they’re blind to your shortcomings but because they so clearly see your soul.”
While I haven’t felt much pressure to maintain or manipulate my body to suit a lover’s aesthetic preferences (the pressure I felt in that department always came from within), I’ve always felt that I had to edit or contain in other ways. It’s inspiring to know that this kind of love exists and that it can be transformative.
Ashley’s essay got me thinking about my own relationship with my body. As I’ve mentioned in the past, my recovery from anorexia had less to do with falling in love with my body than it did my falling in love with food. To this day, it’s my love of food (and veganism) that keeps me rooted in recovery. My relationship with my body is much improved, but it’s still complicated, and it doesn’t feel redemptive from a recovery standpoint.
I’ve learned, though, that ambivalence and complexity don’t have to get in the way of my experiencing a pretty healthy relationship with my body. For a long time, I thought that such a relationship would have to involve loving the way my body looked. I figured I’d wake up one day, and finally—finally!—like what I saw in the mirror. At long last, I’d feel sort of OK in a bathing suit. I wouldn’t grimace or squirm when I saw a photograph of myself; heck, maybe I’d even want to start taking selfies.
None of this has happened. What has happened is that I no longer feel as though I need to take overt pleasure in the way I look in order to have positive body image. Rather, I just don’t spend a lot of time worrying or thinking about my appearance. I don’t, or rarely do I, scrutinize myself, examine myself, or think about how my shape or size measures up to anyone else’s. I’ve stopped wanting to like what I see in mirrors and photos.
Instead, I focus on how my body feels. I cherish every signal of vitality and strength, because I’ve had health challenges in my life that make me appreciate the ways in which my body is physically resilient. I take pleasure in breathing deeply, in experiencing the profound impact that such breath has on my nervous system, not to mention my sense of being alive. I give thanks for my senses, for the capacity to smell, hear, and especially to taste.
So, when Ashley quoted Kelly as saying, “It’s not a body’s job to be perfect. It’s to keep you alive. I love your body for keeping my favorite person alive. Please, don’t hide it from me,” I found myself smiling in joyous recognition. This is a realization I know well: the understanding that our bodies aren’t charged with looking a certain way. They are the vessels that allow us to experience life, in all of its wonder.
Of course, there’s balance to be had in this business of body neutrality. For a while, I almost consciously avoided looking at myself; I dressed in baggy clothing and dodged any situation in which much of my shape would be revealed, to me or to others. Doing yoga in a sports bra, funnily enough, was a major turning point. It made me realize that, while I don’t have to love looking at myself, I don’t have to avoid it, either.
There’s a difference between being generally unconcerned with one’s appearance versus hiding from it; the latter implies that there’s something shameful about the body, something that cannot or shouldn’t be seen, and I truly don’t feel this way, not anymore. I simply feel that body-acceptance as I’ve experienced it resides not in aesthetic appreciation, but in appreciation of how I feel and a deep sense of gratitude to my body for keeping me alive. It’s liberating, all things considered, and perhaps one day love will peel back yet another layer.
I hope some of you will be moved by Ashley’s essay, or find that it helps to plant a new seed of self-love. And I hope you’ll enjoy these week’s other reads, which include reporting on robot chefs (yup, it’s a thing) and a look inside the so-called dark sky movement. But first, the food.
First up, Izzy’s beautiful sourdough wholemeal bagels. I should probably figure out homemade bread first, but a girl can dream.
Alexandra’s chickpea noodle soup with parsley and lemon looks so comforting and homey and easy: exactly the kind of recipe I need these days.
This is Sarah’s favorite wrap. I love the fact that it features potatoes! I usually stuff my wraps with hummus and tofu/tempeh, but this gives me a new set of ideas (and I make a point of never turning down crispy, fresh-from-the-oven, spice-roasted potatoes).
Ever since I made my smashed kimchi chickpea salad, I’ve had the urge to put kimchi in anything/everything. I love the idea of loaded kimchi fries, and thanks to Taylor, I’ll be making them soon.
Finally, I’m loving Jessie’s adorable, uplifting little grapefruit cakes & glaze. So perfect for nibbling with afternoon tea.
1. David Marchese reports on what it’s like to be cooked for by a robot chef. Moley is advertised as being a part of the “world’s first robotic kitchen.” Moley, who takes the form of two robotic arms that can be suspended from a countertop or another surface, is programmed with motion picture captures of a trained cook preparing a certain dish; the robot is then able to mimic the same motions. Right now, Moley only prepares crab bisque, and Marchese is one of his first diners.
