My favorite part of the video happens at the end. I’m clambering back into the hot tub. My stomach hangs round and heavy onto my thighs as I bend, launching each of my legs up and over the plastic divide. I sink into the hot water, shooting the camera a sheepish look as my partner giggles in the background. The video ends abruptly on my open mouthed grin as the camera lens steams up. I watched that video on loop for a month. I watched my thighs, my stomach, my breasts jiggle and jolt as I gracelessly walked to the hot tub on my tiptoes. I observed each crease and roll, waiting for a familiar emotion to take hold—something between a twinge of guilt and a wave of despair.
Instead, I discovered something shocking: I don’t hate my body.
I came by this revelation honestly. Like those of many millennials, my body has been relentlessly documented since birth. The initial archivists were my parents, taking pictures on bulky cameras, building up photo albums, and wallpapering our refrigerator with images of me. I later learned to document myself, armed with an iPhone and a library of Instagram filters. In the mornings, I stand in front of a mirror noting my daily differences—the bloat from last night’s dinner, a new freckle on my shoulder, an ingrown hair. In the evenings, I head to the gym, where the rows of televisions in front of the treadmills relentlessly blink Weight Watchers advertisements in my peripherals. You’d think, in theory, this level of engagement with my own corporeal form would solidify my sense of self, granting me a stable and unchanging opinion on my body. But in practice, it has left me completely unaware of what I look like.
Perhaps the first video was an accident, a silly dare documented for posterity, but it has quickly become addictive to see my own body in motion.
I take videos of my most mundane moments: I’m stepping out of the shower and brushing my hair, I’m eating a popsicle on my bedroom floor, I’m doing yoga in the living room while my roommates are out. My body is relaxed in these videos, as these are moments when it is usually free from observation and scrutiny. Each video brings its own complex set of emotions when I watch them. Sometimes a video is an uncomfortable reminder of the ways in which my body falls short—my heels refusing to touch the floor in downward dog, a slope where I’d rather have a straight line, ripples of cellulite in places I wish were smooth. Sometimes a video feels like a reclamation, a reminder that my body is functional and powerful.
I’m often reminded of the first significant stretch of time I went without shaving. At 13, my armpits began sprouting hairs, thick and wiry and darker than I had expected. From that point on, I regularly removed all my hair except for that on my head. Years later, an older and fuzzier version of me would look in the mirror and marvel at the realization that I was seeing my unaltered body for the first time since childhood.
I grew up in a body that I instinctively knew I wasn’t meant to love.
When I used to look at my reflection, I stared and picked and prodded at myself. I lost touch with myself. The body that I saw was purely ornamental—gut sucked in, breasts pressed up, chin angled to maximize a soft jawline, a static image. But in these videos, my body is unwieldy. My weight moves across me, motion never quite stopping even when I slow or still. I often look clumsy, or silly, but I also look unmistakably me. I watch the videos several times, sitting with how they make me feel. I try to pinpoint the parts of me that bring discomfort. I try to pinpoint the parts of me that bring joy. By the time I retire a video, I have often concluded that those emotions balance each other out. I delete them from my phone and go about my day.
This experiment hasn’t cured me. Like my body itself, my body image is ever in flux. But I am bolstered by the work of fat activists, writers, and artists. And for the first time, I am starting to connect that theory to practice. These videos are an action step to fixing what years of insecurity and stigma broke within me, and they have taught me something new.
I spent so long trying to love myself as I exist in a mirror or in a photograph. But my body defies still frames and stiff, posed snapshots.
It thrives in the wild where, rather than being decorative, it is active and functional. My body carries me across distances; it sits cross-legged to eat a mango popsicle, it makes slight popping noises when I stretch. These are traits that are easy to love. The view in the mirror will continue to bring exciting highs and devastating lows, but I carry with me a new perspective. I know that my body is at its best when it is just out of frame, moving without intervention, thriving unobserved, growing wild and untamed.