When I was a little kid my favorite activity was to be pushed on the swings by my grandmother. I swung as high as possible, pumping my little legs, and as my grandmother pushed me she would always ask me the same question:
“Are you a bird brain, or a big brain?” she would say.
“BIG BRAIN!” I would shout, because duh. Obviously I was a big brain. It was barely a question worth asking. The truth was apparent.
My grandmother ate chips. Potato chips, greasy ones with onion dip. She ate them and between bites she would bemoan herself.
“Diet starts tomorrow,” she’d say.
“I am turning into a fat pig,” she’d say.
“When I was young I used to think I was so big. I look in the mirror now and I’m huge. Now I’m REALLY fat”.
After chips she ate cabbage soup for a week straight until the smell of her farts made her eyes water.
“I give up,” she’d say between bites of chip. “I give up.”
My grandmother smoked, then didn’t smoke for twenty years, then smoked again. She got lung cancer almost immediately once she re-started and then she had tests.
“THE CANCER HASN’T METASTICIZED!” she said, full of joy when the tests came back.
The chemo and radiation ravaged my grandmother. Her hair fell out, large clumps, and she was hooked up to a breathing machine and bald. She was gasping, she couldn’t breathe. My once soft grandmother became hard, spindly and small. She threw up from the chemicals. She had a stroke and couldn’t use her left side. She fought, she fought, and then she could no longer talk.
My mom tells me that the night my grandmother died she couldn’t move, speak, eat, breathe. She was tiny, frail. Half of her body was slack and limp. My mom pulled her face over my grandmother’s hospital bed and said:
“It’s okay if you go. We will be okay. I promise.”
My grandmother passed just as soon as she got permission.
After my grandmother was dead I found out she had a boob job, before boob jobs were really even a thing. She had been flat chested and self conscious, saw her breasts as an error needing to be fixed. She had liposuction too, and forever thereafter had been worried when fat came back and grew in different awkward places.
I wonder if my grandmother ever thought about how sad it was that she spent her life getting hacked up, dieting.
I wonder if she explicitly emphasized my brain on purpose so that I wouldn’t do what she had done. I wonder why she couldn’t do that for herself.
I wonder if anyone ever told my grandmother she was of value, that her body was wonderful as is. That she deserved to exist without augmentation. Of course she must have noticed that the chemo dwindled her body as she’d wished she could have done with diet. I wonder how she felt about that. I wonder if she saw the irony.
In light of this, I wake up every day and I have to let myself exist honorably.
I honor my brain, as I was taught to do, by learning as much as humanly possible.
I honor my body.
I honor my body by respecting it, by listening to it, by thanking it. I honor my body with good sleep and water and food and physical activity and connections.
I honor my butt and my thighs because that shit is big and strong, and they don’t need to be smaller. They deserve recognition, not from a yelling man on the street but from ME. This butt, these thighs, all this is mine and yeah, hollering man, obviously they look hot. Like I don’t know. Please.
I honor the part of me that has been hurt in the past, confused and unable to eat because I thought my body was not good enough, whatever good means.
I honor my body because I am a role model for teenage girls and teenage girls are pretty much the most important thing in the entire world.
I honor my body because growing up I had no role models to show me how to do this. (How is it possible that I grew up surrounded by strong-as-fuck women who hated their bodies with every fiber of their beings?)
I honor my body because my grandmother never learned to honor hers.
If I can do it, you can do it too.