My boyfriend is always sending me feminist articles he finds online, which I love and is super sweet. Yesterday he sent me a piece that had me in tears. Kerry Egan, a hospice chaplan in South Carolina wrote an article titled “What the Dying Really Regret.” That sounds super depressing, I know. But in reality, it’s incredibly inspirational.
The gist of the article is that, toward the ends of their lives, people – women in particular - wish they’d spent less time hating, trying to change, and worrying about their bodies.
“There are many regrets and unfulfilled wishes that patients have shared with me in the moments before they die,” Egan writes, “But the stories about the time they waste hating their bodies, abusing it or letting it be abused – the years people spend not appreciating their body until they are close to leaving it – are some of the saddest…they lived their lives thinking their bodies were something to tolerate at best, something to criticize, to despise, at worse – a problem they could never correct.”
These words made my heart tremor in my chest, and I took a moment to really think about my body – to really feel it. The weight of it, the space it occupied, and the way my pulse thudded in my wrists and neck.
I – like every woman I know – have spent a lot of time trying to change my body. I look at it every day, and sometimes wish my stomach was more toned, or that my arms didn’t look a certain way in photographs. I complain about it to my boyfriend, and seek constant validation about my body’s worth. But this article sent me a message loud and clear – this is your body. It is the only body you will ever have. This body is how you run, how you write, how you move through this world with love, and determination, and creativity. It’s not perfect, and that’s perfectly okay. It is beautiful and it is wonderful and it is yours.
I spent a good deal of my youth disrespecting and actually damaging my body. I suffered from an eating disorder throughout high school and college, and very rarely felt good about the way I looked. I’ve come a long way since those days, but I still have moments when I obsess over how many calories are in a bagel, or whether my butt looks too big or too flat. I still have moments when I badmouth my body or cry in frustration about the things I can’t change about my physical self.
Egan’s article helped put things in perspective for those moments when my confidence and self-love falter. I don’t want to look back on my twenties, or thirties, or forties and regret feeling negatively toward my body. At my current age there is a lot of pressure to look a certain way and to have a certain type of body as dictated by popular culture. As I get older, so too will my body, and it’s perceived “value” will decrease (which – PS – is a load of bullshit). But I’m going to do my very best to love, respect, and value my body for as long as I’m on this earth.
“Too often,” Egan continues later in her article, “it’s only as a patient realizes that he or she will lose their body that they final appreciate how truly wonderful it is.”
One of her patients puts it beautifully, “I'd never admit it to my husband and kids, but more than anything else, it's my own body I'll miss most of all. This body that danced and ate and swam and had sex and made babies. It's amazing to think about it. This body actually made my children. It carried me through this world. And I'm going to have to leave it. I don't have a choice. And to think I spent all those years criticizing how it looked and never noticing how good it felt -- until now when it never feels good."
That breaks my heart, especially when I think about how almost all the women I know – of every age – disparage their bodies from time to time and wish that they were different in one way or another. We have one body, and no matter what you believe happens when we die, we will never have this particular body again.
So do your best to stop the self-loathing, the negative self-talk, and the body shaming (whether it’s aimed at you or others). In the scheme of things, it really doesn't matter what your body looks like – what matters is that you use it to do the things you love, and that you appreciate all it allows you to do.
You are beautiful. Your body is beautiful. What you choose to do with your body is the most beautiful of all.
Read Egan’s entire article here.