Today is my sister Stephanie’s birthday. She would have turned sixty years old. I say, “would have” because she died more than two decades ago at the age of thirty-six. She died because she hated her body. The development of an eating disorder in her late teens that she never recovered from, and silicone-leaking breast implants in her early twenties that caused an autoimmune disease, ravaged her body and ended her precious life. Such a waste!
Each year on her birthday I renew my vow to help people step out of fear and create a vibrant and vital relationship with their bodies and lives.
Living with body hatred sucks. I know the feeling first hand, as I spent 10 years of my young life thinking something was wrong with my physical self that I needed to “fix” in order to be liked. For seven of those years I was completely lost in my struggle with bulimia. I thought my big muscular thighs and prominent round bottom were bad and wrong, and the cause of all of my suffering. Perhaps the taunts of “thunder thighs” and “bubble butt” and the drawings of my body in explicit sexual positions snuck into my locker by mean boys (that I now understand were a pre-internet version of bullying) were the actual cause of my pain, but there was no one in my life to explain that to me in the 1970s.
My suffering was not in vain, however, because it helped me get where I am today; running The Body Positive and giving people tools to become liberated from self-hatred. Tools that could have possibly saved my sister’s life, and kept me from years of needless suffering.
If I could talk to Stephanie today, I would tell her that since her death I have worked with thousands of people of all ages to help them put down the burdens of shame and fear so they can see their magnificence in the present moment, with all of their human “flaws” and idiosyncrasies.
I would let her know that her niece, Carmen, who was just 15 months old when she died, grew up with the freedom to love her body in a way most girls don’t get, because The Body Positive community surrounded her with people diverse in every possible way who role modeled stepping outside of cultural norms of beauty and power.
I would tell her that she has been my inspiration to do everything in my power to make the world a safe and respectful place for people of all shapes and sizes.
I would explain that my dedication has been worth all of the hard times I’ve been through trying to keep a nonprofit organization supported.
Mostly, I would tell her how beautiful she was, from the depth of her heart to the way she expressed love through her physical body. I can still see your unique hands, Stephanie, and feel your warm embrace.
And I would tell her how sad I am that no one in our generation thought to create Body Positive programs to prevent eating and body image problems in teens.
Stephanie, I dedicate this next year of my work to you. In your name, I commit to growing in self-love every day I am alive. And I want you to know that when I turn sixty, I will love my body even more than I do today.
To the readers of this blog, please don’t waste any more time criticizing yourself for not being enough, for being too much, for whatever it is about yourself that you think you need to “fix.” Cliché as it sounds; life is short, even if you live to be very old. In honor of Stephanie, I ask that you join me in choosing to respect your body as the vehicle that makes it possible for you to be here today. Life can bring suffering, I do know that, but it is also a beautiful ride that shouldn’t be missed, especially for something as unnecessary as letting outside forces dictate your sense of self-worth and beauty. My beauty today is the work I do in the name of my dear sister Stephanie.