Hear Meow't: Nikki Zimmermann

By the age of thirteen, my body had stopped feeling like home. After consuming the whirlwind of messages about beauty and women’s bodies, I deemed my own inadequate, abandoning it from its rightful sense of belonging. Like many women, I was a mere child when I first heard the lie that ruthlessly clung to me throughout the subsequent decade: you must be thinner to be beautiful. It was during these and the following years that I purchased swimsuits with misguided hopes of concealing the areas of my body that were the concentrations of my shame. It was that shame that ignited self-loathing, loathing that would fuel the following years of disordered eating and, in the end, spark a journey of both physical and mental transformation.

 

Despite the years of disordered eating that ravaged both my body and my mind, my weight remained largely unchanged. In the midst of the exasperation, I heard about CrossFit, an intense, extreme, and dramatic exercise program. I immediately joined a gym. Soon after beginning, however, I realized that the mission of the exercise program did not align with my personal desire—to get thin as fast as possible—and that its physical results on my body were drastically different than my expectations. The mission of CrossFit was not to provide a means for rapid weight loss as I hoped, but to facilitate the creation of strong athletes in pursuit of health and its enjoyment. I continued CrossFitting in spite of its dissonance with my shame-fueled pursuit out of a revived love of competition and newfound community. After a few months, I witnessed the beginning of my physical transformation: my quads became enlarged, shoulders became rounded, and breasts—much to my initial dismay—shrank. And, as my body changed, so did the lie that I first heard when I was a child, the lie that my body was not beautiful just yet. Its essence remained, but it viciously evolved to evoke vivid recollections of comments that I had heard directed toward other strong women:

 

“There’s a big difference between being toned and being bulky.”

“I would never want to look like her.” 

“She looks like a man.”

“She’s scary.”

“Ew.”

 

Bathing suits continued to be the recipients of pointed shame as my new body in its most untraditional, muscular shape, refused to fit into the suits as I had wished. Having recently accepted the mass that had once been my boobs, my traps denied any attempt to look delicate—what I then thought of as ‘feminine’— in bathing suits. Similarly, my butt, having been enlarged due to a profuse amount of lunges and squats, made a fool of any fabricated attempt to confine it. And the shame—the feeling with which I had not only grown accustomed, but also had begun to use as fuel to my obsessive exercising—lingered. My body had undoubtedly changed from the fitness program, but it still wasn’t enough.

 

A year ago, I found myself enraptured in my own fantastical thinking, imagining the glimmering possibilities that sparkled my future, and found that to each wisp of innocent and unadulterated hope, my mind would respond, “you have to get skinny before that happens.” I remembered the shame that first resulted in choosing to binge and purge, shame that manifested itself when I stood in front of mirrors and pinched parts of flesh that I vehemently abhorred. I remembered the hate that demanded that I excessively torture my body into submission, hate that compelled me to enviously long to occupy someone else’s body. I had been starving for belonging for nearly a decade, and I was fed up. In that moment, I ended one war—condemning, critiquing, and relentlessly battling my body— and declared the conception of another, my personal vendetta against society’s toxic system of body shaming. 

 

Since then, I have awakened to the reality of thin culture in America through books like Health at Every Size and The Food Psych podcast. Through the counsel and insight of anti-diet researchers, I have learned to identify and reject the most basic of thin culture thoughts and external messaging about beauty. I have realized that diet culture surrounds us, women in particular, like an ever-present, ever-hovering smog of lies, willing us to inhale it without hesitation. It was during the early stages of this revelatory work that I purchased my first Kitty, a bathing suit built on the conceptual foundation of positive body image and self-love. As my progress away from self-hatred and toward self-compassion continued, I found that my Kitty was different from the swimsuits that had once filled my dresser drawer. Rather than harbor unrelenting feelings of shame, fear, and wrath, my Kitty symbolized self-compassion, body acceptance, continued learning, and a newfound courage to speak truth to power.

 

Now that I spend my time studying religion, I see how imago Dei, “the image of God,” has only seemingly applied to some body sizes, just as it has also been manipulated to only apply to some skin colors, sexual orientations, gender expressions, abilities, and personalities. I see how a racist, homophobic, patriarchal society has brainwashed us into believing that we have to look a certain way to achieve value, leaving us both starved and eager to purchase anything that will satiate our longings. I see my own privilege, the ways in which I senselessly benefit from an unjust system that oppresses my siblings in God, often in God’s very name. I see how White women have not only been complicit, but have also been strategic in the marginalization of the bodies of women of color: exploiting, fetishizing, and sexualizing them since this nation’s violent inception. Moreover, I see how our current society seeks to trap women in a cycle of critique, weaponizing us against one another in scrutinizing each other’s bodies and heaping shame upon them. 

 

My hope for Kitty is that it may become a manifestation of the rejection of a toxic culture of body shaming, demanding its dismantling and collaboratively reimagining a system of body positivity. My hope for Kitty is that it may become the symbol, the jerseys that we wear in remembrance of our individual progress away from self-hate and toward self-compassion. My hope for Kitty is that it may be a reminder to each of us that what is confined in its fabric and seams is holy, beautiful, and enough—exactly as it is. 

 

My thighs jiggle when I walk, and, on some days, I still hear the whispers of the lie that my body still isn’t enough just yet. It is on these days that I gently lay my hands on my legs, and audibly remind them that they are strong, and that they symbolize my rejection of a toxic thin culture perpetuated by a society that wants me to concede to shameful lies. I won’t tell you that I have arrived at the destination of bestowing complete compassion to myself at each moment of my waking; some days are harder than others, and those hard days will continue. Even on these days, I realize that it is the very muscles that I once willed away that now epitomize my resilient and tenacious femininity. And in the midst, I will continue to purchase and wear Kitty bathing suits because they remind me of how far I have come, and that my body now has a home again. And because one day, I hope to pass you on the beach—you in your Kitty, me in mine—and wink at you, letting you know that I, too, am fighting your fight.


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