As a child and as a teenager, I was thin, could eat what I wanted.
Then it all changed.
Was it the depression, the not so good lifestyle choices because of the depression, the medication to help live with depression?
Was it the hormone imbalance (PCOS - read about it, it's loads of fun), which who knows how that came about, inevitability, depression, medication, lifestyle choices ... ?
I was not thin any more. I did not recognise the person in the mirror anymore.
It took me most of my twenties to learn to like my body again, as it is. And I mean like it, love it: not settle, or come to terms with, or accept.
I had to learn to approach exercise as something I would do for holistic health and wellbeing; would do because I enjoyed the activity and how I felt because of it. Punishing myself with aerobics and weights at the gym did not suit my personality. I tried to be the person who enjoyed the process, but it's not me. I enjoy walking, because under the sky I find God. I enjoy walking because when I walk the words untangle and compose themselves into poems and stories and sermons. I enjoy the tai chi routine because I like to breathe and move and feel strong. I like its gentle strength, and flexibility.
If I approached exercise as something I would do to get my body into some acceptable shape and appearance: nope. Sorry. Not a good enough motivation for me.
I had to learn to eat foods that are healthy and nutritious because I liked feeling healthy. I had to make choices about food for energy, as much as for taste. Going cold turkey (pardon the pun) on sugar or alcohol or fatty foods or chocolate? Not a helpful approach for me.
When I learned to love my body as it is, to be grateful for its strength and resilience, its very aliveness: then, I chose to move and eat for healthy reasons, for good health. Not for fitting into (pun intended) someone else's idea of what is beautiful, or even acceptable.
I don't have the confidence of these women to wear tight fitting clothes, though paradoxically a well chosen form fitting outfit can be more flattering than loose baggy clothes that attempt to hide the curves. Truth is, I like the flowing, loose and comfy styles, though.
I sometimes worry that my lack of perceived (my perception) success in growing an audience for my work is because I am not thin and pretty like other poets who seem to have a wider and more engaged following. Perhaps that is a convenient cover for the reality of not being as good as I think I am as a poet, writer, performer.
Every now and then I get to have a real, open and honest conversation with someone who also struggles, as I did recently, with someone who has struggled, and has found a measure of peace and joy in her skin. Oh, there's acknowledgement that some foods are better to eat more often and some foods are better to eat occasionally, for good health. And that the body responds well to regular movement.
But there is also something to be said for celebrating the diversity of human shapes and sizes. In an age of post-Enlightenment individualism, we sure do like to try and squeeze everyone into the same box.
I was called a renaissance woman recently, in relation to my eclectic range of interests, gifts, skills, with the poetry and performance, music, scholarship, and whatever else. One way I tried to learn to love my body in the past was to celebrate being like the renaissance women – painted as objects of beauty and desire in their curviness, a sign of wealth and health and happiness.
So, perhaps I'll claim that image again, for myself. I am Sarah, Renaissance woman of many gifts and interests, and healthy, beautiful curves.