The article brings up some interesting questions about the potential appeal, and also the inherent limitations, of robotic cooking. Marchese’s closing anecdote sums it all up nicely.
2. A really interesting glimpse into the lives of people who have been diagnosed with highly superior autobiographical memory, or HSAM. There are about sixty or so known cases of the condition, which confers the ability to summon up abundant and detailed memories instantly. On first inspection this might sound like a blessing of sorts, but as the article makes clear, it can also be a burden, especially since the memories are frequently triggered involuntarily.
3. A peek at what’s known as the “dark sky movement”—a coordinated effort to look into potentially harmful consequences of the abundance of artificial light in our contemporary world. Not something I’d ever given much thought to, but if noise pollution is a real phenomenon, then of course it stands to reason that “light pollution” might be, too.
4. Marisa Meltzer’s recent piece on “body neutrality” brings up a lot of the same issues and questions I touched on at the start of this post—namely, whether or not it might be freeing to take a more neutral (i.e., less insistently positive) posture when it comes to feelings of body acceptance and self-image.
5. And finally, Ashley Ford’s awesome post on self-acceptance through loving and being loved.
Wishing you all a happy, peaceful Sunday. I’ve got a new favorite dressing and salad to share with you this week!
Good morning, everyone, and happy Saturday. I hope that those of you who celebrated yesterday had a lovely holiday. I woke up this morning and realized with a smile that in spite of the fact that I’m 33, I’ve retained my childhood tendency to wake up melancholy on December 26th. There’s something so wistful about watching the holiday season pass by, even if the holidays tend to bring up a lot of complex emotions for many of us. I try to see the melancholy as…
Happy Sunday! I hope everyone has had a nice weekend so far. Mine involves a combination of work, study, and play — work for clients, studying in the form of my first few forays into preparing for final exams, and play in the form of getting my Christmas tree up. The arrival of a tree always seems to make the holiday season feel real, and I’m so happy to have it. As you’ll see tomorrow and on Tuesday, there have been plenty of fragrant…
For a long time, I thought of myself as someone who thrived off of being busy, very busy. At the least, I knew that I tended toward being hyper-productive, which felt sort of like the same thing. When I look back now on my post-bacc years, or my last two years at FSG, when I was working full days, taking pre-req classes at night, and blogging into the wee hours, I’m not sure how I got it all done. Surely being busy must have come…
Happy Sunday, all! Thanks for your kind words about the new blog look. I’m delighted that you guys like it, and to those of you who were accustomed to the old look, and miss it, don’t worry: we’ll all adjust soon! There are still some small wrinkles being ironed out on the site, so if anything isn’t working, you can count on it being fixed soon (and if you notice that something’s still funky by the end of this week, holler and I’ll…
Leave a Comment
Hi Gena–Really loved Ashley’s post–thanks for putting me on to her–and I also really enjoyed the piece about the Dark Sky movement, which I am aware of, living where I’ve lived. . .I am intrigued by that little town in Nevada and would love to see stars there! And the sourdough bagles? Wow, I wish someone would make those for me!! Haha!! xoxo
What an amazing a incredibly beautiful post, Gena. I can relate so much to what you are writing. Thanks so much for sharing this and for being a constant source of inspiration.
I will check out Ashley – I’ve never heard about her before but she sounds like someone I would like following.
Those bagels are at the top of my list, they look so good! Thank you for including me in this beautiful & informative (as always) weekly post, Gena. Your weekend readings are something I look forward to every week. I like the idea of being more neutral about body image – I am generally more negative than positive, but I can see it being helpful to try to practice neutrality and be appreciative of the things our bodies can do, instead of how they look. Light pollution is dear to my heart, too; now that I live in a city again, I miss that connection to the sky, even though there are fewer street lamps and other lights here than in cities in North American cities I’ve spent time in. <3
I loved reading Ashley’s post on Cup of Jo… thank you for sharing it 🙂
This was so beautiful to read, Gena <3 thank you for sharing. As always, leaving your space feeling so encouraged! Lots of love, xo.
Thank you so much for pointing me to Ashley Ford’s work! And I absolutely LOVE your perspective that a body is for EXPERIENCING life, not looking a certain way. I’m going to write that on a sticky note and stick it on my mirror!
What a beautiful post, Gena!
I’m with you on my body. I don’t love looking at it, but I can appreciate being in it. I like having hands to write and long fingers to play chords on the piano, I like the stretch in my legs when I do a downward dog, and I like the way soft pajamas feel in the winter.
A part of me is upset that people need a lover’s approval to feel good about themselves, but it’s so touching that love can help you. Thanks for sharing the article.
Also, the robot chef thing is fascinating!