By the time you read this, Babecamp Jamaica will be over. My 57 mosquito bites will have just stopped itching. I will be going through collaloo withdrawals. I will be sleeping off the exhaustion of a long flight. I might even be dreaming of the little body-positive world that existed for 5 days on the west end of a beautiful island.
But for right now, I am sitting under a gazebo. The air is humid. There is a breeze coming off the Caribbean, and it feels like the times a friend blows on the back of my neck in the middle of summer. My hair is up, no makeup. I am at a table covered in a cloth that’s been dyed indigo with abstract shapes that are vaguely aquatic. There are 10 women sitting around me who have all opted to be at this retreat center in Negril because we share the goal of body freedom. Right now there’s a dedicated hour to guided journaling, and they are quietly writing about how their lives might be different if they stopped trying to control their weight or how others thought of them.
We have been talking a lot about control. Whether it’s with food or career, relationships or clothing. We live in a culture that teaches us that – with discipline and drive – we can control the entirety of our lives, including our bodies, our intimate relationships, even how long we live.
I understand the desire for control all too well. Since childhood I have tried to control almost everything in my life.
I tried to control my mother’s comings and goings because she would often abandon me for long stretches without any warning. I thought maybe I could get her to stay if I just never left her side. I tried to control her unpredictable mood swings, at first, by trying to be the best little girl in the whole world and then, once I gave up on that, I learned how to control my emotions so she could never hurt me again.
I tried to control my weight. I dieted and then I starved. I exercised 2 or 3 or 4 hours a day sometimes, convinced that I couldn’t hurt myself. Fat people don’t feel things like other people do, right? I thought if I could get my weight under control that I could have all the things I wanted: love, freedom, peace, intimacy, a day when I didn’t leave my house and get smacked in the face with stultifying cruelty.
In Jamaica, I listen to others share stories about hiding or stealing food so that they wouldn’t get punished or shamed, learning how to care-take others so that their lives could be a little easier, calorie counting in hopes of keeping love in their lives, and self-isolating so no one could ever reject them again.
Now, almost 30 years later, I return to that healing place of embodiment. I don't have to do anything but have fun. I don't have to feel ashamed of my body because in this moment, all that matters is that I am tapping into a beautiful playfulness on the beach with people I feel deeply invested in.
I relate to all of these things. Their stories are my own. As unique as each of us is, the drive to turn coal into diamonds is something we share. How do you take all the hatred and cruelty you have experienced and turn it into a life? Short answer: a lot of patience, self-compassion, and the willingness to see just how goddamn valuable you are just for being you – no conditions.
May I also suggest jigglecize? Jigglecize is something I came up with just for Babecamp; it’s an exercise in losing control.
Each day begins with 45 minutes on the beach, facing the ocean. First stretching, then guided meditation, and finally a full minute of jiggling. “Spread out your arms and legs as far as you can to optimize jiggle-able surface area.” I yell over my shoulder. “Now initiate jiggle!” As my upper arm and my thigh fat undulate like the body of water before me, I can tap into my pre-fatphobia consciousness.
Jiggling is a behavior from my past. I used to love the way my jiggly body felt, but I lost that sense of curiosity and joy when I was introduced to fatphobia. Jiggling became a badge of shame rather than a source of delight. The uncontrollable movement of my fat represented an uncontrollable life, an uncontrollable appetite. I was taught that a good person can control when and how their body moves. Breast and butts and bellies moving around with a will all their own was simply unacceptable.
Now, almost 30 years later, I return to that healing place of embodiment. I don’t have to do anything but have fun. I don’t have to feel ashamed of my body because in this moment, all that matters is that I am tapping into a beautiful playfulness on the beach with people I feel deeply invested in.
My jiggle is a reverberation, a sign that I am alive and deeply human, connected to an ever-changing planet that is itself perpetually moving without self-consciousness, without shame. Simply existing.