To My Precious Body,
For weeks, I’ve been wanting to write you this letter. I knew you had been inviting me to see the cellulite on your thighs and the rolls of fat on your belly through loving eyes. I felt how it hurt you when I criticized myself for all those years of eating too much food and sugar.
Then last night my greatest teacher lit a fire under my pen. As she reached for another brownie at bedtime, I yelled at her.
That was it. It’s time to climb completely out of my cage of self hatred.
Remember when I was 14 and I tore off magazine covers featuring supermodels, and taped them to my bedroom wall? Paulina Porizkova, Helena Christensen, dozens of them. Cindy Crawford was my favorite. I was tall and brunette like her. I thought perhaps if I was just a bit thinner, I might be as pretty as her. After all, these women got tons of attention for how they looked. That meant they were totally worthy of love — right?
Years passed and I continued my path of overeating, especially sugar. Mint chip ice cream and rainbow-dyed marshmallow cereal offered a quick kick for my somber moods. When I felt lonely, the pleasure of one more piece of buttered toast gave my tongue and tummy company.
I spent most of my life overweight, trying many times to exercise and eat well enough to be slender or even just lean. Once I crashed on my bike and fractured your jaw in three places, dropping from 162 lbs to 128, and boy did that get attention. People stared when I walked down the street. And the weight came back within months; I wasn’t done imprisoning myself through you.
Twenty years later, in January 2021, I reached the end of addiction’s tunnel with the diagnosis of a massive brain tumor.
You’d had enough. You’d reached your limits and were screaming at me. My neurosurgeon said, “We don’t know why the tumor is there. It could have been growing for 10 or 20 years.”
My precious body, you told me why it was there. We have our story. It’s ours and it’s what I go by.
I was killing you by outsourcing pleasure. Sweetness for my lips. One more bite. Another. Decades went by like this.
I felt utterly hopeless in my dream of fully loving you. Would it ever work?
Surely a child would offer miracles. Children are the original gurus.
So when my daughter was born in 2013, I vowed to heal from addiction so I didn’t transfer my trauma to her. She’s nine now and has a healthy relationship with sugar. It’s balanced. She’s never been given sugar for her feelings. We talk about “strong body food” to help her be mindful. She eats cookies and ice cream with joy. Her body is lean. Her thighs and belly live without the guilt I grew up with.
She was seven when I told her all about my struggles with sugar. When my tumor was diagnosed, I shut the door on food addiction. Now 14 months later, although my body feels better than ever, there are still stains of guilt that creep to the surface sometimes.
A big stain surfaced last night.
It was bedtime. There was one brownie left and my daughter wanted it. At bedtime?! When she’d already had one before dinner? No, no… that’s just not the way we roll.
She asked me once. I answered, “No.”
She asked me again. Annoyed by her repeated request, I firmly told her, “I said, No.”
A third time, “Mama, but I really want another one…”
Out came my full-on tiger fangs. I looked at her and yelled, firm and fierce, “I told you No… three times, NO!”
Ouch. Dear body, the roar hurt my throat. And it battered my heart. I stood there in our kitchen, post-bath, wrapped in an orange towel, stunned.
My daughter is the last person I want to show my shadow. For her to be aware of my story, its pain and sorrow — that’s fine. But for her to be on the receiving end of my unresolved grief — that’s out of bounds.
She stood, frozen. Time stopped. And for the first time in her life, she simply stared at me. Seconds passed, her gaze stayed fixed on me and I couldn’t take my eyes from hers.
I watched as her eyes became pillows of tears, her face full of tender, swollen hurt.
Fear's ego in me was gone. I had fucked up; I was being so human; here we are.
Being frozen in upset with the greatest Love of my life felt utterly potent. We held each other’s gaze until she could fully feel the hurt and I could witness the impact of my immature reaction.
“I am so sorry, my girl. That is not the way Mama wants to be with you.” We stayed, gazing, as I watched one tear at a time spill from her precious eyes. She simply let me look at her and she simply looked at me. We were together. And as crappy as it felt to have yelled at her like that, my dear body, you knew that this moment offered sacred intimacy.
“Can Mama tell you why I yelled like that?”
She nodded, not ready to speak.
My dear body, you spoke to me without words, drawing a picture of why I chose harsh tiger fangs over grace.
“How does Mama feel when you ask me something once, and I answer you, and then you ask again and again? Do I feel happy about that or do I get annoyed?”
She nodded. She knows.
“That’s the first reason I yelled. I was mad.”
Her eyes, still wet.
“And you know that Mama has struggled with sugar and that I don’t want you to to struggle with it, too. You know Mama got a brain tumor and how scary that was. I don’t want that much pain for you, my girl. I was scared when you asked for another brownie.”
She kept listening.
My heart was humbled, softened, loose. There was nowhere on Earth I would rather be. Surrender spoke.
“My lady, Mama wants to tell you something I haven’t told you yet. Is that OK?”
She nodded, her heart still softened, calm and yet awake.
“My sweet girl, even though Mama takes good care of my body now…”
I showed her my belly. “I still have more fat than my body wants. It sticks around because of all the years I didn’t eat well.”
I grabbed my belly’s biggest roll of fat to show her what I meant. Then I moved my bath towel to show her my thigh. “Do you know what cellulite is?”
She nodded, no.
“It’s these bumps on my thigh. It’s body fat. And Mama’s legs have it here because of all those years when I wasn’t my body’s best friend.”
We were calm and communed. The moment was still. She listened intently as I shared my story with her. Then we hugged and went about our ways.
An hour later, as I pulled out the vacuum from the hallway closet, I heard my daughter call to me from the bathroom. I walked in and found her standing at the sink with her head hung low.
“Yes?” I responded.
She looked me straight in the eyes, her face ripe with a fresh pool of tears, and said, “I like your body just the way it is. I don’t want you to be thinner.”
Yes, I could have died happy right there.
In the presence of the innocent heart of a child, 46 years of self-loathing slid off the surface of my skin. Cellulite formed on my legs because I, as an innocent baby, and then a child, and into my teenage years and further, couldn’t find my way to freedom. With every chocolate chip cookie I ate and every judgmental thought I chose that followed, I kept thickening the walls of my own prison.
Perhaps some people don’t choose addiction to cope with their childhood trauma. Perhaps some people don’t create experiences of severe pain and near-death — whether consciously or subconsciously — in order to see more Light.
I admire people who listen to their bodies' subtle cues and don't need to wait for a scream. I’m not one of those people. Or at least, I wasn't until now.
For me, a path of gnarly physical rigor was painted in this Life. And now that I’ve unlocked my prison door and set myself free, I can see that you, dear body, have always been here for me. Impeccable in your communication, resiliently digesting and detoxing all the junk I stuffed you with all those years, surviving brain surgery and continuing to breathe.
Today I give thanks for deepened empathy. With a big scar on my skull and lots of dimples on my thighs, I extend my whole tender heart to my billions of human sisters and brothers who dance with addiction.
Cellulite, you are a call for Love. And yesterday, you were embraced by the innocent heart of a child. I am sorry for demonizing you all these years, when it was me who chose the prison I was living in. You weren't the "bad guy". My eyes for Love were closed.
Do you forgive me?
Dear body, I thank you for being my teacher until we go to the grave. In this Life, you have always been one of my best friends. Words begin to escape me when I contemplate how different it feels now that I, too, am your best friend.
When we part ways and you become rich food for worms and whales, may we still be in Love.
Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, writes with the divine pen in her pelvis. She is a lifelong letter writer, Love-based leader and fan of Mr. Rogers. This deeply personal blog and our conversations are devoted to her greatest passion: illuminating the beauty of the human spirit.